Student Spotlight: Jennifer Fedenko

The CRMRN will be sharing Q&As with graduate and postdoctoral network members throughout the summer. Stay tuned!J_fedenko-01

Meet Jennifer Fedenko. Jennifer is a master’s student, working with Rebecca Lybrand as her advisor, at Oregon State University. She is working with CRMRN steering committee member Dave D’Amore, studying links between geology and soil formation in Southeast Alaska. We asked her a few questions following our third workshop in April 2019.

What led to your interest in studying soil formation?

J: I have a diverse background. I studied film and art in Minneapolis before deciding I wanted to get into environmental science. I just felt a little stagnant and wanted to change. I did a post-baccalaureate degree at Oregon State University (OSU), which is for someone who already has a bachelor’s degree, but is switching paths.

I was studying organic farming when I took an introduction to soils class, and it was there that I learned that there are other subdisciplines to pursue within soil science. My father taught high school environmental sciences, so as a kid, although I was very into the arts, the sciences were definitely a part of my upbringing. He was into geology, so he always had rocks he was identifying. It kind of seeped into my brain. I was always a very curious person and interested in science, but when I was young, I didn’t gravitate towards some of the more math-focused aspects. It was through this introduction to soils class that I figured out that I could go a different route and look at pedology, the study of how soils form. I ended up minoring in geology and majoring in soils. 

I did some fieldwork as a post-bac and was able to work with graduate students sampling soils in the Cascades of Oregon, mostly with forest soils. It was intense fieldwork, research, camping, and sampling soils all summer long. I thought, perfect, that’s what I want to do. Then I met Rebecca Lybrand, my advisor. She had recently taken a pedologist position at OSU and was offering a soil-landscape analysis course, which I took. I really resonated with that course in addition to morphology. She’s so encouraging and such an inspirational person to be around because she has so much enthusiasm.

After I graduated, I knew I wanted to do some master’s work and this opportunity came up with Dave D’Amore to look at the soils of Southeast Alaska and the relationship to the underlying lithology of the region.

What do you hope to gain from being a part of the CRMRN network?

J: This idea of interdisciplinary conversations is really important. That’s one of the things I was hoping to get out of this workshop. There’s a lot of diversity in my department, between biology, chemistry, physics, all under the broader umbrella of soils. I was hoping to get a different perspective for other disciplines, like hydrology for example, and how any perspectives they have could be relevant to my research and germinate ideas that I hadn’t thought of before.

The amount of information out there, in research, is staggering. It’s exciting, but it’s also overwhelming. How do you find the time to absorb and meditate on the pertinent research from the abundance of literature? That’s why it’s great to talk to others who have navigated those complicated waters and assess the more important aspects elements of their discipline. It’s been such a great discourse.

How has your background in the arts played a role in your perspective as a scientist?

J: At the time that I grew up, it seemed like you were either an art person, or a science person, and there’s really no chance to intermingle and be successful at it simultaneously. That’s something I’m hoping to discourage. The sciences really require a lot of artistic skills, from something as simple as creating a powerpoint of slides to writing or experimental design. It requires a lot of creativity. And in the arts, there’s a lot of science. For example, developing film in photography or looking at clays in pottery, there’s a lot of chemistry. I hope to bridge this arts and sciences communication gap.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

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