REU-QUEST: Research Experiences for Undergraduates in QUantitative Environmental Science and Technology



Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI)
Grand Valley State University
740 West Shoreline Drive
Muskegon, MI 49441

James N. McNair, Ph.D. — reu-quest@gvsu.edu
Kevin B. Strychar, Ph.D. — reu-quest@gvsu.edu

Table of contents







How to apply

Prior years

Program overview

Our program emphasizes two themes: understanding freshwater systems/catchments and applying quantitative methods in research. The geographic focus is on Lake Michigan, the streams and lakes of West Michigan (especially Muskegon Lake), and their catchments. Research areas include stream and lake metabolism, transformative-comparative immunology of freshwater organisms, fish population dynamics, harmful algal blooms, carbon and nutrient biogeochemistry, molecular ecology, ecological genetics, crayfish communication and behavior, environmental chemistry, ecotoxicology, ecological inference from time series, and watershed analysis. While projects may be developed in any of these research areas, our program has two main research foci: projects dealing with properties of freshwater systems likely to be affected by or contribute to climate change, and projects dealing with evolutionary processes. In all projects, we emphasize research approaches that employ nontrivial quantitative methods. Developing students' quantitative skills will be fostered through a formal class focusing on fundamental quantitative methods and associated software that are broadly applicable in the environmental sciences, including basic statistics, scientific graphics, geographic information systems, and process-based modeling techniques.

Disciplines in spatial context

Examples of student research areas in relation to typical West Michigan study sites. HABs: harmful algal blooms.

Student in lab

The main goals of our program are to give students a solid research experience in the environmental sciences, provide them with a set of quantitative skills that are valuable in such research, and encourage them to think about the possibility of pursuing graduate degrees in science — and to have some fun in the process. Our program has 5 main components: (1) individual student-oriented research projects, (2) faculty mentoring, (3) peer interactions, (4) development of professional and communication skills, and (5) development of quantitative skills. The program is designed to help students gain a better understanding of what scientific research is, improve their analytical and problem-solving skills, learn new research techniques, improve their oral and written communication skills, and gain confidence in their abilities, all with an emphasis on acquiring and using a set of valuable new quantitative skills.

The program begins each year on the first Monday in June (June 5 in 2017) and runs for 10 weeks. It is open to all bright, adequately prepared undergraduates who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States or its territories and are proficient in English. We especially encourage applications from students who are members of racial or ethnic groups that currently are underrepresented in the biological sciences (e.g., Indigenous Americans, Hispanics/Latina/os, African Americans). We will accept 10 students for the 2017 program. Application materials and instructions on how to apply are provided below.

Student at computer

Program location

REU-QUEST is based at the Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) in Muskegon, Michigan. Our campus is situated on Muskegon Lake, a river-mouth lake and freshwater estuary formed by the Muskegon River as it enters Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is one of the five Laurentian Great Lakes, which together contain roughly 20% of the Earth’s surface freshwater and are the largest continuous freshwater system on the planet. The three maps below show our location in the continental United States (left), in West Michigan (center), and in Muskegon Lake (right). We are about 40 miles from central Grand Rapids, Michigan's second-largest metropolitan area.

U.S. map

AWRI's location in the north central U.S. The Laurentian Great Lakes are shown in blue.

West Michigan map

Our location in the land-to-lake transition zone of West Michigan, adjacent to Lake Michigan. Note the numerous inland and river-mouth lakes.

Muskegon Lake map

The location of our campus on Muskegon Lake, with boat access to Lake Michigan. The Muskegon River enters Muskegon Lake from the northeast.

Mentors and research areas


Daniel A. Bergman, Ph.D., Neuroscience, Bowling Green State University, 2004.

Research areas: Crayfish behavior and neurophysiology, especially the neurochemical basis of aggressive interactions and social structure, environmentally induced neurogenesis and/or death, and communication strategies using the urinary bladder to release chemical signals while interacting with other crayfish.


Bopaiah A. Biddanda, Ph.D., Ecology (Marine Microbial Ecology), University of Georgia, 1987.

Research areas: Aquatic microbial ecology, biogeochemistry of carbon in aquatic systems, photochemical (UV) and microbial transformations of organic matter, microbial metabolism and bioaccumulation of pollutants, biological limnology and oceanography (including land-water linkages).


James N. McNair, Ph.D., Ecology (Theoretical Ecology), University of Pennsylvania, 1979.

Research areas: Eco-evolutionary models of invasive plants, models of particle and nutrient transport in streams, empirical and statistical methods for estimating components of stream metabolism, physiologically-based microbial population models, fish bioenergetics models.


Jennifer A. Moore, Ph.D., Ecology and Biodiversity,Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, 2008.

Research areas: Molecular ecology, conservation biology, herpetology.


Charlyn Partridge, Ph.D., Zoology, Texas A&M University - College Station, 2009.

Research areas: Molecular ecology; behavioral, molecular, and genetic approaches to problems of invasive species success, sexual selection and alternative mating strategies, adaptation to global climate change.


