Environmental Science Major Gains Research Experience

A rising senior gains invaluable experience where he least expected

If someone told Garrett Schaperjahn '10 when he was searching for a college that in only seven days he could go from the classroom to a research lab, it probably would have made his college search process a little easier. Schaperjahn entered Roanoke College his freshmen year after choosing the school because he thought it was where he could find the most opportunity throughout his four years.

At the end of his sophomore year, it was clear that he had found the opportunity he had been seeking. Involved in Pi Kappa Phi, Earthbound, Student Government and Admissions as a student tour guide, Schaperjahn didn't have much more time to spare but knew there was one more thing he wanted to get involved in: research. As an environmental science major, Schaperjahn didn't know where he would be able to find research experience and decided to talk to his advisor.

Schaperjahn's advisor pointed him in the direction of someone he had never even heard of but it ended up being a good course to take. Schaperjahn was encouraged to inquire about research to Dr. Chris Lassiter, assistant professor of biology, and Lassiter was more than willing to help Schaperjahn reach his goals. Schaperjahn credits Roanoke's small size and his own determination for the ease he had when wanting to perform research. "At Roanoke, you can get to know the professors well and can confront them about research. At larger schools, you would have to be a 4.0 student to ask for the opportunity to do research but at Roanoke you just need to be dedicated."

The willingness found in the biology professor to take on a student who was not a biology major in the lab also was a huge benefit to him. "I was not surprised by the willingness of Dr. Lassiter but I was surprised by how quickly it happened. Within one week of approaching Dr. Lassiter, I was in the lab."

Schaperjahn began his research in the spring of 2008 and has worked with Lassiter since then. Schaperjahn's initial idea for research was to look at the number of toxins in river systems. The student-faculty team worked together to form the question that Schaperjahn researches now: Is estrogen present in river systems? Schaperjahn also is spending time working with Dr. Brooks Crozier, associate professor of biology.

In his research, Schaperjahn focuses on estrogen levels in the Roanoke River above and below a water treatment plant. He hasn't yet collected all the data yet but his thought is that there will be higher levels downstream due to birth control pills and chemical compounds that act like estrogen.

Schaperjahn couldn't be happier with the research experience he has gained and the relationship he has developed with Dr. Lassiter. Schaperjahn's time spent in the lab has been beneficial in more ways than one. He says the research has provided him with more direction for his future, "This experience, along with my classes, has made me realize I want to go into the public health field," Schaperjahn says. The experience in the lab also is a little something to add to that list of activities on his résumé. He notes, "Research is looked favorably upon in graduate schools - it will set you apart from students who haven't had the opportunity."


About the Author

Megan Semmelman is a sociology major with a communications concentration from Pennsylvania. She is a student writer for Roanoke College Public Relations and is active on campus in several organizations, including Chi Omega and Relay for Life.