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Dec. 7, 2010
MARYVILLE, Mo. - As Molly Ramsey begins to reflect on her college career at Northwest Missouri State University, her eyes grow wide and a smile spreads across her face. The pride in her accomplishments and the appreciation she has for the people who have helped her reach her goals is evident.
"Being able to go in and talk to your professors is what got me into the major I'm in, and I'm able to have all of these amazing opportunities because of them," said Ramsey, who is on track to graduate from Northwest in the spring with a bachelor's degree in environmental geology. "I'm not looking forward to leaving my friends, the department and advisors that I've worked with. Northwest wouldn't be Northwest with all the people who are here."
Ramsey, a Columbia native, is in the midst of a whirlwind senior year that began last summer with an intense 10-week research experience in Milwaukee. Ramsey was one of nine college students across the country selected for the National Science Foundation-funded research experience at the Great Lakes Wisconsin Aquatic Technology Environmental Resources (WATER) Institute.
Her research focused on quagga mussels, an invasive species threatening Lake Michigan's ecosystem. In February, she will present her research at the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) conference in Puerto Rico.
The student researchers were partnered with mentors who assisted them on the projects. Ramsey worked with University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee faculty members and scientists Dr. Russell Cuhel and Carmen Aguilar, but there was little "hand-holding," Ramsey said. The days were rigorous and long, but rewarding.
"We wanted to step up and do what we needed to do," Ramsey said. "You want to finish the project and it requires a lot of effort. There were rough days, but now I know I like doing research. I don't mind the tedious parts because you know the end goal and you know the problem you're trying to solve."
Ramsey also spent days on the WATER institute's research vessel as the team collected samples.
"I was collecting samples for my project, but we were also collecting samples with no purpose behind them," Ramsey said, adding the students learned varied ways to collect the samples and how to use high-tech collection instruments. "I really liked that balance. As a scientist, the field work is fun. The lab work is necessary and can be fun."
The research process was not new to Ramsey. Last year, Northwest awarded undergraduate research funding for Ramsey to study the annual sedimentation and geomorphic change of the 102 River in Maryville. She presented her findings last month to some 6,500 geologists at the Geological Society of America conference in Denver, Colo.
Early in her college career, Ramsey figured she'd become a high school guidance counselor. After visiting a half dozen college campuses as a high school student, Ramsey decided she felt most comfortable at Northwest and "everything fell into place." She arrived on campus as an undecided major and eventually declared herself a psychology-sociology major.
But some of the things Ramsey heard in Dr. James Hickey's general geology course piqued her interests. Ramsey found herself more engaged in classroom discussions and was eager to find answers to the questions circulating in her mind. She spent time visiting with Hickey about the subject material, and she changed her major the next year.
"It has been inspirational to see her grow and excel in both her studies as well as anything she seems to undertake," Hickey said. "During the last two years, Molly has welcomed numerous new challenges not only academically but also in her service to the department and university. Simply stated, Molly is a truly exceptional student and person, the likes of which is only seen on rare occasions."
Now Ramsey is applying for graduate schools and involved in myriad activities at Northwest. In addition to working as a student ambassador, she is president of the Geology Club and president of Sigma Gamma Epsilon, an honorary society for geology majors. She also works as a teaching assistant and is a member of several Greek organizations.
It's no wonder nearly every hour of her daily planner is marked with an activity, but Ramsey says it's worth it.
"I'm honored to be a part of it and I'm excited to give back," she said. "I think it's prepared me for life. When you have those weeks or days that you're like, ‘I don't know if I can do this,' you look back and you're like, ‘Well, I've done this before. I can do it again.'"
Ramsey added, "I didn't want to leave Northwest and say I could have gotten more out of it, or I could have experienced more. I've gotten what I wanted out of my college experience, and I'm not leaving thinking, ‘Oh, I wish I could have done that.' Meeting people was a big deal for me. I was very introverted when I came to college, but you have to be outgoing and I'm so thankful I was. I've met some great people."As she prepares for graduate school, Ramsey said she is eager to apply what she's learned from her experiences at Northwest. She plans to study radiogenic isotope geochemistry, a method used to date the age of the Earth. Her long range goals include acquiring a doctorate degree and becoming a professor.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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