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Research inspires first-generation student

When Amanda Sprague-Getsy graduates this spring, she will be celebrating several achievements: She will earn a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences with two years of research experience, becoming the first person in her family with a college degree. And she’s headed this fall to her first choice of graduate programs at the University of Delaware.

Even though the Johnson City resident will be focusing on geology with an emphasis on saltwater intrusion on aquifers and groundwater, it was her experience as an independent study student in the lab of Weixing Zhu, professor of biological sciences at Binghamton, that helped her discover her love of research.

She joined his lab in the summer of 2019 and has been working with doctoral student Vashti Mahadeo to collect, sort and identify ground arthropods (beetles, spring tails, mites and spiders) to compare biodiversity in urban and rural riparian (forested or wooded lands adjacent to a body of water) zones.

“She’s not even a biology major, but my work together with her interest in ecology overlap,” Mahadeo says. “She brings her geology background in and it meshes well.”

During the winter, Sprague-Getsy examined soil samples from these zones for pH and conductivity. She collected them with Mahadeo last summer. “She is almost like a graduate student in my lab because she is so highly dependable,” Zhu says.

“I’ve gotten so much out of the experience, from learning how to read papers to presenting research,” Sprague-Getsy says. “I get treated as an equal by Dr. Zhu and Vashti even though I’m an undergraduate student. I’ve really appreciated that and it has helped build my confidence.”

She presented her research on the biodiversity of coleoptera (beetles) in urban and rural riparian zones during the Illinois TRIO McNair Virtual Symposium in July 2020. Federal TRIO programs are educational opportunity outreach programs designed to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Sprague-Getsy was accepted into the competitive Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program in 2020, which provides research opportunities to disadvantaged undergraduate students with strong academic potential in preparation for doctoral studies.

During her Binghamton career, Sprague-Getsy has also been a student research collaborator at Brookhaven National Laboratory, a Binghamton University Acres farm intern, and a tutor and TRIO mentor through Student Support Services. She also completed an independent study under the supervision of Joseph Graney, professor of geological sciences and environmental studies, where she and another student tested the impacts of road salt and the combustion of wood chips at the campus heating plant and the resulting atmospheric emission of wood fly ash on the soils on and adjacent to the campus.

Zhu says he’s proud to be part of Sprague-Getsy’s success.

“She has used Binghamton University to its full advantage of what we can offer, and my lab is just one example,” he says. “If you look at her résumé, she is really engaged in different activities, particularly as a mentor. She’s a role model and an example, and she is exceptional at using the resources available to her to achieve a goal.”

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