South Dakota to Kentucky, Eastern Students Conduct NSF Research

Two Eastern students spent the summer working on National Science Foundation-sponsored research projects in Sioux Falls, SD, and Menifee County, KY.

Taylor Brown and a team of researchers in the East Fork Indian Creek.

Psychology major Kelly Bielonko ’18 learned about the challenges faced by rural Native Americans in Sioux Falls, while biology major Taylor Brown ’18 monitored river restoration efforts of the East Fork Indian Creek in Kentucky. Both students participated in 10-week Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs), a program of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

In South Dakota, Bielonko tackled a number of projects at the Sanford Research institute in Sioux Falls. Among them, she conducted an analysis of the factors and outcomes of burnout-related teacher attrition in tribal and rural schools in the United States.

Kelly Bielonko at Sanford Research in Sioux Falls

“The focus of my topic comes from my passion for organizational psychology, occupational health and serving those who are underserved,” said Bielonko. “I am looking at cultural, community, school-level and student-level factors that contribute to teachers becoming burned out, as well as the outcomes that follow.”

Brown examined the impact of “cross-vanes” on fish diversity and habitat quality along a restored site of the East Fork Indian Creek in Kentucky. Cross-vanes are U-shaped structures made with rocks or boulders to direct energy toward the center of the channel rather than toward the stream bank, which is supposed to reduce erosion, improve habitat and provide stability of the channel.

“This interests me because my goal is to work in conservation,” said Brown. “By doing this project, I am able to provide information to researchers of organizations, such as the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, regarding the impact that their stream management structures are having. I got to see if these structures are actually benefitting the area.”

The NSF-funded program aims to enhance students’ overall knowledge of the research process, develop their communication skills and assist them in short and long-term goal setting to increase future educational and research-related career success. “The REU had a significant impact on my research insight,” said Brown. “I have done a considerable amount of fieldwork, learned new techniques and have figured out the direction that I want to go in from here. I am excited to do more research in the future.”