Jumping into grasshopper research

Randi Broadwell

Hometown: Carlisle, N.Y.
Major: Biological Sciences (pre-med track)
Minor: Physics

Professor of Biology

Randi Broadwell '18

It began with an invitation by her biology professor and academic adviser.

“Come to a lab with my other students,” Scott Kirkton told pre-med student Randi Broadwell ‘18.

In the lab, Randi, a first-year with no research experience, encountered Ariella Yazdani ’16, a junior who was using electrical stimulation to produce a twitch in the jumping muscle of the grasshopper. The project combined Ariella’s interests in biology and neuroscience with Kirkton’s expertise in grasshopper muscle physiology.

“What grabbed my attention immediately was the training of grasshoppers,” Randi recalls. “Being on the varsity soccer team, I could relate. Grasshoppers are like athletes.”

Before long, Randi jumped into the research, too, and became active in discussions and project design.

“By my sophomore year, we were training the grasshoppers three hours a day, for five days, and testing them on the sixth day. Essentially, we were sending the grasshoppers to the gym. They’re sprinters, and we were making them into marathoners,” she says.

Kirkton was gratified to see his students work and learn together, and take ownership of their research.

“When it comes to undergraduate research at a college like ours, in many cases, a student helps a professor with his or her established research,” Kirkton says. “But this kind of peer mentoring allows experienced students to grow as leaders and helps younger students like Randi gain valuable research experience.”

“There are so many opportunities to do research at Union,” Randi reflects. “I was able to be a part of original work on a senior thesis project and also conduct my own sophomore Scholars Project. It allowed me to develop a network early on and learn a new skill set.

“To be able to look at a problem and approach it from different angles or see it in a new way is a skill I’ll use for the rest of my life,” she says. “A problem is not always a negative concept. Problem solving helps you get creative, and it sparks inspiration.”

When not in classes, in the lab or on the soccer field, Randi kept busy as a note taker for students with disabilities and as a Delta Delta Delta sorority member. She volunteered in a children’s hospital on a non-Union term abroad in Costa Rica.

Following graduation, Randi transported her skills across the globe to serve as the Lauren Greene Cohen ’78 Union College Minerva Fellow in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is spending nine months at the Witkoppen Health and Welfare Centre and with the Gift of Hope initiative, looking into the HIV epidemic and how to prevent the transmission of the virus from mothers to children.

“Union has given me opportunities to grow intellectually and also the tools and confidence to prepare for anything that may pop up in life,” Randi says. “This includes applying to medical school when I return from my Minerva fellowship.”

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