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Opportunities in Science

Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program

National Science Foundation REU Program
Tree Science in the Anthropocene

Content Detail

Experience careers that explore solutions for climate change, biodiversity loss, natural resources management, and urban life through the National Science Foundation REU Program: Tree Science in the Anthropocene.

The era of unprecedented transformation of the biosphere due to human activities is termed the Anthropocene and calls for directly addressing the ecological and environmental challenges of the present and near future. The REU at The Morton Arboretum uses trees as model systems to investigate questions related to evolution, ecology, conservation, and management in natural and built environments. Participants in the 2023 REU program will participate in one of several 2023 research projects.


The Center for Tree Science’s 10-week summer internship program has trained 62 students over the past nine years from 45 universities across the United States.

Feedback from past students:

  • “It gave me a reference that allowed me to get into grad school and do the research that I really want to do!”
  • “Keep this up! It was a very important experience for me early in my career and is still one of my favorite jobs that I have ever had.”
  • “My REU experience has strongly impacted my career path. It has opened me up to and enhanced my true interests.”
  • “Enjoy what it feels like to be dedicated to and focus your energy on one project that you’re passionate about. You will love the experience and the people around you.”

Want more details from past students? Read the REU Student Blog Series for insights into past experiences and project highlights.


Students currently enrolled in an undergraduate program may apply for this nationally competitive fellowship.

Participate in a paid, intensive, 10-week summer program, with housing and travel provided, conducting an independent research project under the guidance of a PhD-level mentor.

Gain direct experience on all aspects of a research project, from reading the primary literature, experimental design, collecting and analyzing data, to presenting the results at a final symposium.

Develop critical thinking, independence, self-confidence, perseverance, and collaborative skills. Interact with REUs from other Chicago institutions, and benefit from workshops on science communication and professional development.

Learn skills you can apply anywhere. The Center for Tree Science also offers opportunities to return to continue your work.

Learn more about potential 2023 projects >

The 10-week research program includes:

  • $6,000 stipend
  • Housing, research supplies, and travel
  • Workshops in science communication, ethics, and project management

Research areas:

  • Evolutionary biology
  • Forest ecology
  • Conservation biology
  • Urban forestry and tree care
  • Computer modeling
  • Engineering solutions

Learn more:

  • Present your research at the Undergraduate Research Symposium.
  • Work on unique projects.
  • Meet new people and grow your network.

Application Information

The REU program includes a stipend, covers housing and travel expenses, and runs from May 30 to August 4, 2023. Applications open December 5, 2022 and are due by February 3, 2023.

Our mentorship program seeks diverse viewpoints as we foster and grow a vibrant, innovative scientific community. REU participants will be incorporated into Arboretum research laboratories for the summer and work collaboratively.

It is important that this community be inclusive so participants can contribute their best ideas and efforts and achieve their full potential. ​We encourage applicants from colleges with limited research opportunities (e.g. community colleges, tribal colleges, and small colleges without graduate programs), groups underrepresented in STEM programs, first-year and second-year undergraduates, US military veterans currently enrolled as undergraduates, and first-generation college students. All applicants are guaranteed equal consideration for employment.


To apply for the 10-week research experience program, which includes a $6,000 stipend and covers housing and travel expenses, students participating in the National Science Foundation-supported REU program must be:

  1. Citizens or permanent residents of the United States or its possessions.
  2. Currently-enrolled undergraduate students.
    • Students between high school and undergraduate are NOT eligible to apply.
    • Must NOT graduate before fall 2023.
    • Graduating seniors or recent graduates are not eligible to apply.
    • Students who are transferring from one college or university to another. and are enrolled at neither institution during the intervening summer are eligible to participate.
  3. Able to participate from May 30 to August 4, 2023. 

Application Requirements for the 2023 REU Program

Please review the following instructions in order to complete the online application by February 3, 2023:

  1. In order to apply, you will be required to create an account through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Education and Training Application (ETAP) platform. This account will allow you to browse and easily apply to multiple NSF opportunities. 
  2. As part of the application process, you will be asked to provide a resume or curriculum vitae (CV). 
  3. A cover letter is not required. You will have the opportunity to provide information about your project interest and motivations within the application. 
  4. Be prepared to provide contact information for one reference during the NSF ETAP application process. Please choose someone who is familiar with your skills, traits, and motivation, and discuss your goals with this person.
  5. NSF ETAP will ask you to upload your unofficial college transcripts in order to complete the application.
  6. Apply HERE from December 5, 2022, to February 3, 2022.


2023 Projects and Mentors

The Center for Tree Science REU program offers a wide range of research experiences in evolutionary biology, forest ecology, conservation biology, urban forestry and tree care, computer modeling, and engineering solutions. Undergraduates applying for the 2023 program will have a chance to select and rank their top three projects from the list below.

Project List

  • Recovery and restoration of soil, plants, and fungi in brush pile burn scars
  • Natural variation in shinnery oaks (Quercus havardii) and their hybrids
  • Monitoring tree health and drought stress in urban trees
  • Conserving genetic diversity of rare trees in botanic gardens

Project Descriptions

Recovery and restoration of soil, plants, and fungi in brush pile burn scars

Mentors: Meghan Midgley, Antonio Del Vallé

Summary: Brush cutting is a common technique used by natural resource managers in the Chicago region to remove invasive plants and open the canopy to promote oak growth in woodland ecosystems. Brush is typically piled and burned after cutting, as a cost-effective strategy of removing undesirable woody material. The impacts of brush pile burning have been studied in the western US, but little is known about how pile burning impacts soil, plants, fungi, and ultimately oak ecosystems in the Midwest. Moreover, little is known about the recovery of plants in these degraded burn scars, and what restoration techniques (if any) may be the most effective at promoting plant recovery.

