Penstemon Evolution and Population Genetics

I am interested in the population genetics and evolution of plants in the genus Penstemon. Specifically, I am interested on the consequences of rarity on genetic diversity, how rarity and endemism are distrubted across the Penstemon phylogeny, and taking a deper dive into the population genetics and dynamics of Penstemon haydenii, an endangered species that lives only in the sand dunes of Wyoming and Nebraska.

Transdisciplinary Education

As the worlds problems grow in scope and complexity, the approaches that we take to solving them need to expand as well. It has been shown that transdisciplinary education and problem solving lead to students that are better suited for post-academic work, are more desireable as job candidates, and are overall more engaged with their classwork. In addition, transdisciplinary education increases the rentention of underrepresented groups in STEM fields, and there has been a recent push to “de-silo” the academic disciplines and their approaches to research.

In the fall of 2022, I co-taught an upper-level undergraduate Microbiology Capstone class with Professor Rachel Watson, where six students explored the micro and macro environment of the Owens Lakebed in California. Alongside the Metabolic Studio’s Optics Division, an artist collective based out of Los Angeles, the students explored the processes going on in the lakebed that made it possible for the Optics Division to use the lakebed to develop photographs. In collaboration with the artists, we built this class to be transdisciplinary across the fields of microbiology, chemistry, and photography, and are working to measure how this integration affected student engagement and learning.

A Dabble in Microbiology

In addition to my interest in the extent to which rarity affects Penstemon population genetics, I have also conducted research into how host plant rarity affects the composition and diversity of the foliar microbiome. Outside of this project, most of my outreach focuses on microbial ecology and microbial diversity, and in April of 2022 I was accepted to the Arctic Circle Residency to explore the microbial ecology of the arctic and make connections with the other artists and scientists aboard The Antigua. There’s more about this under “Outreach”!