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Alumni News

Find out what past Center for Tree Science Undergraduate Researchers have been doing since their time at The Morton Arboretum.

Fall 2020 Update - Summer URF/REU Participants

Erik O. Desotelle (2014) graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a degree in Urban Forestry. He now works in Wholesale Sales at Johnson's Nursery in Menomonee Falls, while teaching at Gateway Technical College in their Horticulture Program for Trees, Shrubs, and Evergreens. With the insight and experience provided from past and current co-workers, Erik is developing a plant resource for homeowners and contractors in Wisconsin. You can view his work at kb.jniplants.com. He is also doing presentations with community groups like the Wild Ones, WI Master Gardeners, and the Milwaukee Art Museum Garden Club. Erik truly enjoys sharing his knowledge with the general public and finds it helps people get into plants.

Kathrine (Katie) Klaus (2014) graduated in May 2020 with a JD from Vermont Law School and a Master of Environmental Management from the Yale School of the Environment. She took the bar exam over the summer and was sworn in as an attorney, recently joined a law firm. After her time at the Arboretum, Katie interned with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, and an environmental nonprofit called Save the Sound. She was a clinician at the Yale Law School Environmental Protection Clinic, where she completed a project for a client, the Natural Resources Defense Council. Katie was published in the Vermont Law Review and the Yale Environment Review.

Mary Jordan Babiez (2015) completed a master's degree from Rutgers in 2018 in Plant Biology, specializing in Plant Pathology. During that time, she worked in the Rutgers Plant Diagnostic Lab and is now an arborist with SavATree.  She recently got engaged to her boyfriend, who worked on similar research (isoprene levels in oaks) with her at the Arboretum. They are looking forward to finding a house soon, one with a yard full of oaks to care for!

Bruce Jake Berger (2015) completed a master’s degree in Environmental Science and a Master of Public Affairs degree in December 2019 from Indiana University Bloomington. He is very happy to be working with the U.S. EPA in Chicago in Clean Water Act enforcement, doing industrial/municipal water pollution inspections and case management to bring water polluters into compliance with their permits and local/state/federal laws. 

Erin Pfarr (2015) lived in France for two years after her internship at the Arboretum, teaching English to elementary school children. In 2017, she started graduate school at Rutgers University where she is pursuing a PhD in Plant Biology. Erin is working with the popular flowering dogwood trees (Cornus florida and Cornus kousa) and has presented her work through oral and poster presentations at many conferences. She is currently wrapping up her research and writing her thesis.

Nick Steichmann (2015) is attending University of South Carolina, pursuing a PhD in Biology. He studies eye design in caridean shrimp and its role in dynamic color change. He is currently working as a Graduate Instructional Assistant teaching Cell and Molecular Biology Lab. Nick passed his qualifying exam, attended the 2020 Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology (SICB) conference, and is applying for a Graduate Research Fellowship Program grant. 

Mackenzie Coden (2016) is a first year PhD student at Yale University studying Immunobiology and has authored several papers.

Kasey Pham (2016) finished her BS and MS, receiving a department fellowship upon admission to graduate school. She was 2nd author on Garner et al. 2019 International Oaks (publication), published May 2019 in International Oaks No. 30: 131–138, and is pursuing her PhD at the University of Florida, studying the evolution of tree hybrids.

Sara Desmond (2017) completed her degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and spent time in an AmeriCorps program doing environmental restoration field work. Through this experience, Sara was introduced to urban farming and is looking forward to her apprenticeship through the Chicago Botanic Garden. She is also interested in future environmental restoration opportunities in the Chicago area. The paper that Sara helped work on during her time at the Arboretum is currently in review in the American Journal of Botany and the authors are hoping it will be published!

Taskeen Khan (2017) is interning for Wolfram Alpha collecting nutrition data, and is part of a University of Illinois lab group creating science curriculums for 3rd grade. She also spent three months interning for Farmer Nick NYC (https://www.instagram.com/farmernicknyc/) and created an e-course about houseplants and plant science that will be rolled out in Fall 2021. Taskeen is ultimately interested in finding a position in science education and communication. 

