McKearn Program – Closing Thoughts – Blog 8

Fellow McKearn fellows, we are almost done! Congratulations. 🙂

To help review and reflect, here are some of the events and tasks that we have completed this summer:

–          Etiquette lunch at the Mid-America Club on the top floor of the Aon Center

–          Leadership, ethics, research, and writing workshops

–          Trips to visit alumni at the Arts Club of Chicago, Nanophase, and more

–          Weekend retreat to Loredo Taft in Oregon, IL

–           Toured La Rabida hospital with Congresswoman Kelly

All of this, and more, we accomplished on top of completing an independent research project, and creating a poster/presentation and paper to show for it.

For me personally, I would have to say that the most inspiring aspect of this summer was touring the hospital with the congresswoman. Learning from the administrators how the hospital is run, and seeing first-hand the benefits that it provides to the children was simply inspiring. Seeing how everyone used their skills in all types of fields (from business, to nursing, to clowning) to help make a difference in the lives of these children, really demonstrated how much we can make the world a better place when we use our various skills and talents to work together. I know that probably sounds totally cliché, but that is what I have taken away from this experience as an overarching theme. I have seen this come through in our time living and working together, our excursions, and our talks with mentors and alumni. And, I do truly believe that our assisting in each other’s’ projects has helped to make them the best that each one can be.

This is what I plan on taking away from this summer as I continue throughout my academic, professional, and personal life. Remembering the importance of everyone’s role and how they contribute to the overall good will help me to inspire others as a friend, coworker, and leader. So, thank you, fellow McKearn fellows, McKearn administrators, alumni, faculty, mentors, and friends, for your contributions to my project. Although you may not believe it, I see little pieces of all of you in my work from this summer; and, that has helped to make my project and myself better than they have ever been.


McKearn Program – Research Reflection – Blog 7

This week we were asked to address any problems or challenges that we have encountered with our summer research projects. I would have to say that my biggest obstacle has come from the unpredictability that is research. Throughout the summer, I have had to adjust and deal with time limitations, the addition of components to my project, as well as balance my other lab responsibilities. Thankfully, I have had many resources that have been helpful in this process. One essential item that has made all of the juggling possible is my lab key. I honestly do not know what I would have done this summer, had I not had access to the lab at all hours. I have been there from as early as 5:30am to as late as 1am, and sometimes both in the same day. Another vital resource has, of course, been my mentor. He has been there for me throughout the summer, every step of the way. For him and all of his teachings and support, I will always be grateful.

In regards to my project, I am most proud of how much this is my own project. Especially as an undergraduate in a lab setting, most projects are collaborative efforts. Yet for this research, I can proudly say that I have conducted most of the work, and am the “expert” (along with my mentor) on the project in the lab. However, much work remains to be done, and I am nervous about the time restraints that are tightening as we come closer and closer to the end of the program. I know the work will get done, I just I hope I can do it in a timely fashion without too much extra stress.

McKearn Program – Leadership Practices – Blog 6

Throughout the McKearn program, we have been reading sections of the book, The Leadership Challenge. One aspect of the book that we have been focusing on is the five practices of leadership that the book presents. According to the book, these practices are key components to successful leadership, and are therefore practices that we have been studying and working on in an effort to improve our individual leadership. The “Five Practices of Leadership” presented in the book are the following:

  • Model the Way
  • Inspire a Shared Vision
  • Challenge the Process
  • Enable Others to Act
  • Encourage the Heart

For me, personally, the hardest practice of these has been challenging the process. For one, challenging the process requires some form of confrontation, and that is something that I have always tried to avoid. Also, I had it hammered into me from a very young age that authority is to be respected, not challenged. Because of these two aspects of my life, challenging the process can feel inherently contradictory. However, if I feel strongly enough about an issue, I am confident in the fact that I can, and will, stand up for what I believe in. Although I already knew this fact, the time in the McKearn program has helped to make that more clear. I have learned the value of strength in numbers, because through multiple people agreeing on a topic, I can feel assured in the decision or opinion we share. This confirmation that others share an opinion helps me to feel more capable in challenging the process when necessary, and I am glad that I have learned that through the program and the support of my fellow McKearns.

McKearn Program – Taft Retreat – Blog 5

This past weekend we spent at Lorado Taft, a small campground-like area in Oregon, Illinois that NIU uses for various retreats. Our retreat there focused on writing skills, the peer review process, examining and defining the bigger picture associated with our projects, and pitching our project. Since I have been doing research for three years already, most of this information was review. But, it was nice to see how much of the tips and tools we were given this weekend I automatically incorporate into my work. It gave me a boost of confidence in myself and my work, which helped me a lot during our group activities. I am by nature more of an introvert, so doing group exercises is not something that I generally look forward to. After the first workshop though, I felt like I did have information and knowledge that I could share with my peers; and that was a good feeling.

Another workshop that felt very helpful was the “Pitching your project” workshop. Although it put us all on the spot, it gave every one of us the opportunity to try and condense our projects into 90 seconds or less. And, not just that, but make it relevant and understandable to a general audience. I must say, I really enjoyed this exercise. I had fun coming up with suggestions of how other people could start off their pitches, or tie the pitch together with a strong finish. I may not be very funny or creative, but I had fun throwing ideas out for so many different fields.  The exercise of pitching our projects was such a success too! I was honestly blown away by my McKearn Fellows and other peers. You did an amazing job! 🙂

This “Pitching your project” workshop was definitely the one that I took the most away from. I learned not only about other people and their projects, but learned about myself. I also learned more about leadership and my style of leadership, especially when it comes to contributing. I learned this weekend that everyone has something to contribute to a group, and that we should all make sure to step up and share that with the group. I learned that leadership is not always about speaking or acting first, but about opening yourself up and exposing yourself, your talent, and your contribution to the group to maximize the group success. Through talking about our own ideas and the ideas of others, we strengthen them all.

And with that, I’d like to say thank you to my fellow McKearns for a great weekend, as well as to all of the people that helped make it possible!

McKearn Program – Project Background – Blog 4

The purpose of my research work and project is to better understand how specific parts of the brain contribute to spatial orientation. The members of my lab and I are researching this in order to gain more knowledge on the wandering that is often a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and stroke. Our reasoning is that, if we can better understand which parts of the brain play a role in spatial orientation, then we can better formulate novel therapies and methods for dealing with this wandering symptom as well as these neurological disorders.

To do this type of research, I work with rats. Rats are a great animal model for many reasons, including the fact that they have previously been shown to orient themselves in space by similar means to humans. One article/source that has been essential to my project is “Movement characteristics support a role for dead reckoning in organizing exploratory behavior”, an article published seven years ago in the journal, Animal Cognition. This article is a highly credible source due to its thoroughness, content, and authors. The first author of the article is my mentor, Dr. Douglas Wallace, with whom I have worked now for three years. Because of him and his quality of work, I can personally and professionally attest to the credibility of this source.  🙂

Without this article, I could not analyze the results of my study in the way that I am. The research conducted in the source describes the movements of rats, and documents multiple characteristics of their movements along with ways to calculate and quantify the movement. The article provides evidence that my quantification methods have value, and are based off of previously determined features of rat behavior. The experiments for this source were also conducted under very similar settings, including the same apparatus. Such similarities provide strong parallels and ties between this article and my own work, thereby strengthening my project. Without the information of the article, my project’s methods and measurements would lack a foundation and merit. However, now I can build off of this data for my own study, and apply it to the three groups of rats and their movements. By using the information from this article, I can better assess if there are differences between the three rat groups in my research, which will help me determine if and how the medial frontal and orbitofrontal portions of the prefrontal cortex contribute to spatial orientation, or the lack thereof, which is seen in forms of dementia and stroke.


McKearn Program – Ethics – Blog 3

This week, we were asked to define “ethics”. Based off of my own experiences and reflections, this is what I came up with:

Ethics – the use of personally and socially derived morals and principles as a code of conduct

During this week of the McKearn program, we spent copious amounts of time talking about ethics. This topic is one that I would like to think that I know at least a little something about, as I have to deal with ethics in my research on a regular basis. Why is this so prominent for me? Because I conduct research with animals. And, especially since I am hoping to go to veterinary school in a year, this may seem like an oxymoron to some; but, it isn’t at all to me. In my mind, there does not have to be a contradiction between using animals in research and wanting to go to veterinary school, and this is because I have used ethics to rationalize the situation.

Instead of going on a long rant about animals and research, here are just two of my personal opinions:

  • Is animal research ideal? No.
  • Is it an essential component of modern medicine and society? Yes.

I want to make a difference in the world and in the lives of people and animals. One way that I can do that is through research, as an attempt to better understand the diseases that plague us today. As I said, animal research is not ideal, but it has allowed advances that have improved human and animal lives alike. I first decided I wanted to be a veterinarian because it was a way that I could improve the lives of animals and their owners – in the long run, my research allows me to do that. And, in the meantime, it lets me give lots of animals extra cuddling and love.

I have also learned through personal experiences and an in-depth laboratory animal course (that was taught by a veterinarian) about the extensive ethics and processes involved in any form of animal research. With the numerous rules and regulations that are in place, I do think that everything possible is done to respect the animals, treat them not only humanely but kindly, prevent stress, pain, etc. and minimize the number of animals used. It is also important to remember that many animal studies do not involve pain, discomfort, or death of the animals. My Argentina research, for instance, was a purely observational study that impacted the animals in no way; yet, it is a form of animal research.

I love all of the animals that I get to work with. It is an honor and a privilege. This sense of respect and concern for the animals I work with is something that I will carry with me as I continue to do research. My ethics and morals are what keep me humble and sensitive in my work and decisions, and they will continue to do so throughout my academic and professional careers, and the rest of my life.

McKearn Program – Etiquette – Blog 2

Wednesday of this first week of the McKearn program we spent in etiquette training, and we went all the way to Chicago for it! It was a long but good experience, as we learned a lot about the rules of etiquette. Since I had been through a similar training earlier, the experience was a refreshing review. I did not feel nervous or uncomfortable, and instead enjoyed talking to the other McKearn scholars and the donors. We even shared a meal together, during which we practiced using utensils properly and other rules of etiquette. The meal, company, and education that day were all great. Thank you to everyone for that experience!

The skills we learned at this luncheon will continue to aid us not only throughout our time in the McKearn program, but also throughout the rest of our lives. Knowing the rules of fine etiquette will allow us to interact appropriately with people from all walks of life. It is important to be able to feel comfortable in such a formal setting, since interviews, work meetings, etc. all can require these etiquette skills. This confidence in my abilities gives me a stronger sense of leadership, as I know that I can handle myself in any situation. And for that, again, I say thank you to everyone who made the training possible.

McKearn Program – Leadership

This first week in the McKearn program, we have been discussing and learning about leadership. One of our first assignments was to write about who we are as a leader, and I thought I would share my reflection and summary. So here it is!

As a leader, I am a chameleon – I blend in, or stand out when needed. I do this because my focus is the group of people that I am leading. I have the group’s best interest at heart, even if that requires putting my own preferences aside. To blend in and work with the others, I do my best to think, plan, delegate, and act along the lines of the group’s goal.  I focus myself and the group around the goal, because without that common goal, it is hard to recognize where I, as the leader, am going and where I am directing others. I take on the roles of communicator, speaker, and effective listener. And, I prepare myself to do any task that I would ask others to do, because it is important to be able to lead by example rather than a position of power. I aim to work with people, and ideally for the people, since the leader needs to be conscious of how their decisions affect others. I am understanding, cooperative, and acknowledging of diverse opinions and abilities. I lead because I care about others; and therefore, make my decisions for the good of everyone, not just myself. As a leader, I am a chameleon – I blend into my surroundings and join the people around me, leading quietly from the background, and standing out only through the successes of the group or when absolutely needed.

McKearn Program – An Introduction – Blog 1

Today was the first day of the inaugural McKearn Scholars summer program. It was just an evening, but what an evening it was!

But first, I better begin with a bit about myself. My name is Sarah Stuebing, and I am a senior biology major at Northern Illinois University. I have been conducting research here at NIU since my freshman year, so I jumped at the opportunity to be in this program and conduct my own research project.

As I already mentioned, the program just started this evening. We got to move into the dorms and have a dinner with the members of two other research programs as well as the other McKearn scholars. Having dinner definitely brought the group together. We learned everyone’s names (or at least tried), where they are from, and what project they will be working on. Next, we played “Two Truths and a Lie”, where a person says three statements about themselves (two true and one lie) and the rest of the group has to guess what the lie is. It was a lot of fun learning random facts and unique talents of the other students, and it provided a good inkling as to who one should not play poker with.

There is no doubt that there were a lot of bright and exceptional people in that room for dinner today, which is why I am honored to be one of them. I would have never gotten to this point without the help and encouragement of many people, and I’d like to take a moment to thank them now. First off, I have to include my parents. They have supported me every step of the way, and I know could not have made it without them. Next, I have to thank Dr. Julia Spears and her team at the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning here at NIU. They too have been supportive of me and my crazy research ideas from the first time we met. Not only do I thank them for that, but I thank them whole-heartedly for not looking at me like I was crazy when I presented them with some of my research ideas. Because of your attitudes toward my ideas, I never thought of my research projects as unusual or novel for NIU. Had you done so, I probably would not have even attempted my equine and primate projects. The list of people I would like to thank would be long enough to post by itself, so instead I will just mention the mentors that have helped me throughout my past and current projects – Dr. Pamela Macfarlane, Dr. Christopher Hubbard, Dr. Moira Jenkins, Dr. Douglas Wallace, and Dr. Leila Porter. To everyone else that I have not specifically mentioned, I extend a whole-hearted “thank you” as well.

Now I have been prompted to share something inspirational, like words of advice and welcome to my fellow scholars. With that, welcome! I am very glad to have at least made your acquaintance so far, and I hope to get to know you better. DeKalb is my hometown, and I hope that you feel as comfortable in it as I do. In regards to this experience and NIU, I can only encourage you to try, think, and dream. I have learned that NIU truly is a place of endless opportunities, so I hope you have crazy ideas of your own and take the chance to try and achieve them here. If you get to experience the same NIU that I have, then I know you’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish.


Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina

At this time, one year ago, I was working at the only primate rehabilitation center in Argentina. I cannot believe the time has gone by so quickly, or how much I still miss that place.

Going to Argentina last summer to work with monkeys there was by far the greatest experience of my life. It was, in some ways, not at all what I expected but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It still amazes me with everything I learned and experienced there.

There is so much to tell that the hardest part is knowing where to begin. I guess, a good place to start would be the beginning…

After three flights, a three hour bus ride, and a thirty minute taxi ride up the side of a mountain, I finally made it to the primate rehabilitation center. It was not quite what I had been envisioning. It was in the mountains, so it was colder than I had prepared for. But, the landscape was gorgeous and I was immediately greeted by many animals and a few people, which made me (temporarily) forget the cold. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was enough electricity for a few light bulbs, as well as enough running water for two sinks and the restroom located approximately five minutes away from our sleeping quarters. There was even a laundry facility! If you like to wash your clothes in a river that is. Throughout my stay, let’s just say that clothes were not washed as frequently as they could have been. And, when they were, the little waterfall became my “wash and tumble” cycle, my hand soap became laundry detergent, and a fallen tree trunk became my drier. This all worked surprisingly well, except for the fact that my drier required three days time, and I rarely felt that I could sacrifice the article of clothing that I was washing for that long.

Despite these unique living conditions, I loved my time there. I worked twelve to fourteen hours a day, doing anything and everything that needed to be done to take care of 150 Black Howler monkeys, 20 Capuchin monkeys, 50 dogs, 15 llamas, 7 goats, 6 chickens, 2 cats, and 2 pumas. These days consisted of washing food platters, preparing food, carrying food and water, cleaning cages, counting and observing monkeys, acting as a surrogate mother to four infant monkeys, chopping firewood, cleaning the living spaces, and giving tours to many guests.

Needless to say, these animals became my life; and, I loved almost every minute of it. I won’t deny that there were some rough spots, but the good outweighed the bad. In particular, I am so thankful for the bonds that I developed with the animals. One of the baby monkeys became particularly attached to me, and never wanted to leave my side. She would run up to me as soon as she saw me, and wanted nothing more than to sit on my shoulder wrapped up against my face and neck all day. That was my little Pakita. I am hoping to go back to Argentina this fall, and I am curious to see if she will remember me.

The stories I could tell about the animals are endless, but instead I will focus on the big picture. During my five weeks at the rehabilitation center in Argentina, I learned about much more than just animals. I learned about Argentinian culture, I improved my Spanish, I learned about the research process during a field study, I documented and interpreted primate facial expressions. I learned how to read and interpret monkeys. I now know how to feed them, take care of them, even how to administer some medications. I learned about their individual personalities, preferences, and habits. I got to rehabilitate monkeys, and reintroduce them into the wild. I protected and befriended a monkey that was brought to the rehabilitation center after years of abuse. I saw the monkeys grow and thrive. And, I was able to document and analyze their facial expressions and how the monkeys use these to communicate. I also learned about Capuchin monkeys, and experienced their incredible intelligence first-hand. It is no wonder why they are often used in movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Night at the Museum! They are absolutely brilliant! I will never forget how often I was in awe of the animals at the center, or how often the animals taught me a valuable lesson. From the importance of sharing, to not judging a book b y its cover, to the value of life, these animals reminded me of many of life’s important lessons.

There is no substitute for the hands-on experience I received during my time in Argentina. It was an unforgettable experience that has made me a stronger and better person. So, I would like to thank everyone who helped to make my trip possible. In particular, I would like to thank Northern Illinois University for supporting me academically, emotionally, and financially. Thank you for the Honors EYE Grant, the USOAR Grant, and the Provost’s Study Abroad Travel Grant. Without these donations, I never would have been able to go on this trip, nor would I have been able to change the lives of animals, or my own.

Monkey Kiss

Baby Monkey on Shoulder