Alumni Outlook Magazine

Cover Story


New Major Makes

Tracy Campbell ’05 goes out to sea for weeks at a time on a research vessel that was featured on a Discovery Channel special broadcast on super ships.

Campbell is a biological oceanography student and graduate research assistant in the department of oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, one of the top 10 oceanography programs in the United States. She studies the ocean as an ecosystem and researches the diversity of species living there.

Campbell focuses her research on the bacterial component of the plankton that drifts in the water column.

"What this means is that I am interested in what species are living in the ocean and how many of them are present relative to one another—their diversity," Campbell said.

"This is important because different species eat different things and produce different waste products. A waste product to one bug may be a food source to another," she explained. "As an example, useable nitrogen is in short supply in the upper ocean. All life needs nitrogen, so some bacteria called nitrogen fixers take nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it into a form that the algae can use—which feed the plankton, which feed the fish. So, knowing how many of a known nitrogen-fixing species are present helps us to know more about that system."

UW-Stout provided Campbell the resources she needed to be accepted into a top-notch graduate program, she said. Her future plans include earning a doctoral degree in microbiology and becoming a research faculty member at an institution, studying marine microbial ecology.

Campbell is one of the first applied science majors to graduate from UW-Stout. The applied science major was established at UW-Stout in 2001, and already graduates and students of the program are making their mark in the world.

"The faculty gave me more opportunities to learn than I knew what to do with," Campbell said, "and lots of advice."

Other graduates of the program are meeting their career goals as well. Brady Hurtgen ’05 is earning a doctoral degree in microbiology and immunology from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, and Levi Stodola ’07 is conducting research at UW-Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Faculty-student collaborations

As students, all three of these graduates—Campbell, Hurtgen and Stodola—conducted field and lab research with biology faculty members Chuck Bomar and Steve Nold that resulted in the discovery of a new species of grasshopper.

In 2001 Bomar was surveying grasshoppers in a high-quality remnant prairie along Cranberry Creek in southern Dunn County. As he examined some red-legged grasshoppers known as Melanoplus femurrubrum, he noticed some variables in their appearance.

He and the students gathered more specimens in the field for further testing.

Nold then taught the students to analyze the specimens at the molecular level. They extracted mitochondrial DNA and looked for patterns of mitochondrial sequence variation—differences at this level would represent big differences at the species level.

Their research proved that Bomar’s hunch was correct. The grasshopper specimen turned out to be a new species, which has been named Melanoplus lockwoodi.

Current students also are working on a growing number of health science-related projects, especially in the area of biotechnology, with assistant professor Michael Pickart.

Pickart and his students use genomics technology in models of stem cells, artificial tissues and zebrafish to investigate human health and disease. They are collaborating with Marshfield Clinic and other medical institutions to pursue technological advances in organ and tissue development, regenerative medicine and cancer.

This past summer, two applied science students—Heather Patnode and Becky Valaske—chose to pursue a cooperative education experience with one of Pickart’s colleagues at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in Delhi, India.

"I feel honored to have worked in India, and for such an esteemed institution as IGIB," Patnode said.

The institute is one of the premier laboratories under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, a governmental agency in India. The institute carries out research and development activities, focusing mainly on genomics and bioinformatics.

Patnode and Valaske’s co-op project was in the area of biophysical research. They worked with zebrafish as a model organism and performed laboratory duties such as making solutions, stocking materials needed for daily use, using equipment, performing experiments and attending meetings.

"The most important benefit of this internship is that I got to experience what it is like to have a position in a working biotechnology lab," Patnode said. "I was given a project to complete, and I was the leader of that project. With the guidance of my supervisors, I was given instructions and the tools I needed to fulfill the job. The planning and execution was up to me."

Several courses at UW-Stout prepared the students for the co-op experience. Prior to their work at the institute in India, they were able to complete coursework in biotechnology, advanced biotechnology, molecular biology, biochemistry and issues for scientific professionals.

However, co-op experiences in working laboratories teach students more than a single class or a single experiment can teach.

"Completing a project from start to finish takes an amazing amount of planning and focus," Patnode said. "Solutions and materials were not ready-made for my use—I had to make them. I had to arrange for everything from a pH meter, to a nutator, to new chemicals, to the making of baskets for the embryos before I could get started. I took most of these things for granted at Stout because they were all readily available."

"Co-op experiences in working laboratories teach students more than a single class or a single experiment can teach."

A future in applied science
Students in the applied science major work with instructors from a broad range of fields, such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, materials science, biotechnology, nanotechnology, technical writing and data analysis. This versatility offers the interpersonal and problem-solving skills employers are looking for in today’s college graduates.

As these graduates and current students are finding out, career options are plentiful for students with a degree in applied science. Potential careers include corporate research and development, environmental safety testing, government compliance, criminal apprehension testing, pharmaceutical or chemical sales, and teaching.

"Now that I’ve completed this co-op, I am positive that I would like to continue this type of work," Patnode said.

TOP AND MIDDLE FAR RIGHT: The zebrafish has genetic similarities to humans, making it a model organism for the study of human cells.

MIDDLE RIGHT: Two UW-Stout students worked as interns in this genomics and bioinformatics laboratory in Delhi, India.

BOTTOM: Heather Patnode and Becky Valaske sightsee in India during their cooperative education experience at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology.
TOP: Students helped biology professor Chuck Bomar confirm his discovery of a new grasshopper species

Chuck Bomar quote:

“Opportunities  to partner with undergraduates, especially first year students, in real-time research in the classroom is a real benefit,” Chuck Bomar, program director for the applied science program and discoverer of Melanoplus lockwoodi, said. “Actually doing the research to confirm the uniqueness of this species puts these students at the forefront of the current technology as well as ahead of their peers at other institutions.”

Extra photos/cutlines:

1) Tracy Campbell ’05 conducts research aboard the Kilo Moana, an oceanographic research vessel operated by the University of Hawaii.

2) Tracy Campbell ’05, second person on the right in a blue safety hat, is aboard the Kilo Moana deploying a camera that videos the sea floor.

3) Tracy Campbell ’05 snapped a shot of the sunset while at sea.

4) Tracy Campbell ’05 assists a fellow student collect and analyze coral spawn.

5) Tracy Campbell ’05 pulls a late-nighter in the laboratory, extracting DNA. 


On page 8, the cover story incorrectly stated that both Heather Patnode and Becky Valaske conducted biophysical research during their co-op experience in India. However, Patnode worked with zebrafish as a model organism for genomics research. Valaske’s co-op project was in the area of biophysical research.