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School of Environment and Natural Resources


Undergraduate Research Spotlight: Alisa Mancini

Alisa Mancini
Environmental Science ‘22
Peterman Lab

Alisa smiling in front of a floral background and while wearing a gray blazer and black topAlisa is currently a senior majoring in Environmental Science. During her time in SENR, she has been involved in GIVE at OSU and has researched the effects of eDNA on common mudpuppies in Alum Creek, Ohio. After graduation, Alisa plans to find a job in ecosystem restoration.

Read the full interview with Alisa:

A Glance at Alisa’s Research  

What research were you involved in?
My research took place in the Peterman lab studying the effect of eDNA sample collection season on common mudpuppy (Necturus macolosus) detection in Alum Creek, Ohio, with Dr. Bill Peterman. eDNA is environmental DNA and can serve as a way of understanding populations without studying the individuals directly. The purpose of my research was to determine if environmental factors, such as temperature and sunlight, impact eDNA detection in a known mudpuppy habitat.

To study this question, I collected water samples from Alum Creek over the course of a year, filtering the water and freezing the samples at the Peterman Lab, and extracting and analyzing the DNA at The Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio. I did the weekly collections myself, however, I once worked with Ryan Wagner, a grad student, to collect samples every 100 meters throughout a 1 kilometer stretch at a different location farther down the creek. Ryan and I also went back to this same stretch to take water velocity and habitat suitability measurements. The DNA extraction at The Wilds was done by me with supervision and guidance from Genelle Uhrig, Director of Wildlife Ecology, and Ruth Freemon, Genelle’s associate. Dr. Peterman helped me determine my overall project and the logistics of the sampling. I then worked with other members of the Peterman Lab on eastern red-backed salamander surveying and processing for SPARCnet (Salamander Population & Adaptation Research Collaboration Network).  

Being involved in the Peterman Lab has given me opportunities to aid in data collection for other projects through mudpuppy trapping and red-backed salamander surveys.

How did you hear about this opportunity?
I heard of this opportunity through Dr. Lauren Pintor. She had provided the honors undergrads on the research track with a list of potential projects we could join. It mentioned that the eDNA project was through The Wilds, so I asked Dr. Pintor for the contact information of who I should speak with at The Wilds. A salamander in a bucket of water

Were there any challenges you faced in getting involved in research? How did you overcome them?
Finding a faculty advisor was a slight challenge for me. After being connected with the Director of Wildlife Ecology at The Wilds, he became my research advisor. I wasn’t sure who to ask to be my faculty advisor, as I didn’t know of anyone who did eDNA research within SENR. I reached out to one of my past professors, explained my project to him, and asked if he would be my faculty advisor. He declined because he knew Dr. Bill Peterman was actively working on mudpuppy eDNA projects. He provided me with the contact information and after reaching out, Dr. Peterman became my faculty advisor.

What aspect of your research do you feel was most valuable in your professional development? 
I feel as though the field work and logistics have been the most valuable aspects for my professional development. I now have a better understanding of how time-intensive research is, especially the field and lab components. I have also gained communication skills through working with new people and ensuring my project stayed on track. 

What advice would you give to someone who is hoping to get involved in research?
Be sure to look up faculty members online and review their research – this is the best way to find out what projects are out there and ensure you get involved in a project that matches your interests. 

Reach out to anyone who has experience in something that catches your eye. Not all faculty will be able to accept undergrads, but the more people you connect with, the better chance you have of landing a research position.  

College Life and Beyond 

Alisa extracting DNA from her samples at The Wilds What else have you been involved in during college?
I am a SENR Student Leadership Board Ambassador and a Columbus Zoo and Aquarium volunteer. I am also involved in Growth International Volunteer Excursions (GIVE). Through this organization, I have volunteered in Tanzania and Hawaii to engage in asset-based community development. I am now the President of GIVE at OSU, and we volunteer around Columbus and help students prepare to travel abroad with GIVE.

What are your career aspirations? How do the skills you are learning now help you get there?
I am hoping to find a job in ecosystem restoration after I graduate in May 2022. I am learning how to be successful in collecting field samples and following lab procedures. I am also developing a better sense of how to go about interpreting data and communicating my results with others. I know these skills will be crucial in restoration ecology, as all restoration efforts are based on scientific findings and most projects involve a variety of stakeholders from different backgrounds.



How to connect with Alisa:  


Post created November 2021