Biology Major Discovers Her Passion in the Deep, Blue Ocean
Nebraska Wesleyan University senior Annie Nyffeler fell in love with the ocean by way of Nebraska.
She came to NWU from Columbus, Neb., with plans to pursue a career in medicine. A vast, blue body of water wasn’t even on her radar until biology professor, Jerry Bricker, began talking about his summer class, “Applied Marine Biology,” which takes students to Honduras for hands-on lessons on marine reef ecology.
Nyffeler took advantage of the opportunity.
“I went to Honduras and fell in love with the ocean. It is so mysterious. It was like experimenting a completely new world, far different from our own prairies,” said the biology major. “I realized I was more interested in living and moving organisms, in animals, than laboratory stuff. That’s when I began to doubt my medical wishes and leaned toward marine biology.”
Following her class in Honduras, Nyffeler began collecting an array of experiences to help her pinpoint her career interests. She participated in a summer training program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center; she studied abroad in Argentina. The love for the ocean and its contents still weighed on her mind.
“The ocean is a stranger for us Nebraskans, so I had to go abroad or out of state to cultivate this interest,” she said.
That led to her most recent experience. Nyffeler was one of 15 undergraduates (out of 375 applicants) in the country selected for a Maryland Sea Grant, which gave her the opportunity to spend the summer on the Chesapeake Bay where she studied the blue crab.
“I studied the behavior of these lovely animals in the present climate conditions and predicted how they would act in the future,” said Nyffeler. “Carbon emissions are rising, and as a consequence atmospheric and ocean temperatures are increasing too.”
What was her outcome?
“We predicted that they will eventually adapt, although their metabolism resulted to be lower in presence of higher amounts of carbon dioxide,” she recalled. “Our choices in terms of environmental issues are going to affect the entire ecosystem; we have to understand that.”
Experiences like Nyffeler’s are essential in helping students discover their passions, said Jerry Bricker, associate professor of biology.
“Science involves a long training process involving years of study and active engagement in research,” said Bricker. “We are blessed at Wesleyan in being able to offer a balance of classroom, field, and research opportunities in combination with personalized academic and career advising.”
“Annie has participated in some amazing experiences while at NWU,” Bricker continued, “and gladly, she is the rule, not the exception for how boldly our students engage in the world during their short time as Prairie Wolves.”
Nyffeler is now back in her Nebraska Wesleyan biology lab with plans to graduate in May.
“I still haven’t decided what to do after graduation, but one thing is certain: all of these experiences have broadened my horizons,” she said. “And now after all these experiences, I know I’m more eager to keep learning.”
Story by Alessandro Schirano, Public Relations Intern