Class of 2015
Biology Major and Environmental Studies Minor
Megan Cullip had her first taste of science and mathematics courses at Bridgewater College before she ever set foot on campus as a freshman.
Following graduation from high school, Megan spent three weeks participating in the Bridging the Valley program – the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program coordinated by four local colleges. The group explored chemistry at Bridgewater College, biology at Eastern Mennonite University, physics at James Madison University and mathematics at Blue Ridge Community College.
Taking STEM classes before actually being a student at Bridgewater, aided in Megan’s transition from high school to college.
“STEM prepares science, technology, engineering and math majors so the transition to college is a lot easier because those majors are harder,” said Megan.
During her freshman year, Megan learned from a classmate about summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) that are funded by the National Science Foundation.
Obtaining an REU is very competitive – especially as a sophomore – but provides invaluable experience on a resume.
After submitting an application online that included classes taken at BC, career interests and lab experiences, along with an essay, reference letters and transcripts, Megan was selected by a professor at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.
Megan’s career interests are in botany and field science, which aligned well with Dr. Robert Andrew Hataway’s work with plants and genetics and conservation of plants.
Working at Oak Mountain State Park, Megan’s project was the phylogenetics of Phemeranthus, a rocky outcropping plant of the Southern Appalachians. She collected samples of three Phermeranthus species, extracted and amplified the DNA, which was then sequenced and analyzed. She then created a phylogenic tree of the three species she studied.
Megan also got some hands-on conservation experience with one of the species, Phemeranthus mengesii, which is being threatened as its habitat – rocky xeric outcroppings – becomes crowded with leaf litter and other species. By surveying existing populations, as well as areas where the species could thrive, she transplanted individual Phemeranthus mengesii to the new areas to create new populations.
“The research I am doing is actually what I would love to be doing down the road,” said Megan. “I love being able to work in the field collecting and surveying plants. I am also really interested in plant conservation, so this research project is providing great hands-on experience.”
In addition to the research, Megan attended seminars provided by REU on experimental design, ethics and statistics that aided in her work.
Megan’s goal is to obtain an internship with the National Park Service that could possibly lead to a job following graduation.