This project focuses on studying the recovery of brush pile burn scars at The Morton Arboretum. This project will ultimately help provide information to managers in the region to determine when and how burn scars ecologically recover, while identifying what techniques may help to speed this recovery process. The student will be responsible for collecting samples and analyzing data from burn scars of different age classes. Gain hands-on experience surveying plants and collecting soil samples in the field, while also analyzing soil properties and identifying mycorrhizal fungi in the lab. The student can expect to develop these field and laboratory skills, while gaining experience in statistical analyses, professional writing, and oral presentations. 

Preferred Qualifications: The applicant should have a strong interest in soil and plant ecology and research. Applicants should be comfortable working in outdoor settings in adverse conditions such as hot, humid weather and biting insects, as well as working in sedentary office environments. Important skills necessary for a successful applicant include clear communication, attention to detail, organization, and the ability to work independently and as a team. The student must be willing to discuss and develop research questions, conduct fieldwork and laboratory analyses, learn and perform statistical analyses, and present project findings via presentations and written reports.

Project setting: The Morton Arboretum with field and lab components

Natural variation in shinnery oaks (Quercus havardii) and their hybrids

Mentors: Chuck Cannon, Sam Panock, including collaboration with the 2022 REU student and a colleague at Midwestern State University (Wichita Falls, TX)

Summary: The shinnery oak (Quercus havardii) is an endangered species adapted to semi-arid sandy soils in the southwestern USA. This species is unusual because it forms large clonal groves that spread through the sandy soils, playing an important role in stabilizing the land and creating extensive below-ground biomass. In the rolling hills and plains region of Texas, these trees also hybridize extensively with three to four other oak species, resulting in a remarkable diversity of leaf and growth forms. Using a combination of remote sensing, drone monitoring, and field surveys, the student will work with a small team to document the landscape distribution of this diversity, in both morphology and genetics, and help establish long-term monitoring protocols.  The student’s project will build upon the previous year’s work and will collaborate directly with the team of scientists and students actively working on the project.

Preferred qualifications: Willingness to learn a variety of field and lab techniques, including botanical specimen collection and analysis, basics of genetic analysis, and remote sensing techniques, including the use of drone surveillance.

Project setting: Primarily at the Morton Arboretum but including a two-week field trip to properties near Spur, Texas to collect samples, map populations, and fly the drone. The field trip could involve sleeping some nights in a tent and working outside for long hours in dry and hot conditions.

Monitoring tree health and drought stress in urban trees

Mentors: Luke McCormack, Marvin Lo

Summary: Healthy trees in urban areas provide numerous benefits to people including improved physical health and mental wellbeing. However, trees in urban settings can be prone to drought stress due to limited soil volumes, poor water infiltration and nutrient imbalances. Furthermore, climate change is expected to increase the occurrence of drought for trees in some urban areas. It is therefore important to understand how drought will impact the tree species that are most commonly planted in urban areas today, and to help identify candidate species for future use in urban settings so that we can increase the diversity and resilience of our urban forests. In this project, students will conduct repeated physiological measurements of tree responses to drought as well as tree recovery among different species. The findings will then be used to support recommendations for tree selections and plantings in managed areas.

Preferred Qualifications: Must be interested in plant ecology, tree care, or similar fields and have completed at least one college-level course relevant to the study of plants. Students must also be willing to discuss and develop research questions, conduct fieldwork and laboratory analyses, and perform statistical analysis with data interpretation. 

  • Coursework/background: introductory biology required; ecology or plant physiology course preferred
  • Ability to work in both field (hot, humid, rain, insects) and lab (standing/sitting for prolonged periods) settings
  • Bonus points: experience with trees, roots, soils, ecophysiology, data analysis, research in general

Project setting: The Morton Arboretum, with lab and field components

Conserving genetic diversity of rare trees in botanic gardens

Mentors: Sean Hoban, Emily Schumacher, Austin Koontz

Summary: This project will focus on conserving genetic diversity to ensure the resilience of threatened rare trees in botanic gardens. Among other conservation biology projects, the Hoban lab analyzes the DNA of rare species (such as Quercus hinckleyi) to determine if botanic gardens have conserved enough genetic diversity, and to improve future seed collection and botanic garden management and curation (see examples here and here). Applicants should be interested in learning and working with lab techniques for extracting and examining DNA, and/or learning and working on analyzing genetic/genomic data with computational techniques. The project focus can be tailored to more laboratory or more computational goals. 

Preferred Qualifications: Prior experience with lab equipment (in any lab, such as chemistry, etc.), computer programming, or DNA analysis is beneficial but not required. Prior classes in evolution, population genetics, GIS, computer science, conservation biology, or similar are beneficial. A commitment to conserving trees, careful organization, attention to detail, and working collaboratively is appreciated.

Project setting: The Morton Arboretum with lab components.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the application deadline?

A: Applications will be accepted through February 3, 2023. 

Q: What are the start and end dates of the program?

A: The Morton Arboretum 2023 REU program runs from May 30 to August 4. Participants should expect to check in to the housing provided by May 28th and depart on August 5th.

Q: What are the hours students will work during the program?

A: This is a full-time (37.5 hrs/week) research experience. Specific hours will be arranged with your research mentor.