Samantha Pancock (2017) was a co-author on a paper published in Global Change Biology, part of work from her time as an Arboretum intern (https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14541). She worked with the EPA for a year, with several publications in the Federal Register, before returning to the Arboretum as a research assistant for Dr. Chuck Cannon in the Center of Tree Science. Samantha’s general research focus is on evolution and conservation of trees. A major project she is working on is the ongoing implementation of a “tree observatory” platform for the simultaneous collection of many different types of data on tree behavior, growth, and status.

Liz Gibbons (2018) is currently a research data technician, working on human genetics and neurodegenerative diseases. She has published two papers in her current position, and hoping to have more on the way soon. Liz is currently applying for PhD programs in RNA biology.

Lydia Schlaefke (2018) has held positions in the research field and clinical laboratory setting since her time at the Arboretum. She worked as a Research Assistant at UConn Health looking at rare bone diseases; however, Covid-19 required she change course and take a temporary position in a clinical laboratory setting processing patient coronavirus tests using Real-Time PCR. In October, Lydia started a new position in the Greater Boston area as a Research Assistant at a biotech startup called Dyne Therapeutics. They are currently exploring innovative therapeutic treatments for rare muscle diseases.

Ashley Wojciechowski (2018) began her PhD work analyzing long-term trends in aboveground biomass at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) restored grassland placed 3rd in the ESA Ecological Restoration Student Poster Competition. She is preparing a manuscript about the research she presented and is studying for her oral comprehensive exams to be a PhD candidate. She also adopted another cat during quarantine and is adjusting to life with two energetic cats while working (mostly) remotely!

Mariah Casmey (2019) is currently an MSc student at University of Alberta in Renewable Resources with a concentration in Forest Biology and Management.

Sydney Kaplan (2019) is a senior at the Illinois Institute of Technology, pursuing a Master's of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering. After her experience at the Arboretum, she presented her research at the International Symposium for Precision Management of Orchards and Vineyards in Palermo Italy. She completed an internship in New Zealand with Abundant Robotics, an agricultural technology startup developing an apple harvesting robot before returning to the Arboretum on a Research Experience Extension Fellowship (REEF), continuing to investigate drones for tree science, developing vision tracking software and exploring methods for semi-autonomous flight. 

Ella Segal (2019) is on track to graduate in May 2021, writing a senior thesis on how grass/fungal endophyte mutualisms may shift with climate change. Since completing her time at the Arboretum, Ella has stayed involved in preparing the resulting publication with her advisors, gotten involved with an ecology lab at her school, and has an interest in pursuing graduate school.

Theodore Bohdanowycz (2020) earned his Associates degree from Washtenaw Community College in general math and science and is looking to earn his B.S. in sustainable development and restoration ecology. His internship experience solidified his desire to include conservation and restoration on his path to a future career.

Janey Lienau (2020) returned to continue her summer research as a Research Experience Extension Fellow (REEF), working in the Soil Ecology Lab to further her skills in R programming and data analysis and develop technical lab skills that were missed because of the nature of the virtual 2020 program. She plans to apply for master's programs in soil ecology.

Leslie Vargas (2020) graduated from the University of the South a semester early and will be returning as a Research Experience Extension Fellow (REEF) working on the 2020 Tree Census Report. She is interested in a future job within the Chicagoland area focusing on natural resources or urban forestry.

Fall 2020 Update - Past fellows and Interns

Marina Jawad (2016-2017) finished her internship and went on to become the President of Bethel University's Creation Restoration club, conducting invasive plant species removals around campus with students. She graduated in 2016 and has been working as a consultant for an environmental consulting firm. She uses her plant ID skills in the field during site visits and soil sampling activities. She writes Environmental Assessments and Reports and continues to learn more about the state and country's changing environmental regulations.

Jessica Oros (2017-2019) began her undergraduate degree studying microbiology at the University of Chicago, and joined a virology laboratory. She also joined a competitive synthetic biology team on campus and had the chance to do computational work this summer in support of a wet lab project engineering a microbial system to degrade microplastics in contaminated water systems. Jessica also had the chance to participate in a Virtual Sustainability Trek program through the university where she heard from urban foresters, chemical engineers, and economists focused on promoting sustainability across the country and world.

