Paulina Frutos is a senior majoring in environmental science and biology. Last summer, she completed a research experience for undergraduate students (REU) with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Paulina was recently selected as one of the Fall 2018 UConn IDEA Grant award recipients, for her project titled, “Assessment of Microbial Community Diversity and Influences in a Restored Freshwater Tidal Marsh.” Here is what she said about her time at UConn.
What attracted you to UConn? I was attracted to UConn because my sister had attended a few years before, and upon visiting her when I was in high school and shadowing her classes, I could only envision myself attending UConn.
What is your major, and why did you choose it? I am a dual degree major with environmental science and biology. I initially picked environmental science because I care about the preservation of healthy ecosystems. I later added a biology major because my favorite classes were the bio-based ones. Also, biology kind of “completes the picture” by explaining the mechanisms of systems discussed in environmental science.
Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? My most memorable UConn activity was participating in the South African ecology study abroad class with Dr. Ortega. It was an incredibly inspiring experience that taught me so much more than I had expected. It also motivated me to seek out other international activities, such as international REU or volunteer roles for after I graduate.
Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies. I participated in a REU this past summer with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. My research consisted of assessing if habitat heterogeneity in a restored tidal marsh succeeded to increase organic matter and microbial function in soil. I formulated my own research proposal, executed field sampling, processed samples in the lab and statistically analyzed my results with R. At the end of the program I presented my findings at an undergraduate research conference and turned in a research paper Cary Institutes.
Also, I work in the natural resources and the environment laboratory of Professor John Clausen. In Professor Clausen’s lab, I’ve learned to conduct polymerase chain reactions and gel electrophoresis as well as E. coli enumeration methods commonly used for water quality testing. Also, being able to talk to a professor and ask questions, whether about a lab procedure or career paths, has been valuable.
What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? The biggest challenge in my UConn career was approaching professors. For some reason, professors intimidated me a bit, and I would not seek extra help or go to office hours. But after seeing my grades slip, I was forced to go to office hours and attend supplemental instruction and worksheet sections. Quickly, I realized that being intimidated was silly, and professors have valuable pieces of information to share apart from the classes they teach.
When do you expect to graduate? What then? I expect to graduate in December of 2019. After that, I hope to find a volunteer position abroad before starting a PhD pursuit in the fall of 2020. My classes and experiences while at UConn have confirmed that I want to do research, and I hope to do so as a professor. Since most graduate programs begin in the fall, and I will be graduating in the winter, I hope that I’ll be accepted into a four- to six-month international volunteer position focused on conservation.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I have been a member of Sigma Alpha, a profession sorority for women pursuing careers in agriculture. I have also volunteered over the summer with CT DEEP Wildlife Division, where I tracked bat populations in Connecticut.