Indiana State University Newsroom

Indiana State students present research at international conference

November 14, 2014

About a dozen Indiana State University students and faculty traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, recently to attend and present research at the National Geological Society of America Conference.

The society is a global professional organization that promotes the latest research and education in earth and planetary science. Many of the undergraduate students and all of the graduate students who attended are engaged in research projects mentored by faculty in Indiana State's department of earth and environmental sciences, said Sandra Brake, professor of geology.

"The conference is a way for us to get a feel for the other ongoing research, and sometimes it can foster new ideas and collaboration," said David McLennan, a second-year geology student from Seattle. McLennan's research is focused on phosphorus burial in the South Pacific Ocean over the past 31 million years.

"As time winnowed away towards my own oral presentation, I became increasingly nervous," McLennan said. "Even knowing the mood was supportive and receptive, I could not fight off the butterflies. I am extremely excited to continue presenting research at conferences."

It was McLennan's first time presenting at a conference.

"Happily, the night before, the door to the room I was slated to speak in was not shut all the way, so I was able to sneak in and get a feel for the room and practice a bit," he said. "The practice made me feel less nervous the night before, and I was able to sleep. The day of my talk, I sat on the third-floor balcony to the conference that overlooked the bay and listened to music."

Ashley Burkett, a final year Ph.D. student studying spatial and earth sciences, also presented research in Vancouver. She arrived at the conference early, so she could help with setup and registration -- and save money.

"Volunteering worked out very well for me. Not only did it to help defray costs, but it also allowed me to meet fellow students," Burkett said. "I also spotted a few researchers in my specialty as they checked into the conference. It was a nice opportunity to say hello and exchange information about meeting presentations."

Burkett presented on her research involving single-celled organisms that live on the seafloor, called benthic foraminifera.

"I feel like I sit around thinking about my research all day, every day, and finally having in it in a form that I can share with others is really what I enjoy," Burkett said. "Having data is great, but sharing the results and discussing my findings with others is what science is all about."

Burkett's labmate, Ryan Venturelli, helped her prepare -- so much so Burkett joked Venturelli "could have presented it herself."

"The fact that the meeting was international brought a lot of international participants, who I may not have had the opportunity to interact with otherwise," she added.

Benjamin Magnin, a junior at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, was the youngest presenter of the group. His research focused on microorganisms that build biosedimentary structures similar to those found on early Earth.

"It is a big confidence builder to realize that I am capable of presenting research at the same level as many college students," Magnin said. "I am really happy that the amount of time I have spent on doing my high school homework in chemistry, physics and math has paid off."

Magnin was also thrilled to hear other researchers' findings, whether it was on his same research topic or beyond.

"The most exciting presentation, however, was one on geothermal plumes on satellites (moons) surrounding the planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune," he said. "I can't believe I had the opportunity to sit and listen to NASA scientists presenting their research on objects in our solar system. This was so cool!"

Burkett's first Geological Society conference was in 2008, and she visited graduate school booths from different universities. It was there she met one of Tony Rathburn's students from Indiana State and cemented her appreciation for the ocean and its creatures, she said.

"GSA provides various career development programs for the students, and they can set up interviews with over 50 of the top geosciences programs if they wish to continue their education in a graduate program," Brake said.

McLennan will be presenting in December about a different research project at the American Geophysical Union Meeting in San Francisco.

"The opportunity to engage in undergraduate research at ISU, plus the funding from the Center for Student Research and Creativity are blessings to the undergraduates that take them on," McLennan said.

McLennan was fortunate enough to receive funding from the Geological Society to help further his research -- in addition to invaluable networking time.

"I was also given funding from the On to the Future Program offered by the GSA Foundation," McLennan said. "The program brought people of all cultures and backgrounds together at several times throughout the conference to mingle and connect. This was an awesome experience to couple with my first conference, and it helped me get more involved with the conference and helped me meet other students and discuss our research and areas of interest."

Some of the students also made the most of their time in Canada, soaking up the sights and sounds of the city.

"A few graduate students from my department and I were able to find a free afternoon where we escaped to Stanley Park. Heading to the park to survey the totem poles and take a picture around a massive tree turned out to be a great afternoon," Burkett said. "The views from the conference center were also quite spectacular."

In addition to Burkett and Venturelli, other presenters and co-authors from Indiana State included Sabrina Brown, Ryan Kuhn, Jeff Latka, Paul Davis, Nicholas Spendal, Brendan Paddack, Jase Hixson, Matthew Brindle, Kendra Reininga, and professors Sandra Brake, Tony Rathburn, Jennifer Latimer and Jeffery Stone.


Photos: -- From left, Rebecca Taormina, Ryan Venturelli and Ashley Burkett pose as a size scale of a redwood tree in Stanley Park in Vancouver. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Burkett) -- Ashley Burkett (Left) and Ryan Venturelli check out 3-D printed foraminifera from the Cushman Foundation booth at GSA Vancouver 2014.(Photo courtesy of Ashley Burkett) -- Seaplane docks near the Vancouver Convention Center. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Burkett) -- One of the beautiful views from the Vancouver Convention Center windows. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Burkett)

Contact: Sandra Brake, professor of geology, Indiana State University, 812-237-2270 or

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or