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Student Research: Studio Art & Environmental Science

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By Alaina Heenan


Environmental Science and Studio Arts double-major Cate Nelson ‘24 participated in the 8-week student undergraduate research fellowship program (SURF) this past summer. The SURF program provides students with the opportunity to participate in faculty-student research collaborations with the goal of developing students into well-rounded individuals that are capable of independent, creative thinking ( Students that participate in the SURF program present their projects to other SURF members, local faculty, family members, and members of the De Pere / Green Bay communities that were involved in the research process at the end of 8 weeks. Cate said that the opportunity was fantastic and it challenged her in new ways. The project required her to “learn how to trust herself and how to effectively pursue the answers to the questions she wanted to answer.” The experience also taught her useful skills like time management and how to structure her work to maximize productivity. 

The focus of the project was Cate’s choice, which was to study the environment through a microscope. In her research project “Nature in Perspective,” Cate studied plants and small organisms (specifically algae) with the guidance of Professor Katie Ries, an Associate Professor of Art. Cate’s research focused on geological information of Wisconsin that she obtained from online databases. Cate used the databases as a medium to see the state from a bird’s eye view and to study how river patterns changed over time. Cate’s emphasis on plants and algae stems from her passion for the environment and her desire to help others establish a connection with the environment. She believes that “seeing something in different ways allows you to build a relationship with it,” and showing Wisconsin from this perspective is a new way to present the beauty of nature. Cate said that she hopes her project will inspire people to take away a new appreciation for the environment because “the world is complex and beautiful in ways we don’t normally see; all levels of the natural world are so astoundingly complicated and beautiful.”

“Pond Scum”

“Allergy Season”

“Knock on Wood”

Not only did Cate look at small plants and small organisms under the microscope, she then utilized her artistic creativity to paint the images in a new light. Cate made four pieces using mostly acrylic paint and other various media mixes to beautifully illustrate aspects of the environment. Cate created pieces inspired by the trunk of a tree, an anther of lily flowers, and algae to uniquely display the findings of her research. Her pieces “Meander Cycle” and “Allergy Season” are 36” by 36” in size and “Pond Scum” and “Knock on Wood” are 22” by 30” in size. Cate will display her artwork and present her research with other SURF participants from 2-3:30 pm in Fort Howard Theater on October 14th.

Cate said that she loved the experience and is thankful for the opportunity to be involved in the SURF program. For more information about the program, contact Professor Raquel Lopez, Professor Terry Jo Leiterman, or Professor Jamie Lynch.

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