Q: Where can I find more information on the NSF ETAP platform?

A: Learn more about the NSF ETAP platform and complete the online application by February 3, 2023

Q: How can I improve my application?

A: Ensure that all elements of the application are complete and carefully proofread. Answer all required questions thoroughly. Whether you have past research experience or not, highlight assets that you feel demonstrate your potential and clearly articulate how an REU experience at The Morton Arboretum would fit into your larger academic and professional goals.

Q: What do you look for in an intern?

A: Applicants are matched to projects based on interests, personal background, and enthusiasm. Other factors will also be considered such as relevant coursework and experiences. A subset of applicants will be interviewed by phone, email, or video.

Q: How binding is acceptance to the program?

A: If you are offered an internship, you will have a set amount of time to respond. We expect you to join the program if you formally accept an offer.

Q: My classes end after the program starts. Can I still apply?

A: This situation will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and depends on a number of factors. We encourage you to apply if you anticipate a potential scheduling conflict that is out of your hands (e.g., your finals week coincides with the beginning of our program). Note your conflict during the application process and if you are offered an internship, we will discuss potential ways to accommodate the situation.

Q: Is there a stipend?

A: Yes, this NSF-funded REU internship provides a stipend of $6,000.

Q: How will I get there?

A: The program will cover costs for participants to travel to and from their homes to the housing provided. For more information, please contact ctsreu@mortonarb.org.

Q: Where will I live?

A: Housing for the duration of the program will be provided at a local college dorm and hotel, as needed. Funding will be provided for any relevant and/or necessary costs associated with housing and commuting incurred during the program.

Q: What are some expectations outside of my research experience?

A: An important component of the REU program is the cohort experience and we will host activities to nurture this experience. For this reason, all attendees will be expected to participate in as many group activities as they can. The nature of these activities will depend on current COVID restrictions.

Q: Where can I find out more about past participants’ experiences with the REU program?

A: The REU student experience includes a blog component. From 2022 onward, student participants document their internship experiences in a publically accessible blog or series of blogs. Read the 2022 REU Student Blog Series to see if this program sounds right for you.

Please contact ctsreu@mortonarb.org with any questions.

Meet the Center for Tree Science undergraduate research program participants and learn more about their projects and experiences at The Morton Arboretum.

Arboretum scientists have welcomed 62 students into their labs for summer research projects since 2014. Students come from all over the United States, from large universities to smaller colleges, around Chicago, and across the country. The projects they have participated in make an impact on key challenges facing society today, including ecology and conservation, technology and engineering, and biodiversity.

  • Major funding was provided by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, NSF Research Experience for Post-Baccalaureate Students, and Morton Salt; additional funding is noted below.

    Luis Alvarez, Aurora University

    Project: Investigating oak decline at The Morton Arboretum

    Advisors: Dr. Stephanie Adams, Dr. Christy Rollinson, and Lucien Fitzpatrick

    Norbaya Durr, Elmhurst College

    Project: Hyperaccumulation impacts on phylo-community composition, nutrient cycling and functional trait diversity across the phylogeny of herbaceous prairie plants

    Advisor: Dr. Meghan Midgley

    Angelina Harley, Clemson University

    Project: Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) defense response to different elicitors

    Advisor: Dr. Chad Rigsby

    Chloe Hendrikse, Ohio University

    Project: How accurately STRUCTURE can identify hybrids when comparing different numbers of species

    Advisors: Dr. Sean Hoban, Austin Koontz, and Emily Schumacher

    Claire Henley, Michigan State University

    Project: Natural variation within and among shinnery oak (Quercus havardii) clones in a Texas hybrid population, particularly in response to strong drought conditions

    Advisors: Dr. Chuck Cannon and Sam Panock

    Jorge Jaime-Rivera, University of Miami

    Project: Root trait trade-offs within and across phylogenetic clades of tallgrass prairie plants

    Advisor: Dr. Meghan Midgley

    Ian Lauderback, University of Tennessee

    Project: The long-term effects of injection treatments on Fraxinus pennsylvanica

    Advisors: Dr. Jake Miesbauer and Abigail Tumino

    Marshall McCall, Emory University

    Project: Root traits drive variation in exudation rates among temperate tree species

    Advisor: Dr. Meghan Midgley

    Kelsey Patrick, Aurora University

    Project: Root responses of congeneric species to waterlogging

    Advisors: Dr. Luke McCormack and Marvin Lo

    Josephine Schall, University of Chicago

    Project: Opening a Gateway: How we can best engage with future tree scientists

    Advisor: Dr. Chai-Shian Kua

    Primary funding provided by the University of Chicago Jeff Metcalf Internship Program

    Madelyn Thompson, Samford University

    Project: Morphological distinction between Acer saccharum var. schneckii and var. saccharum: How to tell these cryptic varieties of sugar maple apart

    Advisors: Dr. Richard Condit, Dr. Andrew Hipp, Dr. William Finch, Dr. Brian Keener, and Senna Robeson

    Isabella Vergara, Grinnell College

    Project: The contributions of roots, fungi, and free-living microbes to soil respiration for diverse tree species

    Advisors: Dr. Luke McCormack and Marvin Lo

  • Theodore James Bohdanowycz, Washtenaw Community College

    Project: U.S. wild harvested tree species: A conservation snapshot

    Advisors: Dr. Jessica Turner-Skoff, Dr. Murphy Westwood, and Christina Carrero

    Symposium presentation

    Andrew Ernat, Iowa State University

    Project: Exploring remotely sensed data as an indicator of phenological sensitivity in oaks

