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Swamped With Research

Student-researchers present wetlands findings at symposium

Kayla Keith’s and Matt Potvin’s time as Bears is marked by many days trekking through streams and swamps to count and observe hundreds of tiny tadpoles, as well as snakes, frogs, turtles, and other species.   

It’s sweaty, physically demanding work, but it led to a once unimaginable professional opportunity for the Class of 2023 biology majors: Sharing their research as the only undergraduate presenters at a prestigious symposium.  

“I was blown away,” Keith said of presenting at the Society of Wetland Scientists’ recent symposium on wetland restoration. “It was nerve-wracking, but also very exciting. … I feel like I got as much as I could out of my BSU experience. It offered me so much.”  

In collaboration with mentor Dr. Thilina Surasinghe and classmate Summer Saad, ’23, Keith and Potvin worked at Plymouth’s Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary and Foothills Preserve. The former cranberry bogs have been transformed into natural wetlands. Studying the presence of reptiles and amphibians offers insight on the effects of restorations at different stages, ultimately providing valuable information for government agencies, environmental organizations and landowners.   

Their research has already impressed experts, who invited them to present at the symposium after seeing their work at a different conference. The BSU Class of 1954 Undergraduate Research Fund supported their travel to Spokane, Washington.   

“It felt like a big deal and something we worked really hard for,” said Potvin, who minored in chemistry.

Potvin and Keith worked with Surasinghe for less than two years, but credit him with recognizing and fostering their desire to further their education beyond coursework.  

Though they began the project with no prior research experience, they showed impressive growth. Some symposium attendees even thought they were graduate students, said Surasinghe, an associate professor of biological sciences.   

“They were able to really navigate this challenging discipline doing scientific research fairly quickly,” he said. “It’s kind of remarkable going from a ground-zero starting point all the way (to the symposium).”

And Potvin’s days in the field are far from finished. He will build upon his research in graduate school at BSU by studying how the topographical transformation from a flat cranberry bog to the more varied terrain of a natural wetland affects plants, frogs, and micro-invertebrates.   

“Undergraduate research gave me a chance to further immerse myself within the Bridgewater community,” said Potvin, who is from Tiverton, Rhode Island. “It gave me a chance to work as a professional in a career in which I want to work.”   

While Keith plans to attend veterinary school, she appreciates the valuable lessons in teamwork, communication and the research process gained at BSU. It has inspired her to consider veterinary research.  

“I do feel very accomplished and grateful for everything I was able to do,” the North Attleboro resident said. “It was very fulfilling and set me up very well for my future.”

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