Research Project Description

Nitrogen Fixers in a Western River Network is a research project that focuses on the controls of nitrogen fixations and documents the topography in a connected network of streams within the Eel River basin in the western United States. The results will help in the development of predictive maps that place the controls and consequences of biological nitrogen fixation into the context of river networks. The study also provides undergraduate students with experience in field ecology and the scientific process.

This study is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Project Title

Nitrogen Fixers in a Western River Network


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If there’s one word to describe how Angela Rosendahl ‘11 felt prior to embarking on her first research collaboration, it would be: terrified.

“I thought I wouldn’t be able to contribute anything,” says Rosendahl, an elementary education major with a STEM certificate. “I didn’t have any background knowledge on [analyzing and collecting data].”

Her fear quickly dissipated, however, as she realized how much she could learn.

“Most of my concerns came from not knowing the answers,” she says. “But in research you don’t know the answers at the onset. That’s why you do research. You’re setting out to prove or disprove something, and it’s a process of discovery throughout.”

Rosendahl and another St. Kate’s student researcher, Jessica Cormier, collaborated with biology Associate Professor Jill Welter during the summer of 2010. Their research is part of an on-going study that focuses on nutrient uptake and nitrogen fixation in streams and rivers. The project takes place on the Heath and Marjorie Angelo Coast Range Reserve in northern California. As part of a grant funded by the National Science Foundation, Welter brings St. Kate’s students to the reserve during the summer to gain hands-on experience in ecology.

Rosendahl, who’s enrolled in St. Kate’s Weekend Program, says her interest in this student-faculty collaborative research project at St. Kate’s was piqued after taking “Environmental Biology.” Welter co-teaches the course with Tony Murphy, executive director for the National STEM Center at St. Kate’s.

“I loved the class, and I approached [Jill] to see what my options were for furthering my knowledge in that area,” she says. Professor Welter told her about the research opportunity and asked if she wanted to join her ongoing project at the Angelo Reserve.

Rosendahl jumped at the chance.

“I had no idea what a collaborative research project was, but I really wanted to see how research was done and what was involved,” she says.

A year after the summer project, Rosendahl still feels the transformative effects of the collaboration with Welter on her professional growth.

“I came from a place where science just didn’t really co-exist with girls,” she says. “I have more confidence to go into a classroom full of children now and teach them science-related things without being scared. I’m really comfortable with what it takes to do research and complete an experiment.”

The research experience has also had a profound personal effect on her as well.

“It helped me see what my strong points were in a research setting,” she says. “And when I’m looking for a job later, I can tell [future employers] specifically what I know about myself.”

“I never dreamed going into this research opportunity I would learn as much about myself as I did. I thought there was everything to know about me and I was very wrong.”

According to Rosendahl, her experience has been enriching because of Welter’s support and the personal relationship the two were able to establish.

“There is no way I could pick a better mentor,” says Rosendahl. “She knew my apprehension about even admitting I liked science, but then she pushed me to try things and strive for more.”

Rosendahl’s advice for other St. Kate’s students: step outside your comfort zone.

“Whether research related or not, don’t be scared to ask questions, don’t be scared to jump in and do something, and don’t be scared to say what you think – even if it’s wrong,” she says.