    Advisors: Dr. Christy Rollinson and Lucien Fitzpatrick

    Symposium presentation

    Maddie Fernandez-Laris, DePaul University

    Project: Exploring barriers to recruitment of transplanted seedlings of the endangered Quercus brandegeei

    Advisor: Dr. Silvia Alvarez Clare

    Symposium presentation

    Janey R. Lienau, Wheaton College

    Project: The effects of forest type on ground beetle abundance and diversity

    Advisors: Dr. Meghan Midgley and Dr. Rob Buchkowski

    Symposium presentation

    Katelyn McBride, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

    Project: Sap flow variation in response to environmental factors in American sycamores

    Advisors: Dr. Chuck Cannon and Sam Panock

    Symposium presentation

    Tanya R. Perez, The University of Texas at San Antonio

    Project: Tree growth in response to slope in a highway setting

    Advisors: Dr. Jake Miesbauer and Dr. Allyson Salisbury

    Kaylee J. Rosenberger, Northern Illinois University

    Project: Sampling to capture the most genetic diversity when population sizes vary in a rare species

    Advisors: Dr. Sean Hoban and Emily Schumacher

    Symposium presentation

    Pranav Sai, Colorado College

    Project: Processing and analyzing LiDAR scans of trees

    Advisors: Dr. Chuck Cannon and Colby Borchetta

    Leslie M. Vargas, The University of the South

    Project: Early detection and rapid response: Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) monitoring

    Advisors: Dr. Chai-Shian Kua, Tricia Bethke, and Dr. Chuck Cannon

    Funding provided by: Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program and Morton Salt

    Symposium presentation

  • Major funding was provided by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates program and Morton Salt; other funding sources are noted below.

    Andrew Archundia, Elmhurst College

    Project: Tree physiology and soil amendments in highway environments

    Advisors: Dr. Jake Miesbauer and Dr. Allyson Salisbury

    Alice Bieda, Macalester College

    Project: Investigating phylogenetic trends in vole herbivory patterns on tallgrass prairie species

    Advisors: Dr. Andrew Hipp and Marlene Hahn

    Funding provided by: National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates supplemental funding

    Mariah Casmey, Carleton College

    Project: Using open source data to identify conservation priorities at large spatial scales

    Advisors: Dr. Murphy Westwood, Christina Carrero, and Emily Beckman Bruns

    Perry Giambuzzi, University of the Sciences

    Project: Comparison of wood growth sensitivity to timing of optimal temperatures among trees varying in xylem anatomy and mycorrhizal association

    Advisor: Dr. Christy Rollinson

    Sydney Kaplan, Illinois Institute of Technology

    Project: Drones for tree science: multi-sensor 3D modeling and precise canopy sampling

    Advisors: Dr. Chuck Cannon and Dr. Matthew Spenko

    Gabriela Krochmal, Loyola University Chicago

    Project: Tree growth responses to chronic fertilization in a lowland tropical rainforest

    Advisors: Dr. Silvia Alvarez Clare and Dr. Richard Condit

    Jessica Langguth, Ohio University

    Project: Fine-root functional traits across the gymnosperm phylogeny

    Advisor: Dr. Luke McCormack

    Jamilys Rivera, University of Puerto Rico

    Project: Comparison of growth and recovery in response to drought stress across wood types

    Advisor: Dr. Christy Rollinson

    Ella Segal, Rice University

    Project: The impacts of fine root mass and soil nitrogen availability on nitrogen uptake rate in trees

    Advisors: Dr. Meghan Midgley and Dr. Ray Dybzinski

    Bailie Fredlock Munoz (program participant), Trinity Christian College

    Project: Botanic garden populations of Quercus havardii: are we conserving enough genetic diversity?

    Advisor: Dr. Sean Hoban

    Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science Research Technician Fellowship (RTF)

  • The Center for Tree Science would like to thank Morton Salt for their generous contribution to the 2018 undergraduate research program; additional funding is noted below.

    Alyssa L. Barrantes-Leonard, Augustana College

    Project: Species richness protects prairie species from vole herbivory

    Advisors: Dr. Andrew Hipp and Mary-Claire Glasenhardt

    Funding provided by: National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates supplemental funding

    Cori L. Butkiewicz, University of Maryland

    Project: Forests on the edge: climate, soil, and fire on the prairie-forest boundary

    Advisor: Dr. Christy Rollinson

    Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

    Elizabeth M. Gibbons, Michigan State 

    Project: A phylogenetic analysis of biodiversity in an oak dominated forest of the Chicago region

    Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp

    Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

    Lydia Schlaefke, Michigan State

    Project: Root regeneration after fall and spring root severance of two common urban tree species, Acer platanoides and Betula nigra

    Advisor: Dr. Gary Watson

    Funding provided by: Morton Salt and the Center for Tree Science

    Rachel S. Sims, Valparaiso University

    Project: Leaf habit versus mycorrhizal fungi association: A framework for predicting tree species effects on soil

    Advisor: Dr. Meghan Midgley

    Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

    Ashley A. Wojciechowski, North Central College

    Project: Foliar nutrient concentrations of understory plants in a chronically fertilized lowland tropical wet forest in Costa Rica

    Advisor: Dr. Silvia Alvarez Clare

    Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

    Alice Bieda (high school intern), Downers Grove North High School 

    Project: Species richness protects prairie species from vole herbivory

    Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp and Mary-Claire Glasenhardt

    Marion Deal (high school intern), Downers Grove North High School 

    Project: Species richness protects prairie species from vole herbivory

    Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp and Mary-Claire Glasenhardt

    Amayrani Sanchez (high school intern), Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

    Project: Foliar nutrient concentrations of understory plants in a chronically fertilized lowland tropical wet forest in Costa Rica

    Advisor: Dr. Silvia Alvarez Clare

    Mary Ashley Tenedor (high school intern), Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

    Project: Foliar nutrient concentrations of understory plants in a chronically fertilized lowland tropical wet forest in Costa Rica

    Advisor: Dr. Silvia Alvarez Clare

  • The Center for Tree Science would like to thank Morton Salt for their generous contribution to the 2017 undergraduate research program; other funding as noted.