Richard R. Rediske, Ph.D., Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan, 1986.

Research areas: Fate and transport of heavy metals and organic chemicals in the aquatic environment, cyanotoxin production by cyanobacteria, biogeochemical cycling and processing in watersheds, environmental toxicology, analytical chemistry, hazardous waste site assessment and remediation.


Carl R. Ruetz III, Ph.D., Fisheries, University of Minnesota, 2001.

Research areas: Fisheries ecology and management, stream ecology (invertebrate drift, leaf breakdown, and predator-prey interactions between fish and benthic macroinvertebrates), population and community ecology, applications of experimental design and statistics in fisheries ecology.


Eric B. Snyder, Ph.D., Stream Ecology, Idaho State University, 2001.

Research areas: Lotic ecosystem metabolism, organic matter budgets in lotic ecosystems, trophic structure of lotic ecosystems, lotic diatom community composition and function, fish ecology, aquatic restoration ecology, groundwater ecology, aquatic insect entomology, landscape ecology, large river ecology.


Alan D. Steinman, Ph.D., Botany, Oregan State University, 1987.

Research areas: Aquatic ecology, nutrient cycling, restoration ecology, integrated environmental assessments.


Kevin B. Strychar, Ph.D., Conservation Ecology, Central Queensland University, Australia, 2002.

Research areas: Climate change, comparative immunology, flow cytometry, cell biology, freshwater and marine science, oceanography, coral reef ecology.

Student resources

Travel and housing

We cover each student's cost of traveling to AWRI at the beginning of the program and traveling back home at the end of the program. During the program, students are housed in apartments at nearby Baker College, with two REU-QUEST students per unit. Apartments have full kitchens, internet access, free parking, and access to laundry and exercise facilities. We provide a free shuttle service between the student apartments, AWRI, and local shopping areas.

Stipend, meals, and research budget

Each REU-QUEST student will receive a stipend of $5,250 and an additional food allowance of $600. Each student research project will be allocated $900, which the mentor can use to purchase necessary laboratory and field supplies.

Library resources

REU-QUEST students can access any published literature they need. They have access to multiple online databases for searching the literature, and also have online access to the library’s extensive collection of electronic journals.

Offices and computer resources

Each REU-QUEST student is assigned a desk and desktop computer in the Lake Michigan Center or Robert B. Annis Field Station. Each computer is equipped with the most commonly used software, such as Microsoft Office, various web browsers, and R software. All students will learn to use the R program for statistical analysis. The two buildings that house the Annis Water Resources Institute (Lake Michigan Center and Robert B. Annis Field Station; see photos below) provide students with ethernet and Wi-Fi access to the internet. Students have unlimited access to computers equipped with a wide range of GIS software, graphics software, bioinformatics software, programming languages, etc. They also have access to the Audio-Visual Classroom in Lake Michigan Center, which has 10 computers with internet access, standard printers, a large-format printer, large whiteboards, and a digital projector.

Lake Michigan Center

Lake Michigan Center

Field Station

Robert B. Annis Field Station

Student townhouses

Student townhouses

Laboratory equipment

Students have access to any and all laboratory equipment required for their research projects and are trained in its proper use. The various laboratories include, for example, a molecular ecology lab, organic and inorganic environmental chemistry labs, microbial ecology lab, radioisotope lab, biogeochemistry lab, flow cytometry lab, stream ecosystem lab, aquatic invertebrate neurophysiology lab, geospatial and image analysis lab, and climate-controlled indoor mesocosm facility (see examples below).


Student using an LC-MS instrument


Student working with a DNA sequencer

Microbiology lab

Student working in the microbiology lab


GC-MS instrument in the organic lab

Mesocosm facility

Mesocosm facility

Flow cytometer

Flow cytometer

Field equipment

REU-QUEST students working on research projects in the field have access to all the required field equipment and are trained in its proper use. Field equipment includes, for example, numerous small boats, a research vessel, electrofishing and other fish sampling gear, field vehicles for travel to field sites and towing boats, sophisticated multi-probe sondes with data loggers for acquiring time series of stream water-quality parameters, velocimeters for measuring current velocity in streams, a sophisticated monitoring buoy in Muskegon Lake, SCUBA equipment, and numerous other field instruments and data loggers for measuring water quality parameters, photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), air/soil temperature, etc. (see examples below).

Lake sturgeon

Student sampling lake sturgeon

Fyke net

Student checking a fyke net


Students back-pack electrofishing

Buoy photo

Photo of the Muskegon Lake Observatory buoy

Stream sonde

Student deploying a sonde for stream metabolism research

Lake sampling

Student characterizing a stream culvert

Promotional poster


To download the current promotional poster (8.9 MB):

Click here

How to apply

To apply to the next REU-QUEST summer program, click on one of the links below to download an application form in Microsoft Word or LibreOffice Writer format (LibreOffice is a free, high-quality office suite very similar to Microsoft Office). Submit the application by sending an email to REU-QUEST (address: reu-quest@gvsu.edu) and attaching the completed form and an unofficial current transcript showing courses taken and grades received. You must also arrange for at least one faculty member at your college or university to send a letter of recommendation via email using the same email address (reu-quest@gvsu.edu). The deadline for receipt of all application materials for the Summer 2017 program is 1 March 2017. If you intend to apply but think you may miss this deadline with some of your application materials, please send an email explaining the situation to reu-quest@gvsu.edu on or before March 1st and we will respond.

