Belles Present at Botany Conference
By Gina Twardosz '20
Saint Mary’s Science Hall is a maze of offices and laboratories brimming with life. This life includes animals, plants, and the various professors and students who collaborate together, working to plant seeds of knowledge in students. These botanists may have started their work at Saint Mary’s, but have since taken it far and wide.
Cassie Majetic, assistant professor of biology, and students Sophia Johnson ’19 and Paige Schurr ’19, both biology majors with interests in ecology, share this desire to teach and learn from each other. When Majetic learned that the Botanical Society of America was sponsoring an academic conference in Rochester, Minnesota, she invited student-researchers and a recent alumna along to present their research.
Conferences like these help Majetic spread the impact of her work. The same goes for students, as the it allows for networking and conversation they might not necessarily get to have with other botanists elsewhere, like discussing evolution, taxonomy, and the flowers of Tolkien's Middle Earth. As a mentor, Majetic has two goals for her students going to conferences. One is to expose them some of the research happening right now in the field, and the second is to help them gain an understanding of how to share their own findings with others.
Both Sophia and Paige presented their senior comprehensives which are based on summer research they were able to do in the Florida Keys at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Paige’s focus was on the Canella winterana, or Cinnamon Bark. Just like cinnamon, the plant has a distinct smell, and bright red flowers. What she found was interesting. Paige explains, “The female sex phase scent emission was different than the neuter phase and male sex phase. We believe that this could help to explain the difference in pollinator visitation for sexes; females are visited more commonly by butterflies and ants and males are more commonly visited by bees and wasps.”
Recent alumna Hanna Makowski ’18 also attended the conference with Majetic and presented her past senior comprehensive. Hanna is pursuing a PhD in ecology and evolution at the University of Virginia. At the conference she presented her research and received the Young Botanist Award.
“The importance of being able to communicate my work in a variety of settings became very apparent to me at the conference,” she said. “I went to a workshop on the first day of the conference about how to create an elevator speech for your research and found it beneficial to practice with my peers.”
For Paige, the panels and luncheons at the conference deepened her understanding of botany as a career. “I learned a lot of really interesting new things about plants, some of which helped to round out the discussion points for my own research,” she said. “As an undergrad research student, however, I was able to attend various panels and luncheons centered around ‘what to do after undergrad’ and ‘what to do with a botany degree.’ It was at these gathering that I learned the most valuable information.”