Honors Student Soaking Up all School has to Offer

Oct. 26, 2015

Tiffany Atkinson, a senior honor’s student majoring in Environmental Science in the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) is soaking up all she can as an undergraduate researcher in the school.

Atkinson, who is specializing in water science, spent four weeks in Uganda this past summer conducting research at the Lake Nabugabo Research Station where she studied piscivorous birds (specifically multiple species of African Kingfishers) and whether they tend to hunt for fish in more clear or turbid (i.e. muddy) waters.  

A Pied Kingfisher. Photo by Ann Riley (OSU Alum).

“There is very little that can be found in the literature about this topic. I thought it would complement the work that I am doing here in Ohio for my honors thesis.”

At different sites, some with very clear water and some with very turbid water, Atkinson would watch for kingfishers to strike the water in an attempt to catch fish and take a water sample at the strike site to track the amount of turbidity in the water.

SENR Honors student Tiffany Atkinson taking a water sample at a Pied
Kingfisher strike site in Uganda.

Atkinson was accompanied by her faculty advisor, Dr. Suzanne Gray, an assistant professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources, and Richard Oldham, a Master’s student in SENR studying behavioral responses of fish to environmental stressors, who is also advised by Dr. Gray. The trio worked in collaboration with researchers from McGill University (Canada) investigating fish diversity in the Lake Victoria basin.

 
 
O-H-I-O Pride in Ugandan swamp.  Pictured left to right: Richard Oldham (Master's student), Tiffany Atkinson, Dr. Gray,
and Ann Riley (OSU Alum).
 
 “Getting to go to Uganda this summer – I gained an amazing amount of knowledge. It was seriously the experience of a lifetime!”
 
While there, Atkinson had the opportunity to help with an educational outreach program Dr. Gray is involved with called The Kasiisi Water Project.  She worked with local grade school children and taught them the importance of forests and swamps for water quality and some basic ways to test water quality.
 
“My favorite part was working with the children.  It was incredible!  They were so excited to go out into the swamp with us and to learn about the fish and insects that we showed them.  It helped me realize that education and outreach are definitely in my future!” she said.
 
“Experiencing a developing country and some of the hardships encountered on a daily basis has helped me grow as a person, and I now see the world in a completely different light.”
 
Tiffany credits participation in an Environmental Professionals Network breakfast focused on water quality as the spark starting a sequence of events that led her to her faculty advisor, who she worked with to develop an honor’s project matching her interest in water quality with Dr. Gray’s expertise in aquatic physiology.
 
Atkinson’s honors project research focuses on whether or not there is a relationship between turbidity and red and yellow sunfish coloration in the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers.  Red and yellow coloration comes from the ingestion of a hydrocarbon called carotenoids, but carotenoids can also be used to improve immune system health. Because of this, she is predicting that the sunfish will display more dull coloration in more turbid waters and they will display more saturated colors in clear waters.  
 
“This relationship can have many implications for the mating systems of the sunfish and for aquatic to terrestrial food web interactions.”
 

SENR Honors student Tiffany Atkinson, Richard Oldham (Master's student), and Jenna Odegard (Master's student) taking 
environmental measurements in the Scioto River.

 
 
To support her education and research, Atkinson is the recipient of the following awards and scholarships:
  • SEEDS: Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) Research Enhancement Grant
  • OSU Honors Summer Research Scholarship Program
  • Undergraduate Student Government Academic Enrichment Grant
  • Rhonda and Paul Sipp Student Research Award
  • The Ohio Environmental Science and Engineering Scholarship, Ohio EPA’s Environmental Education Fund
  • The Barnebey Family Scholarship Fund
 
“My experiences with research have really helped me grow. Science and research aren’t as easy as just asking a question and finding an answer.  A lot of planning and hard work goes into setting up and following through with a research project.  It also requires on-the-spot problem solving, teamwork, and great attention to detail, which are all things that will help me in my future career.”
 
Source:  Tiffany Atkinson
 
Photo caption top right:   Tiffany Atkinson, a senior honors student assisting with light and color research in Uganda.
 
October 27, 2015.