MORRIS – Peter Wyckoff, professor of biology, is one of ten University of Minnesota, Morris professors guiding students in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Summer Research Program. Wyckoff and students Thomas Pederson, Josh Bartles, Katie Beauto, and Cailyn Horsch are collecting data that will help predict the response of regional forests to climate change in the next century.
In addition to climate, the group is exploring several drivers of forest dynamics, including soil nutrients, deer, invasive earthworms, and the invasive European buckthorn tree. Their work takes them across west central Minnesota, from south of Marshall to north of Moorhead.
“To answer some of the big questions like ‘What does climate change mean for the forest,’ you’re often putting together data sets that are too big for one person,” said Wyckoff. “It requires collaboration.”
Wyckoff and his students are sharing their collected data with teams from several other schools in the region. Despite being a part of this network in the biology field, the experience of Morris students centers on personal mentorship.
“That’s the whole thing about summer research,” said Wyckoff. “I just got done teaching two classes, and between them I had 70 students. In the summer I have four students...it’s a lot more one-on-one. The student research assistant-professor relationship is different than the ‘I’m just taking a class from you’ relationship.”
Within this student-professor dynamic is personalized education and experience. During experiment overnight camps and in traveling to these research sites, Wyckoff and his students get to know each other, blending a shared mutual sense of respect and sense of humor.
The Undergraduate Summer Research Program is supported in part by a grant to the University of Minnesota, Morris from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program. Funding also is provided by the National Science Foundation.