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April 13, 2018

Student-led research highlighted at Board of Trustees meeting

To showcase the latest in student-led research at Michigan State University, two scholars presented their academic endeavors at the Board of Trustees meeting on April 13.

Clara Lepard, who recently graduated in 2017 with a degree in zoology, showcased her undergraduate research on animal conservation efforts in East Africa and contributions to the global Snares to Wares art initiative. Joel Soler, a graduate student studying neuroscience, shared his latest findings on the effect lighting has on learning and memory.

"By showcasing research, we are able to give the MSU community a glimpse into the remarkable things our students are doing," said MSU Interim President John Engler. "Our reputation as a leading research university goes beyond our faculty and to our student body, and their current accomplishments are merely a preview of the impact they will have on the world."

Lepard, the 18th student in MSU's history to earn a Rhodes Scholarship, discussed Snares to Wares, which works with African youth to find raw metal materials poachers use to create animal traps and use them instead to create works of art. Not only is the program halting poachers' access to these metals, but it also provides artisans and local children with the opportunity to visit their national parks and conservation areas and gain a deeper appreciation for the animals and their role in the environment.

"Throughout my time at MSU, I've had the privilege to work on a variety of projects, but the Snares to Wares initiative has been the most meaningful," Lepard said. "No other project has been so deeply rooted in connecting the well-being of wildlife and human communities. This program has provided the framework for the rest of my career."

As an undergraduate in the College of Natural Science and Honors College, Lepard worked in six research labs and presented her findings twice at MSU's Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum. She worked with MSU's Research on the Ecology of Carnivores and their Prey Lab in Uganda studying how lions impact the behaviors of the species around them and the ecosystem as a whole. Lepard will begin her next academic chapter at Oxford University in October.

Soler came to MSU in 2015 through BEST, or Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training, an NIH-funded program that prepares doctoral students for careers outside academia through professional development and career-focused experiences.

Soler is studying how neural mechanisms respond to different environmental lighting conditions and how lighting may control learning and memory patterns. His research has received funding from National Institutes of Health and is the first to show that changes in environmental light leads to structural changes in the brain. Soler also is part of a focus group for the Society for Neuroscience and NIH that focuses on enhancing scientific rigor in neuroscience.

"When sunshine seems like a distant memory, people are more likely to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder," Soler said. "Our research aims to examine what exactly is going on in the brain when dim lighting conditions rule our days. We hope that our efforts spark the development of novel therapeutic strategies to reduce learning and memory deficits brought on by chronic dim lighting conditions."

Lepard and Soler were featured on a recent podcast.

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