    Amy Byrne, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Project: Diversity mechanisms shape first-year survivorship in a phylogenetic and functional diversity prairie restoration experiment

    Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp

    Funding provided by: National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates supplemental funding

    Sara Desmond, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Project: Latitude predicts leaf size in bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

    Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp

    Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

    Alyssa Gao, Dartmouth College

    Project: Examining the effects of bacterial leaf scorch on the leaves of Quercus mongolica trees within The Morton Arboretum collection

    Advisor: Dr. Chuck Cannon

    Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

    Taskeen Khan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Project: The Impact of Injury on Sap Flow in Quercus palustris

    Advisor: Dr. Chuck Cannon

    Funding provided by: Morton Salt and the Center for Tree Science

    Sierra Lopezalles, California Institute of Technology

    Project: Effects of prescribed burn regime on the growth of mature trees in Midwest oak forests

    Advisor: Dr. Christy Rollinson

    Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

    Kathryn (Katie) McGee, James Madison University

    Project: The effect of prescribed fire regimes on seedling regeneration and nitrogen dynamics in an oak forest

    Advisor: Dr. Silvia Alvarez Clare

    Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

    Samantha Panock, Loyola University Chicago

    Project: Uncovering belowground properties of urban forests: The relationship between root systems, soil characteristics, and fungal communities in deciduous and evergreen trees at The Morton Arboretum

    Advisor: Dr. Meghan Midgley

    Funding provided by: Morton Salt and the Center for Tree Science

  • Mackenzie Coden, Northwestern University

    Project: Testing protocols for preserving oak leaf tissue and extracting DNA for use in oak conservation genetic studies

    Advisor: Dr. Sean Hoban

    Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

    Alison McGarigal, Colorado College

    Project: Comparing the efficiency and accuracy of digital photography and laser-based technique in conducting forest surveys

    Advisor: Dr. Chuck Cannon

    Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

    Quinn Taylor, University of San Diego

    Project: Burn forest burn: effects of annual burning of forest soils

    Advisor: Dr. Meghan Midgley

    Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

    Kirsten Triller, University of Northwestern-St. Paul

    Project: Environmental impact and influence on urban tree health of biochar and biosolids

    Advisor: Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch

    Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

    Kasey Pham, Michigan State University

    Project: A time and place for everything: The shifting predictors of genetic diversity in the oak chloroplast

    Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp

    Funding provided by: National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates supplemental funding

  • Mary Babiez, DePaul University

    Project: The correlation between basal isoprene emissions and climate of the native range within oak species

    Advisor: Dr. Mark Potosnak

    Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

    Bruce Jake Berger, University of Wisconsin – Madison

    Project: Isolating the invasive mechanisms of non-native canopy trees on white oak and sugar maple seedling growth

    Advisor: Dr. Robert Fahey

    Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

    Jacob Cerminar, University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point

    Project: Biosolids and biochars initial effects on environmental quality in urban soil

    Advisor: Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch

    Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

    Angélica Bannwart Lopes, West Virginia University and Universidade Federal de Viçosa

    Project: Testing the accuracy of imaging software to measure tree root volumes

    Advisor: Dr. Jason Miesbauer

    Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

    Erin Pfarr, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

    Project: Genome sizing of wild collected weigela and weigela cultivars

    Advisor: Joseph Rothleutner

    Funding provided by: The Daniel P. Haerther Charitable Trust

    Nick Steichmann, Augustana College

    Project: Hybridization across the bur oak range

    Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp

    Funding provided by: National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates

  • Breane Budaitis, Ohio Wesleyan University

    Project: Inferring the history of morphological diversification in sedges

    Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp

    Interns: Alexa Cotton and Kasey Pham

    Elizabeth (Liz) Carter, DePaul University

    Project: Do oak species that are genetically associated with warmer climatic niches have greater isoprene emission rates?

    Advisor: Dr. Mark Potosnak

    Erik Desotelle, University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point

    Project: Assessing performance of volunteers to monitor the urban forest

    Advisors: Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch and Dr. Lara Roman

    Christina Fites, Indiana University – South Bend

    Project: Carbon storage and dynamics of The Morton Arboretum

    Advisor: Emma Bialecki

    Stuart Hupp, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

    Project: Oak seedling survival and growth in relation to canopy structure and understory competition

    Advisor: Dr. Robert Fahey

    Kathrine Klaus, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

    Project: Towards a sustainable designer urban soil for trees

    Advisors: Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch and Michelle Catania

    Brian Maule, Northern Illinois University

    Project: Effects of urban trees and green infrastructure on water quality and runoff

    Advisor: Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch

    Felipe Santich, University of California – Davis

    Project: Assessing the use of morphological characteristics to predict branch attachment strength

    Advisor: Dr. Jason Miesbauer

Find out what past Center for Tree Science Undergraduate Researchers have been doing since their time at The Morton Arboretum.

