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CU Student Takes First Place in Poster Competition

News Feb. 4, 2019

On Jan. 11, Cornerstone University alumna Carol Day (B.S. ’18) and Aquinas College student Dana VanHuis presented a research poster on Bringing Biodiversity to Restored Grasslands at the Stewardship Network Annual Conference in Lansing, Mich. Day and VanHuis were awarded first place for best student research poster.

“At Cornerstone, we are committed to offering opportunities for our undergraduate students to participate in meaningful research projects,” shared Dr. Shawn Newhouse, vice president for traditional undergraduate academics. “Whether they plan to attend graduate school or enter the workplace, research projects such as this one can help clarify vocational focus and provide an avenue to develop transferable skills and experiences that have come to be expected for graduates in STEM fields.”

The Stewardship Network is a national award-winning conservation leadership group that has been leading the call for collaboration and conservation for over 10 years. The 2019 Stewardship Network Conference theme was “The Science, Practice & Art of Restoring Native Ecosystems.” At the conference, professionals, students and volunteers had the opportunity to attend training sessions, listen to a keynote speaker, network with others who share a passion for environmental preservation and learn from one another.

The research presented by Day and VanHuis focused on the development of management strategies for restored grasslands to increase the biodiversity of grassland birds, invertebrates and native vegetation. The students worked alongside Dr. Rob Keys, professor of science and their research project mentor, during the summer of 2018. Their research was funded by the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in Hastings, Mich.

“Dr. Keys oversaw and scheduled the project and its different parts,” Day shared. “But Dana and I did all the fieldwork ourselves and had to manage what we did each day. Dr. Keys would visit a few times each month to check up on us and help if we needed it. He let us work independently and gave us freedom to do things ourselves. He kept us on track for our goal and also helped with making our poster and writing our paper.”

The research conducted by Day and VanHuis involved the observation of four prairies on the property of Pierce Cedar Creek Institute. The purpose of the study was to understand which prairie management technique produced the most biodiversity. The management techniques included prescribed burning and rotational mowing. Invertebrate, plant and bird surveys were taken in each prairie throughout the growing season to measure the biodiversity. This was the first year of their research study.

“I really enjoyed making new friends with all the researchers at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute,” Day said. “Dana and I have become good friends. I also loved working outside and being surrounded by nature every day.”

The project was not without its challenges. Day explained that she and VanHuis faced challenges such as determining how to best analyze the statistical data and working outside in the midst of poor weather.

“Our research project was very time sensitive and scheduled,” Day explained, “so it was hard to keep on track if bad weather kept us from working outside.”

But despite the challenges, the research provided the students with a valuable opportunity to gain knowledge and experience.

“Not a lot of undergraduates have the opportunity to do a research project like this,” shared Day. “It was a complete learning experience. I gained so much knowledge. It also gave me clarification that science and environmental work is my passion and what I am supposed to do for the kingdom. It affirmed my calling.”

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