Mary A. Bancroft Memorial Scholarship
2012 Recipient: Alex Bittel
- Graduate student
- Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
- University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Influences on Community Assembly in a Long-Term Grassland Experiment
Personal Interest in Plants
I have always appreciated and felt at peace in the natural world, and I’ve always recognized plants as an integral part of that world. So in many ways, my interest in plants stems from my admiration of nature. However, there are key events in my life that helped me lend that aesthetic appreciation into an academic one. The first was in high school, when I was accepted to a program through the Earthwatch institute that sends high school students to work with an ecologist on his or her research for a couple weeks during the summer. I worked with an ecologist studying the effects of altered precipitation regimes on sagebrush and bitterbrush in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in northern California. It was a great experience, and for the first time, in tracking their photosynthetic rates, size, and so on, I felt a level of intimacy with plant life. I was never so fascinated by anything in my life. This experience was the primary reason I applied for and was hired by Dr. Foster to work on his summer data-collecting field crew, and I have been working with him ever since. That first summer, waist-deep in plants, learning to identify them, I realized I was a plant guy; I had found my calling. This was only reinforced in taking classes that involved plants. I find everything about them fascinating, from their genetics to morphology to ecology to evolution. I applied to work on my master’s in Dr. Foster’s lab in order to continue the research I had begun before receiving my B.S., and I sincerely cannot imagine myself pursuing any other field of academic study.