Fall 2020 Update – Summer URF/REU Participants

Erik O. Desotelle (2014) graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a degree in Urban Forestry. He now works in Wholesale Sales at Johnson’s Nursery in Menomonee Falls, while teaching at Gateway Technical College in their Horticulture Program for Trees, Shrubs, and Evergreens. With the insight and experience provided from past and current co-workers, Erik is developing a plant resource for homeowners and contractors in Wisconsin. You can view his work here. He is also doing presentations with community groups like the Wild Ones, WI Master Gardeners, and the Milwaukee Art Museum Garden Club. Erik truly enjoys sharing his knowledge with the general public and finds it helps people get into plants.

Kathrine (Katie) Klaus (2014) graduated in May 2020 with a JD from Vermont Law School and a Master of Environmental Management from the Yale School of the Environment. She took the bar exam over the summer and was sworn in as an attorney, recently joined a law firm. After her time at the Arboretum, Katie interned with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, and an environmental nonprofit called Save the Sound. She was a clinician at the Yale Law School Environmental Protection Clinic, where she completed a project for a client, the Natural Resources Defense Council. Katie was published in the Vermont Law Review and the Yale Environment Review.

Mary Jordan Babiez (2015) completed a master’s degree from Rutgers in 2018 in Plant Biology, specializing in Plant Pathology. During that time, she worked in the Rutgers Plant Diagnostic Lab and is now an arborist with SavATree.  She recently got engaged to her boyfriend, who worked on similar research (isoprene levels in oaks) with her at the Arboretum. They are looking forward to finding a house soon, one with a yard full of oaks to care for!

Bruce Jake Berger (2015) completed a master’s degree in Environmental Science and a Master’s of Public Affairs degree in December 2019 from Indiana University Bloomington. He is very happy to be working with the U.S. EPA in Chicago in Clean Water Act enforcement, doing industrial/municipal water pollution inspections and case management to bring water polluters into compliance with their permits and local/state/federal laws.

Erin Pfarr (2015) lived in France for two years after her internship at the Arboretum, teaching English to elementary school children. In 2017, she started graduate school at Rutgers University where she is pursuing a PhD in Plant Biology. Erin is working with the popular flowering dogwood trees (Cornus florida and Cornus kousa) and has presented her work through oral and poster presentations at many conferences. She is currently wrapping up her research and writing her thesis.

Nick Steichmann (2015) is attending University of South Carolina, pursuing a PhD in Biology. He studies eye design in caridean shrimp and its role in dynamic color change. He is currently working as a Graduate Instructional Assistant teaching Cell and Molecular Biology Lab. Nick passed his qualifying exam, attended the 2020 Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology (SICB) conference, and is applying for a Graduate Research Fellowship Program grant.

Mackenzie Coden (2016) is a first-year PhD student at Yale University studying Immunobiology and has authored several papers.

Kasey Pham (2016) finished her BS and MS, receiving a department fellowship upon admission to graduate school. She was the 2nd author on Garner et al. 2019 International Oaks (publication), published May 2019 in International Oaks No. 30: 131–138, and is pursuing her PhD at the University of Florida, studying the evolution of tree hybrids.

Sara Desmond (2017) completed her degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and spent time in an AmeriCorps program doing environmental restoration fieldwork. Through this experience, Sara was introduced to urban farming and is looking forward to her apprenticeship through the Chicago Botanic Garden. She is also interested in future environmental restoration opportunities in the Chicago area. The paper that Sara helped work on during her time at the Arboretum is currently in review in the American Journal of Botany and the authors are hoping it will be published!

Taskeen Khan (2017) is interning for Wolfram Alpha collecting nutrition data, and is part of a University of Illinois lab group creating science curriculums for 3rd grade. She also spent three months interning for Farmer Nick and created an e-course about houseplants and plant science that will be rolled out in Fall 2021. Taskeen is ultimately interested in finding a position in science education and communication.

Samantha Pancock (2017) was a co-author on a paper published in Global Change Biology, part of work from her time as an Arboretum intern. She worked with the EPA for a year, with several publications in the Federal Register, before returning to the Arboretum as a research assistant for Dr. Chuck Cannon in the Center of Tree Science. Samantha’s general research focus is on the evolution and conservation of trees. A major project she is working on is the ongoing implementation of a “tree observatory” platform for the simultaneous collection of many different types of data on tree behavior, growth, and status.

Liz Gibbons (2018) is currently a research data technician, working on human genetics and neurodegenerative diseases. She has published two papers in her current position and hopes to have more on the way soon. Liz is currently applying for PhD programs in RNA biology.

Lydia Schlaefke (2018) has held positions in the research field and clinical laboratory setting since her time at the Arboretum. She worked as a Research Assistant at UConn Health looking at rare bone diseases; however, Covid-19 required she change course and take a temporary position in a clinical laboratory setting processing patient coronavirus tests using Real-Time PCR. In October, Lydia started a new position in the Greater Boston area as a Research Assistant at a biotech startup called Dyne Therapeutics. They are currently exploring innovative therapeutic treatments for rare muscle diseases.

Ashley Wojciechowski (2018) began her PhD work analyzing long-term trends in aboveground biomass at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) restored grassland placed 3rd in the ESA Ecological Restoration Student Poster Competition. She is preparing a manuscript about the research she presented and is studying for her oral comprehensive exams to be a PhD candidate. She also adopted another cat during quarantine and is adjusting to life with two energetic cats while working (mostly) remotely!

