Wednesday, Sep 7, 2022
Grant will create undergrad research experience focused on climate change
by Katie Nicholas
Rider University assistant biology professor Dr. Kerrie Sendall was awarded a three-year, $503,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the combined effects of warming and drought on tree seedlings. The grant will allow her to implement an undergraduate plant-biology research course at Rider, which will be offered in spring 2024.
This year was the inaugural issuing of this grant and only 28 were awarded nationally. Rider is one of only two New Jersey-based universities — and the only primarily undergraduate Institution in the state — to receive the grant.
The research course will be open to 16 Rider University students each semester — an experience normally only available to one student completing an internship. In addition to new garden- and laboratory-based experiments at Rider, the grant will create a summer research experience, beginning in summer 2023 for students to stay onsite at the University of Minnesota. They will work for two to three months on a similar, ongoing project where they will carry out plant ecophysiology research.
“After doing a summer internship at University of Minnesota, I was later able to return for graduate school so I’ve worked with them, and they have an amazing research set up,” says Sendall, who earned her doctorate at the university. “I’m excited to be able to give my students this same experience of working with a research-intensive university, which could open up future possibilities for graduate school, like it did for me, and in the job market as well.”
Students in the new course will test the individual and interactive effects of warming and drought on tree seedling growth and physiology. They will attempt to quantify leaf physiological traits like photosynthesis and water potential. They’ll also look to draw meaningful conclusions, such as if native southern trees fare better in a now warmer northern climate. The work has already begun, and plantings will start in the spring.
Cathlene Leary-Elderkin, associate director for grants development & science literacy, and director of Rider’s Science Education and Literacy Center, supported the process of applying for and receiving the award. For Leary-Elderkin, this program represents a progressive way to introduce more students to a rich research experience.
“Through this grant, we are collaborating with a top-tier research intensive university and expanding our network for our students” she says.
The NSF grant is a three-year award, but Sendall and Leary-Elderkin see this project continuing much longer than that and are excited to see it grow.