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School of Environment and Natural Resources


Undergraduate Research Spotlight: Kylie Wadkowski

Kylie Wadkowski
Environmental Science ‘22
Honors Program & NASA Student Airborne Research Program

Kylie smiling wearing a black jacket with a red backpack in front of a river and vegetationKylie is currently a senior majoring in Environmental Science with a specialization in Water Science. During her time in SENR, she has been involved in Mount Scholars and participated in research through the Honors program and the NASA Student Airborne Research Program. After graduation, Kylie plans to pursue a Ph.D. and be a professor.

Read the full interview with Kylie:

A Glance at Kylie’s Research

My research started in January 2020 when I made training data for a machine learning project and made shape files that helped classify rivers in Alaska. That’s a pretty basic concept, but I learned a lot from it. After that, I conducted more analysis using my own interpretation of data. The analysis was of the discharge accuracy from the satellite estimate, and I did that using two different flow laws. I used the Manning-Strickler equation, which is what was needed to calculate discharge. I then presented this information virtually at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting last December in 2020.

Since then, I’ve been trying to develop my thesis for the research I am conducting through the Honors program this year. I wrote a proposal in January 2021 to go to Alaska and take width measurements of the rivers to validate the width observations from satellites, because the width is one of the parameters that goes into the Manning-Strickler equation that I used before. For this project, I was looking at the effect of the width accuracy on the discharge calculations.

Fortunately, this program was accepted by the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program at OSU. As a result, I started planning the trip to Alaska over the spring 2021 semester and got to meet virtually with the science director of the US Geological Service (USGS) in Alaska, Jeff Conway, to figure out logistics of me going along the shorelines. I then travelled to Alaska in August for two weeks and used a Bad Elf GINSS surveyor, which has submeter accuracy in the post-process. The key was getting better accuracy than the satellites we would be using for our data. Now, I'm working on post-processing the data and am presenting an expanded version of what I presented last year, again at the AGU Fall Meeting.Kylie smiling wearing a black top while holding a laptop with her research

Another research project I conducted was through a virtual internship I completed this summer with the NASA Student Airborne Research Program (SARP). Through the program, you get to fly on an aircraft and take air samples, which I’m doing soon since it wasn’t possible this past summer. Over the summer, I got grouped into an ocean remote sensing group with a mentor from UC Santa Cruz and a graduate student. We worked with them to make an individual research project using remote sensing data. With that, I did a project in the San Francisco Bay Area and wanted to switch gears and do interdisciplinary work, since my past research was more focused on physical science. I wanted to quantify the restoration efforts they’ve been doing and see if there was a correlation between the NDVI values, which are the values for the vegetation presence using calculations from the satellite data.

I then compared these values, which were in the riparian buffer zones, to the suspended sediment in the water and tried to see if planting more vegetation next to water sources would help reduce the sediment within water. This was important to research since the area has received more sediment with urbanization. The research ended up being inconclusive because they’re in a drought right now, and since both of the values are influenced by precipitation, it was hard to look past that and find a pattern between them. I still learned a lot, especially about coding, which was great since I didn’t have much experience in coding.

Kylie smiling in front of her research posterHow did you hear about this opportunity?
I learned about the research with AGU and Alaska through my advisor, Dr. Michael Durand in the School of Earth Sciences. He was my advisor for the work in Alaska and helped me. Then, in combination with the honor colloquium class for the Honors program, taught by Dr. Pintor, I learned how to write a proposal and used that knowledge to figure out how to get to Alaska. I doubt I would have done this without that class.

I learned about SARP when I was looking for a back-up in case the Alaska proposal didn’t work out. Someone in my lab group with Dr. Durand did this program in their undergraduate studies and recommended it. I then applied and ended up doing both research opportunities over the summer.


"Really talk to people. My life was changed when I started making connections, especially in classes that you’re interested in pursuing more."

What aspect of your research do you feel was most valuable in your professional development?
Research skills in general are different from taking classes, so it was valuable to be challenged to think creatively and critically. I really had this chance in SARP. I had to be more confident about my methods and answers and not question myself. I have always loved school, and learning but research is a whole different thing since you have to search for the answers yourself.

Were there any challenges you faced in getting involved in research? If so, how did you overcome them?

The most challenging thing is working with people that have more experience than you. When you start research, you often want to jump right into a project, but it can be intimidating to work with people who have been working on and studying that topic for a long time. I learned and accepted that it’s okay not to know everything. You are learning, and your collaborators are there to help you. Another challenge was coding, because I had never taken any courses on coding before and it was a brand new topic for me. Practice is the only way to overcome it.Kylie wearing a mask while wearing a jean jacket sitting in an airplane

What advice would you give to someone who is hoping to get involved in research?

Reach out to as many people as you can. When I started reaching out to people, I realized how much they know and how many resources are out there. As my interest in research sparked, I reached out to Renee Johnston, who connected me to Dr. Pintor. My whole path was directed by people I got to meet with. I recommend talking to as many people as possible since they have so many resources.

And then, really talk to people. My life was changed when I started making connections, especially in classes that you’re interested in pursuing more. Plus, you may need those connections later for a letter of recommendation or reference.

College Life and Beyond

What else have you been involved in during college?
I’ve been involved with the Mount Scholars program since my freshman year and have held leadership roles within the program as a committee chair. I have also been a part of College Mentors for Kids. I wasn’t as involved during the COVID-19 pandemic but I’m hoping to be a more active member next semester. Additionally, I’m a Student Instructional Assistant for the Intro to Environmental Science (ENR 2100) course.

Kylie on a boat in a river in front of green pasturesWhat are your career aspirations at this time?
I just applied to grad school and applied to only Ph.D. programs. The Ph.D. programs I applied to are in the areas of environmental science, earth science, biology, ecology and evolutionary science. Right now I think I want to be a professor, but that could change. I think a lot of people change their minds about being a professor during graduate school, but that’s my current idea. The applications were due December 1st and now I’m just waiting to hear back!

What skills are you learning now that you could transfer to those career aspirations?
My skills in remote sensing are most transferable for what I want to do, in terms of hard/technical skills. I think that just understanding the research process and knowing what I’m getting into from past experience has helped prepare me. In addition, presentation skills and being able to communicate your data are really important parts of research, and I’ve been able to gain those skills through the presentations I’ve done at AGU and SARP.



How to connect with Kylie:


Post created December 2021