Norbaya Durr (2020) attends Elmhurst College, taking an advanced chemistry course and another Honors Research course. She attended the 2020 Wild Things conference, had two publications, and is busy applying for grants.

Fall 2019 Update

Bruce “Jake” Berger (2015) spent the summer of 2019 working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Chicago. This biology internship involved monitoring and modeling invasive fish populations and movements. Jake will be graduating this December from Indiana University Bloomington, with an M.S. in Environmental Science and Master of Public Affairs, focused on Water Resource Management. Group blog posts archive.

Nick Steichmann (2015) is pursuing a PhD at the University of South Carolina, working in the Speiser Lab. His interests include Biology, Marine Invertebrates, Scallops, Shrimp, Chitons, and Conch. Nick let us know the 2 summers he spent at the Arboretum helped him be a more confident presenter, ask more meaningful questions, and discover new opportunities in research he wouldn't have otherwise known about! 

Mackenzie Coden (2016) is currently a Research Technician performing immunology research at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. Mackenzie has presented research at various regional and national conferences, published two papers last year, and has several papers in preparation. Mackenzie's blog posts.

Kasey Pham (2016) received a department fellowship to attend the University of Florida, pursuing a PhD in Botany/Plant Biology, and is working in the Laboratory of Molecular Systematics & Evolutionary Genetics at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The project she pitched for her PhD dissertation work was developed at the Arboretum! Kasey's blog posts.

Amy Byrne (2017) is now working as a Global Tree Conservation Assistant and Oak Consortium Coordinator at The Morton Arboretum, focusing on outreach and communication with arboreta and botanic gardens while utilizing her environmental science background. Amy has submitted proposals to present at two conferences, assisted on submitting a large grant proposal, and participated in numerous professional development opportunities. Amy's blog posts.

Taskeen Khan (2017) returned to the Arboretum in the summer of 2018. As a REEF (Research Experience Extension Fellow), she continued her work from the previous year and presented it at the 2018 Undergraduate Research Symposium. She is currently a Research Assistant in the Fraterigo Lab, studying the impact of forest fires, and in May of 2020 she will complete her undergraduate degree in Integrative Biology Honors and Chemistry. Taskeen received the Integrative Biology Honors Junior Achievements Scholarship, and is an Illinois Undergraduate Research Ambassador, promoting undergraduate research. Taskeen's blog posts.

Sierra Lopezalles (2017) continues to pursue her undergraduate degree in Biology at Caltech and will graduate in June of 2020. Sierra's blog posts.

Cori Butkiewicz (2018) graduated from University of Maryland with a BS in Biological Sciences: Ecology and Evolution and is currently pursuing an MS in Forestry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cori enjoyed participating in National Dendroecological Field Week and when asked how her time at the Arboretum impacted her career, she told us it gave her a reference that allowed her to get into grad school and do the research she really want to do! Cori's blog posts.

Lydia Schlaefke (2018) has completed her BS in Environmental Biology/Microbiology with a minor in Environmental Sustainability Studies from Michigan State University. Prior to graduating she worked as a Lab Technician at MSU's Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences, and as a Laboratory Supervisor at Fibertec Industrial Hygiene Industries. She was recently hired as a Research Assistant for Orthopaedic Surgery at UConn Health. Lydia's blog posts.

Ashley Wojciechowski (2018) continued her research as a REEF (Research Experience Extension Fellow) through her senior year and presented her work at the Midwestern Ecology and Evolution Conference. She completed her degree from North Central College and is now a Graduate Research Assistant in the Baer Lab at The University of Kansas, pursuing a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Ashley's blog post and REEF project.

Gabriela Krochmal (2019) will be graduating from Loyola University Chicago in December of 2019, with a BS in Environmental Science.  When asked about the impact of the summer research experience on her career path, she noted an increase in her independent research skills, ability to formulate a project, and statistical analysis, as well as learning to communicate science more efficiently. Gabby's blog posts.


Fall 2018 Update

Liz Carter (2014) is pursuing her MS in Environmental Science at DePaul; published her URF project results, "Do oaks with a provenance related to warmer climates emit more isoprene?" in the DePaul science journal, DePaul Discoveries in 2015; and presented the results of her senior thesis project at the International Urban Wildlife Conference in May of 2015. The poster was titled "Linking mammalian habitat use to vegetation community structure in the Chicagoland region."  Group blog posts archive.

