Student Caitlin Lecker Connects with HVC Mentor Parsons to Perform Research

By Michael Parsons, mentor, Hudson Valley Center

February 7, 2012

Hudson Valley Center mentor and scientist Michael Parsons knew he had encountered a special student after reviewing a few animal behavior assignments from Caitlin Lecker.

“Caitlin entered the study with considerable skills; the depth of her responses were on par with the better graduate students I have worked with,” he said.

GeeseDespite the geography, their working relationship grew from a study into an opportunity to perform research together -- at a distance. Though they've never met, Parsons and Lecker now hope to publish her findings.

Lecker wanted to explore two questions; whether Canada geese (right) and ring-billed gulls (below) would be more likely to respond to natural, rather than artificial, laser strikes; and whether there was any synergistic effect when combined with distress calls by conspecifics. Her findings, if confirmed through peer review, are important on several practical and theoretical levels.

Lecker started by enrolling in a summer study, but carried out the 12-day scientific trial in late October.

Seagull“I was blown away that a student who had finished her study in August was so committed to working on the project until she had the answers she was searching for,” Parsons remarked.

In order to carry out the fieldwork, Lecker fostered relationships with the USDA and the laser manufacturer (Feather Light Technologies). Both sources donated considerable in-kind contributions to the project. The Cornell Ornithology lab provided high-quality recordings of the distress calls.

Lecker summed her experience: “At my previous traditional college, this opportunity never would have come about. Empire State College really does make the degree process extremely personal and unique. Research involves a lot more than I thought and I would not have this knowledge without the experience--you cannot learn much of this through reading and lectures. Overall, this has been a great experience”.

They hope to submit the manuscript to the Journal of Wildlife Management next year.