Two CSB graduates bloom interest in plants to national award

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June 9, 2020

By Mike Killeen

Michele Beadle

Michele Beadle

Elise Miller

Elise Miller

The purpose of the 2020 Young Botanist Awards is to give individual recognition to outstanding graduating seniors in the plant sciences and to encourage their participation in the Botanical Society of America.

The society could not have selected two better representatives of that than Michele Beadle and Elise Miller.

The two College of Saint Benedict 2020 graduates are part of a 16-person national cohort, who each receive a membership in the Botanical Society of America.

“Elise and Michele are some of the best students I’ve ever had,” said Steve Saupe, professor of biology at CSB and Saint John’s University.

Beadle and Miller are the first CSB or SJU students to win the award since SJU’s Stephen McGreevy did so in 2000 – who, coincidentally, was also taught by Saupe.

Both women completed interesting research projects as undergraduate students.

Beadle spent the summer of 2019 studying the impacts of Eastern redcedar (ERC) invasion after prescribed burns in the Great Plains in the Applied Plant Systems Summer Research program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She specifically was tasked with finding out how fast ERC reinvaded high-intensity prescribed burn areas.

“This research introduced me to studying the greater impact of human actions – or the lack thereof – on natural environments; in this case the Great Plains,” said Beadle, from Hudson, Wisconsin, who graduated with degrees in biology and environmental studies. “People influence everything around them … and it is increasingly crucial that people are aware of what consequences actions have.

“The experience I had there also introduced me to natural resource management and scientific communication,” Beadle said. “The main takeaway from this experience was realizing that I am in the correct field, and want to pursue a career that combines botany and ecology, and gave me further drive to do so.”

Miller conducted independent research from January through April 2017 measuring the accuracy of maple syrup hydrometers. Then, in summer 2018, she was an assistant researcher at Southwest University in Chongquing, China.

“In China, I watched graduate students conduct and present on their research, and it gave me a sense of what it is like to conduct research in a graduate setting,” said Miller, from Avon, Minnesota, who graduated with a degree in biology. “It helped me see what worked and what didn’t in their projects.”

But she sought an opportunity to create her own research subject, and since she loved trees, she gravitated to a research experience for undergraduates (REU) in 2019 at Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts. She worked on Tim Rademacher’s project looking at wood growth throughout the years.

“It was an incredible experience,” Miller said. “What made it special for me is that I not only helped Tim with his research project on chilling phloem, but I also got to conduct my own research project. Each day I learned a new skill, whether it was driving the bucket lift to get leaves and branches 75 feet up in the canopy or how to sand hundreds of tree cores and cross sections.”

Both have also been active promoting the outdoors.

Beadle has been involved in the Outdoor Leadership Center and the Peer Resource Program. With the latter program, she facilitated seven excursions to various locations in Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Hawaii.

“I’ve always found being out in nature relaxing and inspiring, which pushes me to continue going out into and studying nature,” Beadle said. “Often, my answer to people who asked me about what I wanted to do with my future was, ‘I’m not sure, but I know I want to be outside.’ ”

Miller has brought the outdoors inside serving as an SJU Greenhouse assistant. Besides being an influential part of her college career, Saupe helped Miller grow her love of plants.

“I enjoyed taking care of the plants, and it was fun to see the results of my work,” Miller said. “It’s also a serene atmosphere and made people feel at home. This is why I also worked on creating events to get more students in the greenhouse.”

Miller is headed off to the University of Minnesota-Duluth to study phloem and earn a Master’s degree. Beadle, meanwhile, plans to work for a year or two “to narrow my interests and then go to graduate school once I have a better idea of what specialized area I would like to study.”

 “The award came as a pleasant surprise and strengthened my drive to pursue botany and ecology,” said Beadle said, who wanted to thank Saupe and Joe Storlien, associate professor of environmental studies at CSB and SJU for their mentoring and support.

“It’s an honor to win this award, and it affirms that I am on the right path as I continue to pursue my research,” Miller said. “It also shows how good Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s is at giving their students the skills and opportunity to pursue their dreams and succeed.”