Lily Pemble hasn’t even graduated from high school and yet she found herself in the state Capitol rotunda talking to legislators and others about her findings in a university undergraduate research project.
Students find research can be Capitol project | Wisconsin State Journal
Pemble, 16, a Muskego High School junior, is taking all of her classes at UW-Milwaukee at Waukesha through Wisconsin’s dual enrollment program. She was one of 90 individuals or groups displaying posters describing their research Wednesday at the 19th annual Research in the Rotunda event, which showcases research projects by students from across the UW System.
While some of the other presenters were college seniors, Pemble fit right in.
“Lily is an outstanding undergraduate,” said Phillip Owens, Pemble’s faculty adviser. “If you did not know she is still in high school, you would not suspect it. She performs like a grad school student.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Shawn Robin, who graduated from Chaska High School in Minnesota in 1991 and now lives in Madison, is attending UW-Superior as a non-traditional, distance learner. Robin’s research, “Whole Person Approaches to Sex Offender Treatment,” was a senior capstone project. She plans to go on to grad school and eventually work in trauma counseling.
Robin said her subject stemmed from her own experience as a survivor of sexual violence committed by eight different perpetrators and a conversation she had with someone who was talking about creating a place within community that offers offenders compassion, gives them meaning and purpose, models appropriate behavior and holds them accountable.
That led her to look differently at treatment and how punishment doesn’t teach anything about prevention, and to examine other issues, such as what trauma offenders may have experienced and how they are at risk of homelessness.
“It’s been a journey,” she said.
‘An amazing experience’
Another student displaying her research was Faith Kalvig, who graduated from Oregon High School and is attending UW-La Crosse. Her research, which was titled “Comparing Historic Artifacts from Two Archaeological Sites on the Red Cliff Indian Reservation, Gaa-Miskwaabikaang,” required her to live in a tent on site for six weeks. She was wearing the traditional beaded earrings that one of the community members taught her how to make.
“It was an amazing experience,” Kalvig said. “It was eye opening because I was never on a reservation before. I never interacted with Indigenous people before.”
Kalvig, a senior majoring in archaeology with an art minor, said she has been working on the research project for three years. After graduation she hopes to go back to the Apostle Islands area where she did her research and get a job in her field.
Pemble’s research was titled “Factors Affecting Water Quality in Pit Lakes Across the USA” and it was her honors project in General Chemistry I last fall.
“It is really a way to enrich what you are already learning,” Pemble said.
Pemble’s own background drew her to the topic. While growing up, she spent a lot of time in northern Minnesota around open pit mines, which are created by drilling into and then blasting open the surface of the earth as part of the process of extracting desired minerals. The practice creates large, deep pits in the earth, and after the mining operations cease, they fill with water and become pit lakes. Extended family members also were miners, so Pemble heard a lot about mining and pit lakes.
She said she always had the idea that the water quality in pit lakes was generally good, and she had cousins who swam in them. But a couple years back she read about a toxic pit lake in Montana, so she decided to look into why pit lakes can have such radically different water qualities.
“She will be extending that study in her honors project in General Chemistry II this term by examining chemical extraction of copper from Pit Lake water in the lab. I am almost as excited as she is about her new project,” said Owens, assistant professor of chemistry.
While participating in Research in the Rotunda, Pemble said, she got to speak to state legislators who came to see the displays. That gave her a chance to voice her displeasure about how the dual enrollment program does not allow high school students who are taking college courses to actually earn a degree despite fulfilling the requirements. Pemble, however, will be able to get around that by graduating from high school a semester early.
Kalvig said she was not used to talking to so many people about her research, and she met another researcher in archaeology who came to talk to her at Research in the Rotunda.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Kalvig said.
Kaitlyn Partridge, a Sun Prairie High School graduate, did her research on “Evaluation of Antidepressant Reversal of Behavioral and Pharmacological Stress-Induced Depression of Digging Behavior in Mice” as a psychology student at UW-Green Bay. A senior, Partridge plans to go on to get a doctorate in neuroscience.
Partridge said her family came to see the displays, and she also got a chance to talk to a variety of people, which differs from conferences where she interacts with people who share similar backgrounds.
“It teaches me how to talk to different audiences,” she said.
Faculty advisers joined the undergraduate student researchers as they shared their findings with state legislators, state leaders, UW alumni, other supporters and the public.
Research in the Rotunda is a celebration of undergraduate research, which has the potential to inform public policy while helping students stay on track to graduate and get internships while leading to greater graduation rates and preparing students for employment.
“It is the very essence of the Wisconsin Idea, which holds that the university — and its people — are committed to helping the state find solutions to its most pressing challenges, whether they’re big or small,” said UW System President Jay Rothman in remarks at Research in the Rotunda.