During a recent two-week span, Rachel Wadleigh ’16 lead a backpacking trip to Red River Gorge in Kentucky, presented three different research projects at Earlham’s Natural Sciences Division Undergraduate Research Poster Conference, and regularly rode her horse Jetta to prepare for Earlham’s equestrian team, which she will join again during 2015-16.
“Earlham has given me a lot of different opportunities,” Wadleigh says. “I have had the opportunity to do a lot of stuff, some strange things, and some very unique. Getting involved early has really helped me.”
A biology major, Wadleigh began working at the Joseph Moore Museum during her first year. Her roles have included exhibit designer, museum host, tour leader, and she has worked on the museum’s marketing and communications.
“Now I am taking care of the snakes,” she says. “They eat a mouse or a rat once a week. I also clean their cages and make sure they have water.”
Her work in the museum helped to make possible three different research projects during her three years at Earlham. Wadleigh has researched the phylogenetics of booted eagles, prevalence of West Nile in the museum’s bird specimens, conifer phylogeny, snail parasites, and genome conservation by comparing genomes of the turkey vulture, bald eagle and white-tailed eagle. She also completed a project where she extracted ancient DNA from one of JMM’s giant beaver specimens.
“Research has been essential in helping me to decide on biology as my major,” she says. ““I like that biology answers questions. It’s one way of figuring out those things that are still unclear.”
Her research has not been limited to opportunities on campus. Wadleigh completed a May Term course in Borneo, where she researched and observed local wildlife including orangutans. In January, she will complete a semester-long program in New Zealand with an environmental studies focus. Participants will travel to Kaikoura, a world-renowned marine reserve home to an incredible diversity of wildlife as well as a model for sustainable development. The course is lead by Associate Professor of Biology Peter Blair and combines most of Wadleigh’s interests including animals, biological research and outdoor activities.
“We will have opportunities for hiking, kayaking, canoeing,” she says. “And I am excited to see all the different lands and environment.”
Wadleigh has always had an interest in in being outdoors, which helped her develop an interest in biology.
The daily care and riding of her horse, Jetta, which she boards at Earlham’s equestrian center, helps to give her a non-academic outlet.
She is considering studying veterinary medicine or biological research in grad school.