When Allison Scire came to JMU as a freshman, she was already thinking about doing research.  “In high school I had an AP biology teacher who did research at the National Cancer Institute, and she would talk about it, so that put the idea of research in my head,” says Allison. She knew she wanted to do something with biomedical research at college, and one of the reasons she chose JMU was because she knew she would have more opportunity to do research than if she went to a larger institution. When the biomedical project she lined up in her first year didn’t pan out, she reassessed the research options at JMU and decided to try something completely different. “I have always loved being outdoors, so I decided to try something environmental,” she explains.  Allison approached Dr Heather Griscom, who accepted her and put her to work on her Chestnut project.

American chestnut trees were once a dominant species on the east coast of the USA. They were valuable hardwood trees and provided food for a lot of animals. Now, they are essentially extinct because of a blight that was introduced to America early in the 20th century. Allison and the other students in Dr Griscom’s lab are trying to find the best conditions into which to reintroduce blight-resistant hybrid American chestnuts that have been developed by other researchers.  They have planted chestnut trees on ridges and in mesic soil and in high and low light conditions to see where they grow best, and they are looking at competition from other species (tulip polar and oak) as well. The work involves spending a lot of time out in the field measuring tree survival, height and diameter, and then coming back to the lab to analyze the data using SPSS.

Allison says that she has most enjoyed being able to work outside and also getting a better idea of how science really works, which you can’t really get from reading journal articles, where everything is presented as though the process was simple and clean. While Allison started college absolutely certain that she wanted to go to Vet School after graduation, now she thinks research could be a possibility. She has applied to several vet schools, but would like to find a way to merge environmental and veterinary sciences. For example, she says, “I think it would be really interesting to look at chemicals and hormones introduced into the environment and see what effects they have on animals and people.”

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