Undergraduates Practice Research

March 20, 2015
SPOKANE, Wash. — Brittany Ledall is proudly holding a handful of cheatgrass seeds. An invasive species, cheatgrass is particularly hard to untangle from clothing. Ledall, who’s been working with the grass for two years, says she still picks burrs out of her socks from her summer field research.

“I sat here this summer for hours counting seeds and cleaning seeds,” she says. “I’m so glad I stayed and did research because then you get a real taste of it.” Ledall, a senior biology major, has been immersed in real-world research experience. At many schools, an opportunity like that is available only to graduate students.

It’s a different story at Gonzaga.

“It’s hugely beneficial. I’m getting real-world experience,” says Ledall. “This is so different than what you do in a lab as an undergrad. It’s not just following a lab manual and getting your results and going home.”

Ledall works for biology Professor Julie Beckstead. The experience helped her decide what she wants to do come graduation. Growing up in rural Colorado, she’s always been interested in ecology. So, the opportunity to study the invasive plant attracted her.

Her research is specifically focused on figuring out how and why cheatgrass fields go through periodic die-offs. Understanding why those dynamics could help fight the spread of the grass. “This is a real problem and it’s happening now,” she says. “I think I’m passionate about it because I’m passionate about restoring the places we live in. If we can understand what is going on in these die-offs, we can better use the fungus to kill the cheatgrass.”

The real-world application is what attracts her: the idea that her work is adding value is exciting .

“I love adding to our knowledge about this kind of subject, because there is not a lot on it,” she says. Although Ledall doesn’t plan to study cheatgrass after she graduates, she says she will continue pursuing research.

“Research is a challenging process but I love it because I love problem solving,” she says. “I love trying to figure out an answer, or at least a way to figure out an answer.”

Learn more about the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. For more information about the student projects, contact Matt Bahr at bahr@gonzaga.edu.