If someone had told Maggie Hartman of Huntington, Ind., several years ago that she would return to college at age 28 and be doing research as a McNair Scholar, she would not have believed it. Now, she is graduating with a fisheries and wildlife management degree from Northern Michigan University on Saturday and doing something else she never imagined: applying to graduate school. Her experiences at NMU and with the McNair Scholars Program have completely changed her future career goals.
After a seven-year break from college, Hartman said she felt ignorantly “out of the game” upon arriving at NMU.
“Since I was older than others, I was not getting involved during my freshman year in labs, organizations or through getting to know people,” said Hartman. “I came to NMU thinking I had it all figured out. I quickly realized how much I still had to learn. But, there are lots of opportunities at NMU—you just have to seek them out. The biology department and its faculty are very accessible and they are willing to have undergraduate students do research with them. I have tried to emulate the hard-working faculty. The biology department has some really helpful classes that make it apparent that research is important.”
Hartman applied for the McNair Scholars Program during her sophomore year as an attempt to take better advantage of her college experience. It is a federal TRIO program designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. Once accepted, Hartman gained research experience as a lab technician at Michigan State University’s Isaacs Berry Crops Entomology Lab. She also interned at Isle Royale National Park with Natural Resources Manager Mark Romanski.
“I was not familiar with research and did not feel ready when I started McNair. Being in a lab at Michigan State exposed me to what graduate school is like. At Isle Royale, I had the opportunity to dip into every project natural resources management had going on, from loon surveys to red squirrel acoustic counts to campground snowshoe surveys and more. I got a lot of experience that prepared me for my McNair research.”
Hartman’s McNair research, under faculty adviser Roger “Mac” Strand, looked at 12 dragonflies and their ability to learn. She tested to see if nymphs, or dragonflies at the aquatic larval stage, learn to feed quicker when exposed to red light stimulation. As another stage of her research, she added predator water from a fish tank to see if nymphs resultantly feed quicker or hide.
Hartman has not run her statistics yet, but she observed that nymphs feed slower when exposed to the light and quicker in the presence of predator water. She wants to continue studying dragonflies in graduate school to find out why and may pursue a doctoral degree afterward.
“Dragonflies are very important. They can indicate the health of a freshwater system. They live in an aquatic form for up to five years. During that time, they eat mosquitos and some fly larvae. In adult forms, they eat mosquitos. In a world where people are spraying mosquitos and killing other beneficial insects, we can look at what’s available, such as dragonflies, to alternatively help us in less damaging ways.”
Hartman said she learned the importance of taking advantage of what universities like Northern have to offer, regardless of age. She completed the Student Leader Fellowship Program, graduating as a fire block. She was a member of the Associated Students of Northern Michigan University and former fundraising chair of the Fisheries and Wildlife Association, formerly known as the Wildlife Society. She was a member of the Mortar Board honor society.
Hartman is one example of the high-achieving NMU graduates who will cross the commencement stage on Saturday.