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April 6, 2022

SVSU students present research at national geography conference

Three Saginaw Valley State University students recently virtually presented their faculty-led research studies at the 2022 American Association of Geographers annual meeting. They were among the more than 4,500 presentations, posters and workshops at this year’s conference 

“When a student presents their research at a national conference, they are presenting to experts in their field of study. It is a prestigious opportunity, because the student’s work gets seen and evaluated by people who know the field really well,” said Julie Commerford, SVSU assistant professor of geography. 

Colton Bragg, an ecology, evolution and organismal biology major from West Branch, worked on a project with Rhett Mohler, SVSU associate professor of geography. The project, “Using Drone Imagery of Leaf Phenology to Identify Tree Species,” was funded through a Bay Area Community Foundation Grant

“Our study was a proof of concept to test whether drone imagery of leaf change could be used to identify tree species. While there is still room for improvement, I believe we demonstrated that this method could be a viable option for tree identification in forest management,” said Bragg. 

Bragg found the research process challenging at some points but overall very rewarding.  

“Physically collecting the GPS data was fairly straightforward; however, the analysis of the data was more complicated. It was cool to see the project develop from an idea to a final outcome.” 

Bragg plans to graduate in 2024 and attend graduate school. 

Haley Mueller, a biology major from Bridgeport, worked on a project with Commerford. The project, “Using Pollen Ratios as Indicators of Precipitation in the Eastern Deciduous Forests of North America,” was funded by SVSU’s Undergraduate Research Program. 

Mueller found working on a faculty-led study inspiring. 

“It was a great way to get your feet wet in research because you had guidance and someone who always supported you,” she said. “Additionally, the faculty member is an expert in their field, so they understand all the different ways to test different hypothesis and can introduce you to their field of study quite well.” 

Mueller was nervous to present at a national conference, but her fears were eased when other researchers asked questions about her research. 

 “It was great meeting some of the other names I have heard mentioned in that field of study and the exciting conversations we had about my research and pollen research in general. I really liked how their questions made me think about my study in different ways, and they offered different techniques to use to improve my study.” 

Commerford said presenting research at any conference as an undergraduate helps students develop their communication and critical thinking skills.  

“This is because they have to be able to explain the deeper details of their study, as well as how the study fits within the bigger picture. In other words, one person might ask them how they conducted some specific part of their analysis, while another person may ask why their study is relevant or important to society as a whole. When students present research at a conference, they often are asked both types of questions.” 

Mueller plans to graduate in December 2023. 

“Presenting at this national conference gives me ideas for additional studies, as well as introduces me to the way conferences work,” Mueller said. 

Charlotte Schulz, a biology major from Deckerville, also worked on a project with Mohler. The project, “Using UAV Imagery to Examine the Spread of the Invasive Phragmites australis in the Crow Island State Game Area in Saginaw, Michigan, USA,” was funded by an SVSU Faculty-Led Research Grant. 

Schulz was drawn to the research project because of her love of wetlands and being outdoors.  

“I love our Michigan environment and wanted to learn more about the flora that makes up a wetland here in Saginaw. My research study will be used locally to better understand and manage Phragmites australis, an invasive species at Crow Island.” 

Schulz liked working on a faculty-led study. 

“Dr. Mohler helped me set daily or weekly goals for my research project and helped guide me through any obstacles that I came by.” 

Schulz plans to graduate in May 2022 and pursue a career in teaching. 

“Presenting at a national conference has given me the opportunity to communicate geographical findings to others, and I can use these communication skills in my future classroom to help educate and inspire students.”