Senior studying biological sciences and wildlife conservation

Desraeli McBride

"I was drawn to the F.I.R.E. Starters program because I wanted to learn how to get involved with undergraduate research and understand what opportunities are available at Virginia Tech. As a first-generation student, the whole world of research was very unfamiliar and daunting so this program offered the perfect, guided introduction."

Q: Can you please share your current research that you are doing as a result of this program?

My project has been focused around songbird behavior, urbanization, and invasive species. My proposal will outline a study on invasive songbird behavior in urban settings compared to rural settings. The potential results would be helpful for conservation managers seeking to understand how invasives establish and how to intervene for the protection of native populations. 

Q: Can you please share about your faculty mentor and what that relationship has been like?

My faculty mentor is Dr. Kendra Sewall, whose lab focuses on songbird cognition and urbanization. Learning in her lab and from her guidance in choosing my research topic has been very exciting. She explained to me her method for finding inspiration and knowledge gaps for research projects and it made the whole process much clearer to me. 

Q: What have been some of the stand-out moments with your student cohort?

I think the most interesting moments with my cohort have been hearing more about their projects. Everyone is working in vastly different fields so I really enjoy discovering the kinds of research being done and the progress being made. 

Q: Will you be engaged in research this summer as a result of the program? If so, can you please share more about that?

The experience from this program definitely helped in my application for summer work. I will be partaking in a Research Experience for Undergraduates with the Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR) Long-term Ecological Research program under the mentorship of Dr. Sarah Karpanty and Ph.D. student Mikayla Call. The goal of the project is to better understand the top-down (i.e. predation) and bottom-up (i.e. habitat availability) drivers of declining American oystercatcher productivity in Virginia.

Q: What would you tell other students who may be interested in the program or just learning about it?

I would highly recommend this program! Every mentor is invested and committed to helping undergraduates learn and get involved. Even if you aren’t sure if research is the right path for you, this program is a wonderful way to learn more and get involved.