Mentoring Superfund

Impacts Lives & Ecosystems Worldwide

Fantastic opportunities for undergraduates have been created by funding from BYU alumnus Roger Sant and his wife Vicki. Their interest in conserva­tion spans 30 years.

"We're excited to give BYU students an incentive to study," said Sant  "Sustainable development is close to our hearts."

The BYU endowment created by the Sants has funded a host of mentored projects, including :

Students "Hunt" Black Bears

Students with black bearsStudents with black bearsStudents survey the Book Cliffs area of eastern Utah from a small airplane and then travel on foot using telemetry and GPS to find the radio-collared female black bears in their dens.
Undergraduate students Andrea Johnson, Brady Heward, and Cammie Frandsen worked with integrative biology profes­sor Hal Black to research the ability of female black bears to reproduce under various lifetime environ­mental conditions.

For 14 years, Dr. Black's researchers have annually located the bears, replaced radio collars, determined the number and sexes of cubs, and evaluated the health of the mothers.

"Students see that it takes a lot of work to get a few words in a textbook," said Dr. Black. "They learn how to solve problems away from campus. They find that you get the obnoxious and the routine along with the exciting, which helps them make better career choices." 

Fungi May Cure Disease

Forest reserve in MadagascarUnrecognized fungi in Madagascar were sampled, bagged, labeled, and photographed. Promising fungi may be developed commercially to create drugs to cure diseases.
BYU undergrads Joseph Hangs and David Reay helped Gary Strobel, pro­fessor of plant pathology at Montana State University and Wilford Hess, profes­sor of integrative biology at BYU, collect fungi with possible curative agents from native plants. Hanks and Reay went to five for­est reserves in Madagascar and collected 60 samples that may cure malaria, resist anthrax, and kill cancer cells.

"Students must pay the price for mentoring," said Hanks. "But the rewards are incredible. The class­room provides a theoreti­cal background but not the interconnection offered by field studies. You don't really understand how it works until you go out, sample it, and bring it back to the laboratory."

Amazon Turtle Homing Studied

Amazon river turtles being released by local peopleCameron Turner in a Quilombora communities
(LEFT)Amazon river turtles are released on the beach as part of a migratory research study. Professor of integrative biology Jack Sites believes that large female tartaru­gas (Amazon river turtles) may migrate back to the beach where they were hatched like marine tur­tles do. He began his natal homing research in 1997, and has involved several undergraduate students like Cameron Turner and Brigham Dastrup.(RIGHT) Cameron Turner visits one of the Quilombora communities adjacent to the Trombetas Reserve where he assisted with the work on the river turtles. 

Turner went to the Ama­zon and collected DNA during the nesting emer­gence of thousands of baby tartarugas. This resulted in an invitation from Ven­ezuela for research on the same turtle species, creat­ing a mentored experi­ence for Dastrup.

"Undergraduate mentor­ing benefits my program greatly," said Dr. Sites. "Since we offer a Ph.D. as a terminal degree, our undergrads are mingling with M.S. and Ph.D.-level students, usually a post-doc or two, and a sabbati­cal visitor from another institution. This creates an extremely dynamic and stimulating learn­ing atmosphere, and it increases the number of undergrads I can accom­modate by five-fold."

Bio-inventory on Maupiti

Students at the scientific expedition in Maupiti
“Participating in a scientific expedition to Maupiti changed my view of my future,” said entomology major Emily Bybee. “It opened my eyes to different cultures and helped me sort out my priorities—a priceless thing to learn at a young age.”
Dr. Nelson and his research team
Dr. Nelson and his research team created much good will among the people of Maupiti
Sarah Kendall and Emily Bybee, both mentored by professor of integrativebiology Riley Nelson, helped discover new spe­cies of arthropods on Maupiti, a small island in French Polynesia. Due to its distance from the main­land, scientists thought that only a small number of species existed on the island. Research proved otherwise.

"My experience has caused me to think more about why we do science," said Kendall. "Which one of these unknowns should we try to unravel, and why? What could this mean once we figure it out? Are there better ways to do certain things? I was surprised how much there is out there that we just don't know about."

