Two Students Represent Nicholls in National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program

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Nicholls undergraduate biology pre-med major Emily Gaudet and University of West Florida undergraduate marine biology major Brett Renken both represented Nicholls during the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

“It has been so rewarding to work with Emily and Brett this summer. They are outstanding researchers and have done some really cool work to identify what Speckled Sea Trout and Spanish Mackerel are eating along the coast of Louisiana,” said Dr. Justine Whitaker, Nicholls assistant professor of biological sciences.

Gaudet, a Terrebonne High School graduate, worked with Dr. Whitaker as an REU student on a coastal predatory diet study, focusing on Speckled Trout collected from all five coastal study areas in Louisiana. She used sequencing to identify prey that in conventional diet students might be labeled as unidentified with the hope of providing a more complete picture of the Speckled Trout diet.

Renken, an Oak Lawn, Illinois native, also worked with Dr. Whitaker as an REU student in the Coastal Genomics Lab at Nicholls State University. His project is part of a larger diet study that focuses on Spanish Mackerel, performing dissections to remove gut contents, extracting DNA from the contents and then sequencing to identify the contents to the lowest taxonomic level. Renken has also assisted with field work for other graduate students at Nicholls State, ranging from terrapin surveys at Grand Isle, Louisiana, collecting environmental DNA samples for mussel and fish species at sites in the Sabine and Calcasieu basins.

The Science Center for Marine Fisheries supports the careers of students and up-and-coming scientists by actively involving them in Center-funded projects and partnering with its member institutions to provide research opportunities as part of the National Science Foundation’s REU program.

The REU program allows students to participate directly in scientific research at the undergraduate level. This gives them valuable hands-on experience in the lab and in the field, lets them contribute to published studies and helps lay the foundation for a future career in marine science. Many of the students who have successfully completed projects in the REU program have gone on to further their careers in academia and fisheries science and management.

The REU program has students at many SCEMFIS member institutions, including the University of Southern Mississippi, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at William and Mary, Rutgers University, Nicholls State University, the University of Richmond, Carlton College, Michigan State University and the University of Texas, Austin.

Faculty within Nicholls’ Department of Biological Sciences pride themselves on fostering undergraduate research initiatives, providing students with the opportunity to work on a wide range of research topics from the cell and molecular level, the organismal level or to ecosystem level processes and working one on one to guide students through formulating a hypothesis, designing a research project, collecting and interpreting data, and reporting results. To learn more, visit