Ashley Gordon (Class of 2015)

photo of Ashley Gordon

  • junior Zoology major
  • co-major in Environmental Science
  • minor in Statistical Methods
  • from St. Clairsville, OH
  • conducted her own research project on the effects of pond drying and predation on cricket frog tadpoles
  • volunteer coordinator for Feed My Starving Children, a student organization that sends meal packages to hungry children around the world
"This past summer I also did a research project here, in Oxford, at the Ecology Research Center. I worked with Dr. Michelle Boone and one of her graduate students, Melissa Youngquist. Both of them were great mentors who helped me design my project."

Why Miami?

Ashley Gordon during her Tropical Marine Ecology course

"Miami was really just a perfect blend of everything I wanted in a university. I came on my first tour in August of my senior year of college and just fell in love with it. I only visited one other university because I loved it here so much. What's really unique about Miami’s campus is it's a big university with a small school feel. It's big enough that you can have access to a variety of resources and programs, but then it's also small enough that you have a sense of community. And Miami had the programs I was interested in.

"At the time I was applying to college, I wasn't 100% sure that I wanted to go into zoology as my major, but I knew I had an interest in animals and environmental issues. Miami offered programs for both ecological and environmental research and studies, so I was attracted to the university for that reason as well. I'd like to go into aquatic research, and I have an internship this upcoming summer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Sandy Hook, New Jersey to work on a project investigating the effects of climate change on larval fish development that will help me gauge if that is ultimately the direction that I want to go.

"Early on I applied as undecided and started taking classes that aligned with the zoology major. I also took a couple other classes through the honors program that weren't directly related and realized that zoology really was what I liked. I loved my general bio class, loved the professors, got a general feel for the department and realized that was what I wanted to do."

Conducting Research and Considering the Path to Graduate School

Ashley Gordon conducted some of her research in mesocosms like these at the Ecology Research Center.

"The summer going into my sophomore year I took a marine ecology course, and we went to the Florida Keys and the Bahamas for 2 weeks. I just absolutely loved that course and the experience, and I got to know my professor, Dr. Hays Cummins, really well through that. Dr. Cummins and his wife Dr. Donna McCollum both helped me get excited about that area of study, and they also told me about the NOAA internship, which you have to apply over a year in advance.

"This past summer I also did a research project here, in Oxford, at the Ecology Research Center. I worked with Dr. Michelle Boone and one of her graduate students, Melissa Youngquist. Both of them were great mentors who helped me design my project, and it was really unique because they asked me, 'What are you interested in?' and 'How can we tailor this project to your interests?' I basically got to design my own project where I reared cricket frog tadpoles in mesocosms, which are just like giant baby pools.

Cricket frog

"I'm interested in how climate change affects ecosystems and organisms, and how pond drying—natural evaporation from the heat—and predation affect tadpole development. With climate change causing summers to become hotter and drier, there is more concern that ponds will dry more quickly. So, if amphibians don't reach metamorphosis before that happens, then they die as tadpoles, which could affect the populations of certain species and have large repercussions in the whole food chain. My research stemmed from there. I will also have the opportunity next semester to continue working in Dr. Boone's lab with Melissa on a bullfrogs genetics study and am excited to explore a different area of research as well.

"I've thought about becoming a professor or research scientist for a government organization, so having experience in research and working with graduate students has helped me realize that pursuing a Master's degree and potentially a PhD is something I am very interested in doing. Running my own project this summer allowed me to learn firsthand what being a scientist entails and gave me insight into what grad school may be like: scientific writing, data analysis, and so on. I also learned what teaching involves and got to practice some teaching myself. I really loved it, and it encouraged me to consider that as a career option."

Favorite Classes at Miami

"Last year I really enjoyed my ecology and environmental science classes. I got to know the professors and found a lot of value in the discussion format. For my ecology class with Dr. Mike Vanni, we also had to do a literature review on a certain topic and give a 12-minute presentation on it. I presented on ocean iron fertilization, which we didn't really discuss very much in class, so that was challenging for me because I basically had to teach myself some of the terminology, talk with my professor, and say, 'Can you help explain this to me? I'm kind of confused about what this means.' But that experience was part of the learning and inquiry process, and I put a lot of time and effort into reading scientific papers—it definitely takes a while to get the hang of their style!

"This past semester, I took a capstone course where I worked with a group to design a proposal for a traveling exhibit on Acton Lake's watershed. The professors plan to pull components from each group's proposal and actually build the exhibit. This class really helped me understand the importance of communicating scientific information with the public and was very rewarding because I had the opportunity to be a part of making something that will positively impact the local community."

Miami and Liberal Arts Education

"I'm getting a Bachelor of Science, so I haven't experienced that many classes outside of my major due to being focused on the sciences. However, I've had the opportunity to take some classes outside of my major, like public speaking, anthropology, and a service-learning course called Opening Minds Through Art. It's a program where students do artwork with people with dementia at local nursing homes. I've been doing one hour of volunteering a week with people at the Knolls of Oxford continuous care retirement facility and doing artwork with them, so that is a really cool experience.

"Having a major in the College of Arts and Science allows me to also do things not really related to my major, which has helped to make me more well-rounded. My public speaking class, for example, has definitely come in handy. I've had to give presentations on my research findings in my ecology classes, so public speaking is a very important skill in science that is sometimes overlooked. I definitely think there are advantages to having experiences in different disciplines."

Participating in Campus Student Organizations

Feed My Starving Children members pose for a group photo.

"I'm involved in a couple of campus student organizations and Phi Sigma Pi, an academic national honor fraternity. These activities definitely help me get a little stress relief from the hard sciences. As the scholarship chair for Phi Sigma Pi, I get to plan fun events to help the members of our fraternity learn. Last year we had a yoga program, an improv program—a number of different, fun, diverse activities to help the members learn.

"I'm also the volunteer coordinator of a new campus organization called Feed My Starving Children (FMSC), founded by its president, Jordan Habel, during my freshman year. Every spring, with the help of the national FMSC organization, we have a MobilePack event to package over 100,000 meals to send to children all over the world. Event volunteers physically pack the meals themselves, which consist of rice, soy, chicken flavoring, and dried vegetables, and then they are sealed in airtight plastic bags and shipped abroad. Last year our meals went to Kenya and Somalia. It's been really cool being able to help structure the organization so that it's able to grow and be sustained after we graduate; hopefully I'll be able to come back 5 years from now and see that it's still growing and they're still having the event."

Advice to Students

"When you're coming in as a freshman, don't be afraid to branch out and take some different classes and explore a little bit. I know I was a little apprehensive about going into zoology and then, once I took the class, I realized that this is what I wanted to do. I know other people who had the opposite experience, too: they came in with the zoology major, took another class, and then said, 'Zoology isn't for me; I want to go this way.' But just branch out a little bit in your freshman year and talk to faculty members—they're very approachable and willing to help you figure out your interests.

"As a freshman, try to get involved in research. Doing so as early as possible gives you more opportunities that will stem from that. I got involved in a lab the spring semester of my freshman year, and by the following year I was able to start writing my proposal for my project in the fall. Had I not been involved in the lab that spring, it might have been more difficult for me to build those connections and work on my project that early on. I also got to be an undergraduate assistant for an introductory biology lab working alongside a graduate student and presented weekly lab material and helped students with their experiments in class. That was a really great experience for me. So, the earlier you get into research the better."

[September 2013]