The application form will ask you to provide the following information: personal data including citizenship/residence status, gender, race (U.S. federal government categories), and ethnicity (Hispanic/Non-Hispanic); educational data including college(s) you have attended, hours completed, major, minor, cumulative and science GPA, and current course enrollment; your post-baccalaureate plans and career objectives; three choices of research mentor (based on viewing the above list of mentors and visiting the faculty websites); any previous research experiences you have had; and a short essay describing how you believe REU-QUEST would benefit you. As mentioned above, you also must submit an unofficial transcript (as an email attachment) and must have a professor at your college or university submit a letter of recommendation via email. In addition to being a citizen or permanent resident of the United States or its territories and being proficient in English, acceptance criteria include: having at least 24 credit hours of science, engineering, and/or math; a cumulative and science GPA of at least 2.50; graduate school as a possible career goal; and a positive faculty recommendation. Your GPA will not be the most important selection criterion.

Important dates


Application deadline:

1 March 2017*

Notify accepted students:

1 April 2017

Last day for accepted students to accept/decline offer:

14 April 2017**

Program start date:

5 June 2017

Program end date:

11 August 2017

*   If you intend to apply but cannot meet this deadline, send an email to reu-quest@gvsu.edu and explain.

** An additional student will be accepted at this point to replace any accepted student that declines our offer.

Application download


Microsoft Word format:

Click here 

LibreOffice Writer format:

Click here

Students and projects from prior years

The 2016 cohort

2016 cohort

2016 REU-QUEST students and their home states. Front row, left to right: Valeria Martin (MO), Pamela Martinez-Oquendo (PR), Mary Szoka (AL). Second row: Alex Crum (MN), Marielys Santana (PR), Alan Mock (IN), Kathy Bonilla (NC). Third row: Eli Jacobson (NJ), Krystle Saylon (MI), McKenna Burns (IA). Back row: Dr. Kevin Strychar, Dr. Jim McNair.

Research topics from 2016

  • Valerie Martin: Comparing E. coli quantification methods: IDEXX Colilert-18 and qPCR
  • Mary Szoka: Looking at the longitudinal effects of culverts on surrounding fish populations
  • Marielys Santana: Viral pathogens as a possible primary stressor for Diporeia sp. decline and the role of quagga mussels as a vector
  • Kathy Bonilla: Analysis of the crayfish chemical communication system
  • Krystle Saylon: Developing a modified GWLF model for predicting sediment load at the catchment scale using GIS and R
  • Eli Jacobson: Detection of stream bank deposition/erosion via sediment pins
  • Pamela Martínez-Oquendo: A study of the germination rate of field-collected and commercial baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata) seeds
  • Alan Mock: Reducing bias in mark-recapture abundance estimators using a modified sampling scheme
  • Alex Crum: Transcriptome data as a source of nuclear genes for phylogenetics in the plant genus Aneilema
  • McKenna Burns: Analysis of invasive baby’s breath in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and RNA extraction from male bluegill sunfish.

The 2015 cohort

2015 cohort

2015 REU-QUEST students and their home states. Front row, left to right: Isabel Papraniku (NJ), Naymar Franqui (PR), Hannah Franko (MO), Vingie Ng (IL). Middle row: Muhidin Abdimalik (MO), Shelby Brewer (CT), Nicholas Chischilly (NM), Kelsey Hubble (IL). Back row: Dr. Jim McNair , Jorge Berrios (PR), Dr. Kevin Strychar, Melissa Koehler (OK).

Research topics from 2015

  • Isabel Papraniku: Estimating and comparing components of ecosystem metabolism in restored and impaired stream reaches in west-central Michigan
  • Naymar Franqui: Neuropharmacological changes in the aggressive behavior of male crayfish (Orconectes rusticus)
  • Hannah Franko: Isolation and identification of coral disease pathogens
  • Vingie Ng: Effects of nitrate and phosphate on dynamics of Muskegon Lake viruses, bacteria, and phytoplankton in laboratory microcosms
  • Muhidin Abdimalek: Identifying nutrient limitation in Lake Macatawa, Michigan
  • Shelby Brewer: Dynamics of two alternative mathematical models of virus-bacteria-phytoplankton interactions
  • Nicholas Chischilly: The relationship between total phosphorus, algal production, and swimmer’s itch
  • Kelsey Hubble: Estimation of virus, bacteria, and phytoplankton abundance in Muskegon Lake using flow cytometry
  • Jorge Berrios: Harmful cyanobacteria in Bear Lake and Muskegon Lake, Michigan: Characterization of toxin-producing species and analysis of microcystins
  • Melissa Koehler: A PCR-based dietary analysis of Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus).