Making grasshoppers into marathoners
Faculty champion your success
Hometown: Woodbridge, Conn
Major: Neuroscience (on the pre-med track)
Hometown: Carlisle, N.Y.
Major: Biology (on the pre-med track)
Associate Professor of Biology
Ariella Yazdani jumped right into research her sophomore year.
Based on another student’s recommendation, she reached out to Professor Scott Kirkton, Union’s resident grasshopper expert.
“I don’t typically do neuroscience research, but I rarely turn down students,” says Kirkton. “So when Ariella came in, we kicked around ideas.”
Before long, a project was born – using electrical stimulation to produce a twitch in the jumping muscle of the grasshopper.
“What makes our project special is we came up with it together,” says Ariella. “It was a creative project combining my interests in biology and neuroscience with Professor Kirkton’s expertise in grasshopper muscle physiology.”
After a year in the lab, Ariella was joined by Randi Broadwell, then a first-year. She quickly became a valued team member.
Here, the trio explains why it’s been so much fun to work together and how an encouraging professor supports students who are curious and motivated.
I wanted a college where my professors knew my name, and where I could have a voice and be engaged in my studies. At Union, I certainly got the community feel I was looking for – especially in Professor’s Kirkton’s lab. I knew the grasshopper project was going to be a lot of work but I was excited to get going on it.
This is a really cool project that wouldn’t have happened without Ariella. She has worked really hard, demonstrating a maturity and an ownership of this research as she grew more comfortable and confident. And when Randi joined the team, it got even better.
Professor Kirkton is my academic adviser, and he suggested I come to a lab meeting with his other students. What grabbed my attention immediately was that Ariella was training grasshoppers. I’m on the varsity soccer team, and I could relate. Grasshoppers are like athletes.
They are – they’re long-legged, speedy creatures.
Essentially, we’re sending the grasshoppers to the gym. They’re sprinters, and we’re making them into marathoners.
Professor Kirkton has always pushed me to ask questions and explore the world of grasshopper muscle plasticity more than I ever thought I would. I loved it! Professor Kirkton is a great adviser, and Randi and I formed a wonderful relationship.
I’ve learned a lot from Ariella. We got along from day one. By my sophomore year, we were training the grasshoppers three hours a day, for five days, and testing them on the sixth day.
In many cases, when it comes to undergraduate research at a college like ours, a student helps a professor with his or her established research. But this kind of peer mentoring allows experienced students like Ariella to grow as leaders and helps younger students like Randi gain valuable research experience.
Randi was active in our discussions and project design. Plus, my relationship with her extended beyond the lab. I enjoyed giving her guidance on being pre-med, her academics and even social life at Union.
Ariella was always available to me, and Professor Kirkton is a great resource who offers a fresh perspective or ideas.
Some students are more timid admitting to me that there are things they don’t understand – though Randi is definitely not scared to ask questions.
I’m not, it’s true.
As Randi becomes more independent, she’ll be able to take on the role of mentor herself, and the cycle will continue.
I love a good challenge. I’ll be ready!
This student/professor duo works side by side: