Student Success Stories - Alyssa Freitag
Hometown: Saratoga, New York
Major/Minor/Honors College: Marine science, biology concentration
Why UMaine? UMaine was actually the first college I visited, and I loved the atmosphere from the second I stepped foot on campus. It was the perfect size and everyone was so helpful and friendly. I was also able to meet with Dr. William Ellis, the associate director of marine sciences, who answered all my questions. I was very impressed with the program.
How would you describe the academic atmosphere at UMaine? Challenging and exciting. Professors are always willing to help you out if you are having trouble. They’re also there to listen to your ideas and they make a real effort to help your ideas become a reality.
Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who has made your UMaine experience better, and if so, who and how? Dr. Ellis has always been there to answer my questions and calm my nerves. Sarah Barker, the postdoctoral student I’m working with on my current research on bonnethead sharks, has also been great to work with. I have learned so much from her and gained skills in the lab that will be very useful later on.
Describe UMaine in one word. Opportunity
Explain: There are so many unique opportunities at UMaine. You can work with professors on their research, study abroad, get involved in groups that are dedicated to service, and so much more. There really is something for everyone here.
What is the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you’ve taken at UMaine? The marine sciences curriculum requires a series of four seminar courses, all of which focus on various aspect of the ocean. I thought the last seminar was very interesting and fun because it was so hands-on. As students, we were introduced to so many different laboratory techniques. One lab required us to keep the heart of a lobster beating outside of its body! We were also taught the importance of keeping a careful lab notebook and learned how to write professional lab reports. In fact, I find myself applying many of the techniques I learned in this class to my senior research project.
Have you gained any hands-on or real-world experience through your coursework? If so, tell us about it: My senior capstone research has proven to be very hands-on. I am working with Sarah in Dr. Ian Bricknell’s laboratory at the School of Marine Sciences. My research focuses on the immunology of the bonnethead shark, a small species of hammerhead shark found in shallow bays and estuaries on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the Americas. I am collaborating with Dr. Dean Grubbs from Florida State University and the Georgia Aquarium to get serum samples from both wild and captive individuals. From the serum, I hope to purify IgM, which is the most abundant immunoglobulin in elasmobranchs, which is the class of fish that includes sharks, skates and rays, and produce polyclonal antibodies. This will help me determine which bacteria have infected this species in the past. I hope to create a disease history survey to determine what bacteria are widespread in their habitats.
Have you had an experience at UMaine — either academically or socially — that has changed or shaped the way you see the world? During my sophomore year, I participated in UMaine’s Alternative Spring Break program and spent one week working with the Nature Conservancy in Georgia. I made some really great friends and learned the real importance of protecting our environment.
Have you participated in any internships or co-ops related to your major? Tell us about them and how your experience in the classroom helped prepare you: This past summer I participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Stony Brook University. The REU program is funded by the National Science Foundation and provides undergrads with valuable research experience while preparing them for graduate school. I worked very closely with a mentor at Stony Brook to develop my own research project and presented my results to my peers and much of the faculty at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook. I think the wide variety of biology courses I’ve taken at UMaine, particularly the Biology of Fishes course, really helped me take what I’ve learned and apply it in a hands-on laboratory setting.
What is your most memorable UMaine moment? Relay For Life, the cancer research fundraiser that UMaine participates in every year, is really incredible. Hundreds of students pack into the Field House and spend the entire night raising money for an amazing cause and having a ton of fun!
What do you hope to do after graduation and how has UMaine helped you reach those goals? My immediate goal is to go to graduate school and earn a Master’s degree in biology or a Masters in Science Teaching (MST) degree so I can teach biology at the high school level. UMaine has opened a lot of doors for me. This school has provided me with the resources I need to be successful in whatever path I take.
What difference has UMaine made in your life? I am absolutely positive that I made the right choice when I choose to come to this school. I have made amazing friends and love everything about UMaine. There may be 10,000 students here, but there is a true sense of community. UMaine has provided me with so many unique opportunities and prepared me for the future.