Jill Russell, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph, is co-recipient of a $500,000, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) which will provide an opportunity for Mount undergraduate students to gain significant research experience. Russell, and her colleagues from Miami University and the City of Hope National Medical Center in California, received the grant to study changes in bird metabolism during migration.
Russell, is co-PI (principal investigator) on the study which Miami University will oversee. She will lead Mount students as they study lipid storage and use in migrating birds. Just prior to fall migration, birds in Ohio will triple or quadruple their body weight in the form of fat storage in order to have enough energy to make it to overwintering grounds in Central and South America. The metabolic adaptation in birds is key to their survival. If birds cannot gain enough fat from the local berries they eat prior to migration, they will not survive the long trek to their overwintering grounds in the fall or back to their breeding grounds in Ohio in the spring.
“Not only is this a tremendous opportunity for biologists to learn more about birds’ metabolism, but also for undergraduate students to play a valuable, hands-on role that will greatly benefit their post-graduate success,” Russell said. “Both the Mount and Miami are committed to a learning environment where students can gain valuable experience in lab and field work, while playing an instrumental role in the research.”
The NSF grant will incorporate several broader impact projects that Russell and the other co-PIs facilitate. Russell is the director of the Birds of a Feather program, a collaboration between teachers at the Seven Hills Middle School, students, professors, and local nonprofit organizations that promotes inquiry-based science in the classroom. Along with her husband, David Russell, Ph.D., instructor of introductory and environmental biology at Miami University, Russell teleconferences with middle school students regularly from her bird banding stations at Hueston Woods State Park in Butler County, and the Clifford Bird Observatory at the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse at Mount St. Joseph, as a way of introducing the students to field research. She then visits the middle school and works collaboratively with the teachers and students in designing and conducting inquiry projects on the birds that visit the school’s bird garden. The middle school students then visit the bird banding stations in the spring each year to learn more about birds, habitat loss, pollution, and invasive species. Russell is currently seeking a high school teacher who is interested in becoming part of the Birds of a Feather program and collaborating with her by engaging their students in part of the NSF grant. It is her goal to have high school students evaluate the lipid content available in the berries that the birds eat prior to migration.
“We’re thrilled that the outreach of this project will extend beyond institutions of higher education, and will engage younger students in science,” Russell said. “What an amazing opportunity to be able to say that scientists of all ages took part in these groundbreaking studies.”
In addition to their work locally, Russell and her husband also conduct field research in Alaska where they study the growth and development of Boreal Owls.
The College of Mount St. Joseph is an undergraduate and graduate Catholic college that provides an interdisciplinary liberal arts and professional curriculum emphasizing values, service and social responsibility.