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October 9, 2012

Great Salt Lake researcher pursuing doctorate degree at USU

Presidential Doctoral Research Fellow interested in human-wildlife interactions

USU Presidential Doctoral Research Fellow Maureen Frank has a wide range of experience in wildlife research -- from analyzing morphology in the laboratory to spending a month in the jungles of Honduras. She chose to pursue graduate studies at USU when one of her professors, who is also her mentor at Texas A&M University, highly recommended USU.

“When I was considering different programs for graduate school, my mentor told me, ‘Find a program where you will learn to do good science,’” said Frank. “He said USU has become one of the top schools in the nation for wildlife biology.”

Frank hails from Lone Tree, a suburb south of Denver, Colo. Growing up, she spent a lot of time outdoors - fishing, camping, hiking and skiing. She earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from Texas A&M University.

In addition to being actively involved in the student chapter of the Wildlife Society, Frank was also given the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research.

Currently, she is doing research on phalaropes (a type of bird), which is part of an ongoing project on the Great Salt Lake. Millions of birds use the Great Salt Lake as a migration stopover, and for many species, brine shrimp are a critical food source. The brine shrimp industry is unique among many industries because it requested regulation by biologists to avoid collapsing the ecosystem.

“I will study the birds' population abundance and distribution, as well as diet,” she said. “From observations of phalarope behavior and from studies elsewhere, it is assumed that phalaropes on the Great Salt Lake eat mostly brine flies. However, no one has ever studied phalarope diet on the Great Salt Lake, so we don’t know for sure.”

She is pursuing this area of research as a result of her interest in managing human/wildlife interactions. She believes that in many situations, there is a balanced solution between human and wildlife needs for natural resources, and to find this solution, solid scientific research needs to be conducted.

Maureen Frank

Frank does not have a master’s degree and feels comfortable accepting an offer to do PhD-level research because of her exposure to research as an undergraduate. Her goal at USU is to develop her research skills as an individual so that she can contribute good scientific information to the wildlife field, allowing the advancement of knowledge and improvement of management practices.

“To be selected as a Presidential Doctoral Research Fellow is an honor!” said Frank. “As part of the first cohort of fellows, I get to help set the stage for other graduate students in the coming years. I look forward to the challenge of making the program grow so that USU’s graduate research becomes even more prominent.”

- Nadiah Johari