Mariah Casmey (2019) is currently an MSc student at the University of Alberta in Renewable Resources with a concentration in Forest Biology and Management.

Sydney Kaplan (2019) is a senior at the Illinois Institute of Technology, pursuing a Master’s of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering. After her experience at the Arboretum, she presented her research at the International Symposium for Precision Management of Orchards and Vineyards in Palermo Italy. She completed an internship in New Zealand with Abundant Robotics, an agricultural technology startup developing an apple harvesting robot before returning to the Arboretum on a Research Experience Extension Fellowship (REEF), continuing to investigate drones for tree science, developing vision tracking software and exploring methods for semi-autonomous flight.

Ella Segal (2019) is on track to graduate in May 2021, writing a senior thesis on how grass/fungal endophyte mutualisms may shift with climate change. Since completing her time at the Arboretum, Ella has stayed involved in preparing the resulting publication with her advisors, gotten involved with an ecology lab at her school, and has an interest in pursuing graduate school.

Theodore Bohdanowycz (2020) earned his Associates degree from Washtenaw Community College in general math and science and is looking to earn his B.S. in sustainable development and restoration ecology. His internship experience solidified his desire to include conservation and restoration on his path to a future career.

Janey Lienau (2020) returned to continue her summer research as a Research Experience Extension Fellow (REEF), working in the Soil Ecology Lab to further her skills in R programming and data analysis and develop technical lab skills that were missed because of the nature of the virtual 2020 program. She plans to apply for master’s programs in soil ecology.

Leslie Vargas (2020) graduated from the University of the South a semester early and will be returning as a Research Experience Extension Fellow (REEF) working on the 2020 Tree Census Report. She is interested in a future job within the Chicagoland area focusing on natural resources or urban forestry.

Fall 2020 Update: Past fellows and interns

Marina Jawad (2016-17) finished her internship and went on to become the President of Bethel University’s Creation Restoration club, conducting invasive plant species removals around campus with students. She graduated in 2016 and has been working as a consultant for an environmental consulting firm. She uses her plant ID skills in the field during site visits and soil sampling activities. She writes Environmental Assessments and Reports and continues to learn more about the state and country’s changing environmental regulations.

Jessica Oros (2017-19) began her undergraduate degree studying microbiology at the University of Chicago and joined a virology laboratory. She also joined a competitive synthetic biology team on campus and had the chance to do computational work this summer in support of a wet lab project engineering a microbial system to degrade microplastics in contaminated water systems. Jessica also had the chance to participate in a Virtual Sustainability Trek program through the university where she heard from urban foresters, chemical engineers, and economists focused on promoting sustainability across the country and world.

Norbaya Durr (2020) attends Elmhurst College, taking an advanced chemistry course and another Honors Research course. She attended the 2020 Wild Things conference, had two publications, and is busy applying for grants.

Fall 2019 Update

Bruce “Jake” Berger (2015) spent the summer of 2019 working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Chicago. This biology internship involved monitoring and modeling invasive fish populations and movements. Jake will be graduating this December from Indiana University Bloomington, with an M.S. in Environmental Science and Master of Public Affairs, focused on Water Resource Management.

Nick Steichmann (2015) is pursuing a PhD at the University of South Carolina, working in the Speiser Lab. His interests include biology, marine invertebrates, scallops, shrimp, chitons, and conch. Nick let us know the two summers he spent at the Arboretum helped him become a more confident presenter, ask more meaningful questions, and discover new opportunities in research he wouldn’t have otherwise known about.

Mackenzie Coden (2016) is currently a Research Technician performing immunology research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Mackenzie has presented research at various regional and national conferences, published two papers last year, and has several papers in preparation.

Kasey Pham (2016) received a department fellowship to attend the University of Florida, pursuing a PhD in Botany/Plant Biology, and is working in the Laboratory of Molecular Systematics & Evolutionary Genetics at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The project she pitched for her PhD dissertation work was developed at the Arboretum.

Amy Byrne (2017) is now working as a Global Tree Conservation Assistant and Oak Consortium Coordinator at The Morton Arboretum, focusing on outreach and communication with arboreta and botanic gardens while utilizing her environmental science background. Amy has submitted proposals to present at two conferences, assisted in submitting a large grant proposal, and participated in numerous professional development opportunities.

Taskeen Khan (2017) returned to the Arboretum in the summer of 2018. As a REEF (Research Experience Extension Fellow), she continued her work from the previous year and presented it at the 2018 Undergraduate Research Symposium. She is currently a Research Assistant in the Fraterigo Lab, studying the impact of forest fires, and in May of 2020, she will complete her undergraduate degree in Integrative Biology Honors and Chemistry. Taskeen received the Integrative Biology Honors Junior Achievements Scholarship, and is an Illinois Undergraduate Research Ambassador, promoting undergraduate research.

Sierra Lopezalles (2017) continues to pursue her undergraduate degree in Biology at Caltech and will graduate in June of 2020.

Cori Butkiewicz (2018) graduated from the University of Maryland with a BS in Biological Sciences: Ecology and Evolution and is currently pursuing an MS in Forestry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cori enjoyed participating in National Dendroecological Field Week and when asked how her time at the Arboretum impacted her career, she told us it gave her a reference that allowed her to get into grad school and do the research she really want to do!