"I'm also amazed," said Kendall, "how enthusias­tic potential employers become when they find out about all my research experience. It's opened many doors for me."

Moroccan Plants Combat Cancer

James Riordon and Andrew Cardon (see page 14) found that several plant extracts found in Khenifra, Morocco were effective against cervical cancer cells, yet not harm­ful to non-cancerous cells. Mentored by professor of integrative biology Rex Cates, they also found that placing essential plant oils in livestock feed may improve microbial antibi­otic resistance.

Moroccan leaders voiced great interest in further collaboration on medici­nal plants to improve their quality of life.

"This program has given me an opportunity I never dreamed could happen," said Andrew Cardon. "There's more to science than just lab work —it's working with people, exchanging knowledge, and helping one another."

Rare Plant Species Restored

Moroccan species of thymeStudents collecting seed and tissue samples of rare sedge fescue
(LEFT)A Moroccan species of Thymus (thyme) contains essential oils that are being tested for activity against human diseases. (RIGHT)Luke Marchant and Ruth Walker collect seed and tissue samples of rare sedge fescue for DNA analysis.
Some agencies hold the untested idea that col­lecting seed from a plant species and having farm­ers grow it will preserve the genetic makeup of the species. BYU research­ers Val Jo Anderson and Robert Johnson believe such adaptation is different under cultivation compared to the wild population, and question whether the plant retains its wild genetic makeup when put in cultivation.

Anderson and Johnson selected two rare plant species with different modes of pollination that historically could have been more abundant if not for grazing pressures that limited them.

Reviving Rock Canyon Flora

Volunteers working on plant restoration in Rock CanyonWildflowersMore than 2,000 volunteers have contributed 4,500 hours on plant restoration in Rock Canyon, northeast of BYU. Once destroyed by wildfires and invasive weeds, perennial grasses, shrubs and wildflowers are making a comeback

Six undergraduate stu­dents, two thousand volunteers, and one influ­ential teacher have helped revegetate a threatened canyon ecosystem in BYU's back yard. Once dominated by perennial grasses, shrubs, and wild­flowers, the mouth of Provo, Utah's Rock Can­yon is now overrun by invasive annual weeds. This critical habitat for many wildlife species is being destroyed.

After two seasons of planting, weeding, water­ing, and testing, the plots are showing progress. It will still take six to ten years for full restoration.

Becky Wilde Peterson, a senior in Range and Wild­life Biology said Dr. Phil Allen, professor of plant and animal sciences has had an influence on her life as well as her educa­tion. "He makes research an art as well as a science," she said. "As an advocate for students who want to go on to graduate school or get a good job, Dr. Allen goes the extra mile."

Effort Saves Native Fish

Students at the stream
Aubrey Mueller, Kara Redlin, Crystal Smith, Virgil McCarthy, and Beck Miller are part of Dr. Dennis Shiozawa’s team researching diets and growth patterns of the fish in different sections of Utah streams and reser voirs.
Eleven students men­tored by integrative biol­ogy professor Dennis Siozawa researched the impact of non-native brown trout in Utah County streams. Brown trout were brought to the area as sport fish. Because they start eating other fish very early in life, the bio­diversity of these streams and rivers has decreased.

In the lab, students measure the length and weight of the brown trout, examine stomach contents, and examine samples of their livers and other body parts for insight into their diets.

Restoring these streams could save the native fish and improve fisheries.

Student lives, mentoring opportunities, and international ecosystems are impacted by one generous donor: Roger Sant.

Roger and Vicki Sant

Roger Sant was cofounder and is now chairman emeri­tus of Applied Energy Ser­vice (AES) of Arlington, Virginia. Throughout his career, he has been at the forefront in developing effi­cient energy and in increas­ing global awareness of energy use, environmental conservation, and wildlife protection. He once headed an effort to plant 52 mil­lion trees in deforested areas of Guatemala to offset the carbon dioxide pollution a new AES facility would pro­duce over its 40-year lifespan.

Sant is chairman of the Executive Committee for the Smithsonian Institution, and formerly chaired the World Wildlife Fund U.S. He received a B.S. from BYU and an MBA with distinction from Harvard. He and his wife Vicki have four children.