A passion for learning describes Kaitlyn’s approach to research. She is involved in vastly different research projects, which represent her interests, fields of study, and pursuit of knowledge. An Anthropology major, with minors in Spanish and Earth Sciences, Kaitlyn has explored issues related to climate change from a cultural perspective. Specifically, using chondrophores (decay-resistant components of clam shells) collected from a shell midden site in nearby Blue Hill, she is conducting chemical analyses to determine periods of exposure to warm and cold temperatures. These tests include the use of an acetate peel to expose the topography of the chondrophore; the structure and color of which identify different seasons. By comparing changes in the chondrophores to changes observed in growth patterns of bivalve shells collected from the Gulf of Maine, Kaitlyn will learn how cultural practices (as reflected in the shell midden) and climate change intersected. As well, she will be testing the effectiveness of two methodologies in determining climate change – the use of a scanning electron microscope (SEM) in viewing differences of structure and color, as well as chemical analysis from an electron microprobe.
In addition to her exploration of culture and climate, Kaitlyn is hard at work on her Honors thesis – the documentation of the “old” Swedish language used by the settlers and their descendants in New Sweden, Maine. Just after the time when New Sweden was being settled, a shift in the Swedish language was taking place. For those who came to Maine, such a change in the language did not occur. Thus, New Sweden represents a unique situation in which a language considered to be somewhat archaic or even extinct is still being used. Working with Dr. Pauleena MacDougall (Director of the Maine Folklife Center), Kaitlyn plans to interview the older generation of citizens who grew up surrounded by the “old” Swedish, in an attempt to help preserve and honor the rich heritage evident in the community. When asked why she chose this topic, Kaitlyn explained that this work is of utmost significance because her father’s family is from New Sweden. In fact, her grandparents were raised there speaking this unique style of Swedish. As she says, “It’s my heritage, it’s true to Maine, and it should be celebrated.”
- How did you get started with UG research?
Kaitlyn’s experience with climate change research came about through opportunities offered her by Professors Brian Robinson (Anthropology) and Karl Kreutz (Earth Sciences). With Dr. Robinson, Kaitlyn had taken some classes and participated in archaeological field school, exposing her to the ways in which climate and culture interact. Her experience with Dr. Kreutz came about from a class she took with him during which he asked if she could bring her anthropology perspective to enhance his work on climate change. Kaitlyn jumped at the chance to be a research assistant for Dr. Kreutz and the Climate Change Institute during the 2011 summer. Her work included the opportunity to join Dr. Kreutz’ research team for a full day on a lobster boat collecting bivalve shells from the ocean bottom off the coast of Maine.
- What advice do you have for other UG students considering working on research?
“Definitely take advantage of the opportunities available,” says Kaitlyn, with enthusiasm. The efforts toward gaining research experience are more than worth it. When summing up her experiences, Kaitlyn remarks, “It is an altogether different experience…the kind of learning that can’t be replicated in the classroom.”
- What’s next?
The Kennebunk, Maine native sees herself as a teacher of K-8 students. She believes firmly that the seeds of passion for learning are planted early, and credits her own interests to those teachers she had through her childhood and adolescence that fostered her pursuits. At this point, Kaitlyn is “trying not to close any doors” and hopes to incorporate her interests in language and earth science into a teaching career.