Lydia Schlaefke (2018) has completed her BS in Environmental Biology/Microbiology with a minor in Environmental Sustainability Studies from Michigan State University. Prior to graduating she worked as a Lab Technician at MSU’s Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences, and as a Laboratory Supervisor at Fibertec Industrial Hygiene Industries. She was recently hired as a Research Assistant for Orthopaedic Surgery at UConn Health.

Ashley Wojciechowski (2018) continued her research as a REEF (Research Experience Extension Fellow) through her senior year and presented her work at the Midwestern Ecology and Evolution Conference. She completed her degree from North Central College and is now a Graduate Research Assistant in the Baer Lab at The University of Kansas, pursuing a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. See Ashley’s REEF project here.

Gabriela Krochmal (2019) will be graduating from Loyola University Chicago in December of 2019, with a BS in Environmental Science. When asked about the impact of the summer research experience on her career path, she noted an increase in her independent research skills, ability to formulate a project, and statistical analysis, as well as learning to communicate science more efficiently.

Fall 2018 Update

Liz Carter (2014) is pursuing her MS in Environmental Science at DePaul; published her URF project results, “Do oaks with a provenance related to warmer climates emit more isoprene?” in the DePaul science journal, DePaul Discoveries in 2015; and presented the results of her senior thesis project at the International Urban Wildlife Conference in May of 2015. The poster was titled “Linking mammalian habitat use to vegetation community structure in the Chicagoland region.”

Kathrine Klaus (2014) is an Environmental Mission Scholar at Vermont Law School. She recently wrote and presented a Note suggesting the Clean Water Act encompasses the discharge of pollutants to groundwater that is hydrologically connected to surface water and she is seeking publication for that Note. In the summer of 2017, Kathrine worked for the EPA in the Office of Regional Counsel in Chicago, and in the summer of 2018, she worked for the Department of Justice in the Natural Resources Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division in Washington, D.C.

Angélica Bannwart Lopes (2015) is currently teaching English to children ( ages 12 to 15) at a state school in Goias, Brazil. She earned her Forest Engineering degree, thanks, in part, to the skills received during the URF, and although she plans to pursue a career in the field, Angélica is truly enjoying her job as a teacher.

Bruce (‘Jake’) Berger (2015) is studying Water Resource Management at Indiana University Bloomington, pursuing an MS in Environmental Science and a Master of Public Affairs. He is working with faculty at IU Bloomington to study how well states are preparing for conservation issues related to climate change in their federally mandated State Wildlife Action Plans. Jake has performed fieldwork in the Galapagos Islands to catch and study sea turtles and has worked with the Indiana Clean Lakes Program to perform lake sampling and measurements for public water bodies to assess water quality.

Nick Steichmann (2015) presented his research on Lake George in Illinois City to the Upper Mississippi center, and this spring he went to Australia and completed an internship at the University of Sydney working with native bees and ants.  He enjoyed visiting the Great Barrier Reef so much that he is currently applying for PhD programs in marine biology.

Mackenzie Coden (2016) changed her field of study and is currently a research technician in the Department of Allergy and Immunology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She has attended and presented at local, regional, and national Immunology conferences, authored two publications, with several more in preparation for submission, and is planning to pursue a PhD in the coming years.

Kasey Pham (2016) is pursuing her MS at Michigan State, studying Plant Biology. She published Pham et al. 2017 in the journal Genome, is a coauthor on Fitzgibbon et al. 2017, also in Genome, and received a PLANTS grant to attend the Botany 2017 meeting, where she presented a talk.

Quinn Taylor (2016) is currently a high school science teacher and Math/Science department head at Fusion Academy.  She co-authored a paper on her research with her URF mentor, Dr. Meghan Midgley, which can be found in the March 2018 issue of Forest Ecology and Management.  In August 2017 Quinn traveled to Portland, Oregon to present this research at the ESA Annual Meeting.

Amy Byrne (2017) spent the summer working as a Population Biology intern at the Lincoln Park Zoo Conservation & Science Department. She will be a co-author on a paper “Sex-specific median life expectancies from ex situ populations for 330 animal species” that is still in the editing phase. She collected the new data for this paper and will be presenting her research findings on Red-capped Cardinal post-hatch survival rate and transfer mortality rate to the Conservation & Science Department at the zoo. Amy recently returned to the Arboretum to continue working with Dr. Andrew Hipp.

Alyssa Gao (2017) is in her junior year at Dartmouth. She organized a day-long summit that brought together student leaders in sustainability from six peer institutions to connect and build a network; she was awarded the 2017-18 Carol Folt Research Scholarship to continue her work in the Kapuscinski lab, and was selected for the Environmental Studies Foreign Study Program and will travel to South Africa and Namibia in the fall of 2018.

Katie McGee (2017) completed her senior thesis and graduated magna cum laude from James Madison University (JMU), where she was also recognized for service to the biology department. She has had several internships, including one at JMU that investigated bird behavior and urbanization and another doing environmental education/ trail work and conservation in Massachusetts with the Student Conservation Association. Katie is currently finishing up an internship as a biology technician at Redwoods National Forest in California and has internship opportunities lines up for 2019.

Student researchers in the annual REU program use trees as model systems to investigate questions related to evolution, ecology, conservation, and management in natural and built environments.

Individuals gain direct experience in all aspects of a research project, from researching the primary literature to sampling design, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting at a final symposium.

Learn about their projects and experiences first-hand in this Student Blog Series, launched in the summer of 2022.