Faces of Rhodes

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Maggie Blake ′14

Hometown: Collierville, TN
Major: Biology
Minor: English

Research interests: Animal behavior, ecology, and conservation

Extracurricular activities: Middle School tutor, Tri-Beta Biology Honors Society, planning committee for Rhodes Relay for Life, Burrow-Armstrong Alcohol Policy Committee, Catholic Student Association

Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.

Living just outside Memphis, I’ve known about Rhodes College almost all my life. Whenever my family passed by it, or heard it mentioned, my dad would always say, “Harry Potter school, right, Maggie? That’s where you’re going.” And I would answer with a definite no. My plan was to go to a school much further away.

When senior year of high school rolled around, and I was applying to colleges, Rhodes was still not on my radar. But my mom convinced me to apply because there was no reason not to. Shortly after I applied, I received an acceptance letter and an invitation to preview Rhodes. I still had no plans to attend Rhodes, but we decided to go, once again, because there was no reason not to. When I did finally visit Rhodes, I fell in love almost immediately. The campus was beautiful, and we were so close to the Memphis Zoo, I could actually hear the monkeys calling from across the street. Rhodes emphasizes community service and it encourages students to pursue different subjects and passions in their time studying there. It just seemed like the right place for me.

How have you changed since beginning your studies at Rhodes?

I don’t feel that I’ve changed as much as I’ve grown, though I know that sounds cliché. All my courses at Rhodes, from biology to literature to sociology, have made me think about the world in ways I simply never had before coming to college. I have been given the tools, knowledge, and experiences to evaluate and understand the world in a more critical and enlightened manner. I am a great deal more aware now about how much I don’t know, and I think I am a much better student and person for this self-awareness.

Animal behavior is one of your interests. Tell us about your research on African elephant behavior at the Memphis Zoo.

I began participating in the African elephant behavior project underĀ Dr. Sarah Boyle at the beginning of my sophomore year. The zoo was replacing the concrete flooring of the elephant indoor enclosure with a more resilient material. They wanted to see if changes in behavior could be detected after the flooring was installed, hopefully indicating the increased comfort of the elephants. Initially, I collected behavioral data for a few hours each week, creating an activity budget and keeping track of the movements of the elephants. The zoo also began taking video data of the elephants at night, so I analyzed video data to learn more about the elephants′ sleeping behavior. I was able to continue this elephant research eight weeks in the summer after that school year thanks to a paid fellowship.

I continued this research into my junior year before transferring to another project, but the elephant behavior project is ongoing. This project gave me my first insight into the enormous amount of work required to perform a scientific study, especially a long-term study such as this one. Though it was a great deal of work, it was also rather wonderful to receive class credit and research experience by going to the zoo a couple of times a week to watch the elephants.

Last year, I presented the preliminary data from our research at the Western Regional Meeting of the Tennessee Academy of Science undergrad conference and our research won second place.

You spent this past summer interning at the University of Delaware′s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. What was this experience like?

Interning at the University of Delaware’s CEOE was an incredible experience. I have always had an interest in marine biology, and this program provided me with exposure to the field without taking me away from Rhodes. With this internship, I had the opportunity to help design and implement an experiment from its initial stages of planning through its conclusion. I was amazed that I was actually able to utilize and apply the knowledge and training I had received from classes and research at Rhodes. I learned a great deal about what academic research entails, and I gained greater insight into what a career in research really requires. Also, I got to live within biking distance of the beach, so that was fantastic.

What are your plans for the future?

I have had amazing opportunities with the amount of undergrad research I have been able to perform, and as a result of these opportunities, I realize that there are several types of careers and areas of research that I have yet to be exposed to. I would like to explore these areas and options before continuing my education in a more specialized field.

Compiled by Ali Swee ′14

Tags: Biology, English, Tennessee