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Erica Behnfeldt

Good Chemistry

Biochemistry major finds connections through research at SVSU

Erica Behnfeldt began her journey to SVSU after her father wandered into the Chemistry Department and met Professor of Chemistry Tami Sivy. He was on campus with a group from Fenton High School and had a “little extra time on his hands.”

During their talk, Dr. Sivy mentioned the summer research experience with the Dow Science and Sustainability Education Center. The program for high school students and middle/high school STEM teachers would provide scientific research experiences alongside SVSU faculty in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, engineering, and geography.

After learning about the experience, Erica thought it would be a great opportunity. The only catch was that the deadline to apply was the next day.

Undaunted, Erica quickly turned around her application and was accepted.

During that 6-week experience, Erica gained an appreciation for the unique research opportunities available to undergraduates at SVSU. She knew that SVSU could be a great fit.

Her parents, while supportive, were clear that scholarship funding was a necessity and expected Erica to objectively weigh offers from other universities. Erica was equally clear that SVSU was her first choice, so she actively pursued private (donor-funded) SVSU scholarships to supplement the SVSU Founders academic scholarship. Her persistence paid off. The Robert and Ellen Thompson scholarship, among others, provided the additional financial resources that allowed her to attend SVSU and eased the pressure to work.

“I’m so grateful for it (scholarship support). Not having to deal with that stress is so great. I’m getting to focus on what I want to do ― focus on my classes, get good grades, do the research I want without having to worry about costs as much.”

During her freshman year Erica worked under a faculty-led research grant with Dr. Sylvia Fromherz related to the effect of microplastics in the environment on single celled organisms, Tetrahymena pyriformis. Erica subsequently applied for an undergraduate research project that was an extension of this research – an opportunity that has not only provided additional data on the impact of microplastics, but also given her hands-on experience designing research and developing a budget. This research has implications for the entire ecosystem as well as human cells and how they might react to microplastics.

“At many other universities I wouldn’t have been able to do this as a senior, let alone a sophomore. The research experience I’ve gotten from here has pushed my resume beyond what a normal undergraduate would be able to do.”

Erica is soon headed to Chicago where she will participate in a 2-month summer research experience for undergraduates at the University of Chicago, an experience she would not have known about without a close relationship to her professors. This opportunity will help her crystalize her long-term goals, understand what to expect from graduate programs, and provide networking opportunities with researchers and peers.

Seizing opportunities. Building connections. Opening doors. Erica and SVSU have good chemistry.

Undergraduate Research Program - Erica Behnfeldt Microplastics research


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