Kathrine Klaus (2014) is an Environmental Mission Scholar at Vermont Law School.  She recently wrote and presented a Note suggesting the Clean Water Act encompasses the discharge of pollutants to groundwater that is hydrologically connected to surface water and she is seeking publication for that Note.  In the summer of 2017, Kathrine worked for the EPA in the Office of Regional Counsel in Chicago, and in the summer of 2018, she worked for the Department of Justice in the Natural Resources Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division in Washington, D.C.  Group blog posts archive.


Angélica Bannwart Lopes (2015) is currently teaching English to children (12 - 15) at a state school in Goias, Brazil.  She earned her Forest Engineering degree, thanks, in part, to the skills received during the URF, and while she plans to pursue a career in the field, Angélica is truly enjoying her job as a teacher.  Group blog posts archive.

Bruce “Jake” Berger (2015) is studying Water Resource Management at Indiana University Bloomington, pursuing an MS in Environmental Science and a Master of Public Affairs.  He is working with faculty at IU Bloomington to study how well states are preparing for conservation issues related to climate change in their federally mandated State Wildlife Action Plans.  Jake has performed field work in the Galapagos Islands to catch and study sea turtles, and has worked with the Indiana Clean Lakes Program to perform lake sampling and measurements for public water bodies to assess water quality.  Group blog posts archive.


Nick Steichmann (2015) presented his research on Lake George in Illinois City to the Upper Mississippi center;  and this spring he went to Australia and completed an internship at the University of Sydney working with native bees and ants.  He enjoyed visiting the Great Barrier Reef so much that he is currently applying for PhD programs in marine biology.  

Mackenzie Coden (2016) changed her field of study and is currently a research technician in the department of Allergy and Immunology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.  She has attended and presented at local, regional, and national Immunology conferences, authored two publications, with several more in preparation for submission, and is planning to pursue a PhD in the coming years.  Mackenzie's blog posts.

Kasey Pham (2016) is pursuing her MS at Michigan State, studying Plant Biology.  She published Pham et al. 2017 in the journal Genome, is a coauthor on Fitzgibbon et al. 2017, also in Genome, and received a PLANTS grant to attend the Botany 2017 meeting, where she presented a talk.  Kasey's blog posts.

Quinn Taylor (2016) is currently a high school science teacher and Math/Science department head at Fusion Academy.  She co-authored a paper on her research with her URF mentor, Dr. Meghan Midgley, which can be found in the March 2018 issue of Forest Ecology and Management.  In August 2017 Quinn traveled to Portland, Oregon to present this research at the ESA Annual Meeting.  Quinn's blog posts.

Amy Byrne (2017) spent the summer working as a Population Biology intern at the Lincoln Park Zoo Conservation & Science Department.  She will be a co-author on a paper "Sex-specific median life expectancies from ex situ populations for 330 animal species" that is still in the editing phase. She collected the new data for this paper and will be presenting her research findings on Red-capped Cardinal post-hatch survival rate and transfer mortality rate to the Conservation & Science Department at the zoo.  Amy recently returned to the Arboretum to continue working with Dr. Andrew Hipp.  Amy's blog posts.

Alyssa Gao (2017) is in her junior year at Dartmouth.  She organized a day-long summit that brought together student leaders in sustainability from six peer institutions to connect and build a network; she was awarded the 2017-18 Carol Folt Research Scholarship to continue her work in the Kapuscinski lab; and was selected for the Environmental Studies Foreign Study Program & will travel to South Africa and Namibia in the fall of 2018.  Alyssa's blog posts.

Katie McGee (2017) completed her senior thesis and graduated magna cum laude from James Madison University, where she was also recognized for service to the biology department.  She has had several internships, including one at JMU that investigated bird behavior and urbanization and another doing environmental education/ trail work and conservation in Massachusetts with the Student Conservation Association.  Katie is currently finishing up an internship as a biology technician at Redwoods National Forest in California and has internship opportunities lines up for 2019.  Katie's blog posts.