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Student Research Opportunities Grant

Student Research Opportunities Grants

The Oak Lake Field Station provides a small grants program offering support to students interested in conducting research on-site. Funding for these grants is provided from the Jon Haertel Endowment Fund, Charles and Marcia McMullen Endowment Fund, Oak Lake Field Station operating budget and the Department of Natural Resource Management. Students interested in submitting a proposal for one of these grants should read the guideline materials below.

Research Topics

Research should focus on topics directed toward the Oak Lake Field Station Mission - To increase the understanding and appreciation of the Northern Great Plains and to foster ecosystem stewardship. Example topics are provided below.

  • Surveys of Flora and Fauna
  • Natural Resource Management Practices
  • Understanding Linkages between Prairie Resources and Society
  • Baseline Studies of Ecological Processes in Prairie Environments
  • Evaluation of Environmentally Friendly Management Alternatives
  • Economic Valuation of Ecological Services in Prairie Ecosystems

Studies may be experimental or descriptive in nature. However, proposals should state explicit objectives, provide a detailed study design, and provide detailed methodology and analysis techniques to facilitate evaluation.


A significant component of the research must be conducted at Oak Lake Field Station.

Application and Guidelines

  1. Submit a one to two page CV.
  2. Submit a current unofficial transcript.
  3. Submit two letters of recommendation, one must be from the proposed faculty mentor. The letters must specifically address your maturity, work ethic and evidence of interest in the general discipline of biology.
  4. Write a brief one page or less (single spaced, one inch margins, 12 point font) statement on why you wish to conduct the research and why you want to work at OLFS.
  5. Please include a one page budget in consultation with your faculty mentor.
  6. Research funding will be awarded in May and will terminate one year from the award date.
  7. Students must be working on research through a university faculty advisor.
  8. A final research report with accompanying raw data must be submitted by April 1 of the following year.
  9. The student is expected to present their results (in person or virtually) during the annual Oak Lake Research Retreat, held at the end of October in the year of the award. Presentation of results at additional meetings and conferences is strongly encouraged.
  10. Copies of all published abstracts, presentations, and manuscripts resulting from this research must be submitted to the field station director.
  11. Utilization of funds from this grant may be directed toward stipends, supplies, and travel necessary to complete the project. Grant requests will be limited to total amounts of $1,500 to $4,500 and must be justified within the application.

Available Awards

*Click each award to go to the application form above.

Proposal Due Date: Proposals are due by April 10th, 2021

Award Date: Awards will be made by April 15th, 2021

Contact for Information:
Dr. Charles Fenster, Director, Oak Lake Field Station
Dr. Bruce Eichhorst, Assistant Director for Education and Outreach, Oak Lake Field Station

2021 Summer Research Topics

1. Herpetological research with Dr. Bruce Eichhorst at OLFS

For the past two summers I have been developing a research program on reptiles at OLFS.  My main target species are Red-bellied Snakes (RBS) and Prairie Skinks (PS), but there are also Common and Plains Gartersnakes, and Painted Turtles.  Undergraduate students interested in working with me will get to work on a variety of topics related to reptile ecology but could also work on some aspects related to amphibian species found at OLFS.  Because I will be living at the station, I will be available daily to work directly with students, thus providing them with extensive direction, mentorship and exposure to field techniques.  The following are some of the topics students will get to work on.

  • Assess population status of RBS and PS and their use of different habitat types
  • Determine efficacy of using cover objects to attract snakes and skinks
  • Assess attraction effectiveness of different materials that can be used for cover objects (e.g., wood, metal, roofing shingles, etc.)
  • Determine thermal environment under cover objects and its influence on periods of reptile use throughout the day
  • Mark snakes and skinks for mark-recapture population estimates
  • Photograph and collect RBS to assess color and body pattern variation
  • Determine relative frequency of Common and Plains Gartersnakes at the station
  • Assess degree of ectoparasite infestation in skinks
  • Experiment with new methods to attract female skinks (i.e., artificial nest sites)
  • Measure and mark female Painted Turtles that nest on trails at the station


2. Relationships among Aquatic Species Diversity and Shoreline Development with Dr. Alison Coulter

In the Prairie Pothole Region, increasing human land use has led to the loss and degradation of aquatic habitats.  For example, the cultivation of row crops increases dissolved sediment which can lead to algae blooms and low oxygen conditions which can kill aquatic life.  Humans may also remove shoreline vegetation which can also increase sediments as the loss of vegetation destabilizes soil. Degradation of aquatic habitats from shoreline development can be minimized by employing best practices such as retaining native vegetation buffer strips.  However, control of shorelines may belong to multiple landowners or it may be infeasible for a landowner to keep a vegetation buffer along their entire shoreline.  Therefore, it is important to know if small areas of undeveloped shoreline can positively influence aquatic species and habitat. This study will use Oak Lake and 2 additional lakes to examine if variation in shoreline type can influence small scale aquatic species diversity and habitat quality.  Oak Lake has a variable shoreline types including areas with row crops with small vegetation buffers, mowed grasses right up to the water, forested areas, and prairie/shrub areas.  The student who completes this project will establish aquatic quadrats along different shoreline types and will monitor fish number and species diversity, aquatic invertebrate diversity, and aquatic habitat characteristics (e.g., temperature, water clarity) in each quadrat.  In addition to sample collection at Oak Lake, this project will involve work identifying collected aquatic invertebrates on campus and sample collection from up to 2 additional lakes.