Undergraduate research students win awards at Seattle conference

November 26, 2012
Giselle Varrientos discusses her joint research about the impact of invasive earthworm species in Great Lakes forests.


PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – Three students involved in undergraduate research projects through the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Geography Program were recognized with Undergraduate Student Poster Presentation awards at the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science National Conference in Seattle this October.

Leonardo Gamboa, a geological sciences student at The University of Texas in El Paso, was recognized with a $700 award in the Physical Science category for his presentation on findings from UW-Platteville’s National Science Foundation-funded Dune Undergraduate Geochronology and Geomorphology project, which he participated in this summer.

Leonardo Gamboa presents his findings from UW-Platteville's National Science Foundation-funded Dune Undergraduate Geochronology and Geomorphology project.


Gamboa said he learned about the DUGG project while a student at El Paso Community College, where he studied prior to UTEP.

“My advisor informed me about an opportunity to learn about geomorphology and conduct research up at the Great Lakes,” said Gamboa. “I had some research experience under my belt, and I thought performing more rigorous field work would benefit my learning. It did, without a doubt. From the get-go I was really interested in the program and even though it took me some time to adjust to the new environment, I realized that it was very much worth all the effort. I learned a lot.”

Gamboa added that he was happy to bring an award home and represent DUGG outside of Wisconsin. “I look forward to doing the same at the American Geophysical Union conference this year,” he said.

The DUGG project, which was supervised by Dr. J. Elmo Rawling III, UW-Platteville associate professor of geography and geology, in cooperation with Dr. Paul Hanson, associate professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources, determined the lake level history of Lake Michigan by dating sand dunes in various natural areas along the eastern side of Door County, Wisconsin.

Brennan Waupoose is pictured with his poster highlighting the research he conducted with Giselle Varrientos about the impact of invasive earthworm species in Great Lakes forests.


Giselle Varrientos, a UW-Platteville soil and crop science major from Kenosha, and Brennan Waupoose, a biological and physical sciences student at the College of Menominee Nation in Keshena, Wis., were recognized with a joint $700 award in the Agricultural and Environmental Life Sciences category for their presentation about the impact of invasive earthworm species in Great Lakes forests based on research funded through the Wisconsin Alliance for Minority Participation.

Dr. Evan Larson, UW-Platteville assistant professor of geography, supervises the invasive earthworm study, which is a cooperative project between UW-Platteville and the College of Menominee Nation and has continued in other forests in the Great Lakes Region. The main goal of the project is to determine if non-native earthworm species are present and, if so, how they change the fundamental dynamics of forests that have been earthworm-free since the end of the last ice age.

“The best part of working on this project was the field work,” said Waupoose, who said he was presenting research for the first time. “This entire experience has changed my goals. I am looking forward to finishing a bachelor’s degree in biology and continuing my studies in ecology or entomology, fields that will help when I return to the Menominee Nation to continue to protect the health of our world-renowned forest.”

Varrientos, who said she would like to continue her studies in agronomy in graduate school, said presenting at the conference and participating in an undergraduate research project opened her mind to all sorts of possibilities.

“I saw how much potential there is out there for me as a student, as a minority, as an undergraduate and, hopefully, as a graduate student,” Varrientos said. “I wanted to participate in a WiscAMP-funded program because they are an organization dedicated to advancing minorities. Being a first generation Latina student, I could not pass that up.”

Both undergraduate research projects were conducted in the UW-Platteville Tree-Ring, Earth and Environmental Sciences Laboratory. The mission of the TREES Laboratory is to conduct world-class, federally funded research that provides students opportunities for hands-on, high-impact, significant learning experiences through field research, data collection and dissemination of results.

For more information, contact Rawling at (608) 342-1680 or rawlingj@uwplatt.edu.

Contact: Dr. J. Elmo Rawling III, associate professor of geology and geography, UW-Platteville Geography Program, (608) 342-1680, rawlingj@uwplatt.edu

Written by: Barbara Weinbrenner, communications specialist, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, weinbreb@uwplatt.edu


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