Dr. Lindsey Walters with a chickadee at one of her field sites in Northern Kentucky.
NKU student Chrisula Stone developed the research plan which will be funded by the Jed Burtt Mentoring Grant.
Dr. Lindsey Walters, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Northern Kentucky University, was awarded a Wilson Ornithological Society Jed Burtt Undergraduate Mentoring Grant which will support undergraduate research to develop a better way of measuring environmental contamination from methylmercury using the feathers of nestling Tree Swallows.
NKU biology major Chrisula Stone first developed the idea as part of a research proposal assignment in BIO291W Advanced Writing in Biology. Dr. Walters worked with Chrisula to develop the idea into a formal research proposal and collected pilot data during Summer 2019. Dr. Walters said she was impressed by the high quality of the proposal and Chrisula's commitment to see the project through, even though she is only a part-time student at NKU.
"She is essentially completing a Master's thesis-level project as an undergraduate student. Because this project was her idea from the start, it is extremely meaningful to Chrisula and very important for her career development."
Fieldwork begins this spring and includes repairing nest boxes, monitoring Tree Swallow breeding and nest progress, banding the birds and collecting feathers and blood from the nestlings. Dr. Walters and Chrisula will work with collaborator Rebecka Brasso at Weber State University in Utah to quantify the amount of methylmercury in the samples.
Dr. Walters expects the project will provide important new information on how to calculate the local impact of methylmercury, a global environmental contaminant that can lead to neurological disorders in humans and other species.
"Chrisula is among the best students I have had at NKU and is well-prepared to take on this project. She has excellent time management skills as she has effectively balanced her coursework with her full-time job while maintaining excellent grades in all her courses."
In return, Chrisula expressed her gratitude for having an outstanding research mentor.
"From the moment I met Dr. Walters three years ago, she has remained a consistently professional, approachable and caring role model and mentor – one who can be relied on for support and honest feedback. Her lab roster is always full in the summer, and I don’t doubt that is because of her reputation as one of the best to work with.
"Dr. Walters genuinely loves her job, cares about the quality of her work and its impact on the world and her students, and wholeheartedly wants to see all of her students succeed."
Dr. Walters was also a 2020 recipient of the NKU Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award.