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Meet FNR Outstanding Sophomore Beca Appelmann

Wildlife major Rebeca Appelmann has been selected as FNR’s Outstanding Sophomore for 2023-24. Beca,Beca Appelmann holds a bird who also is minoring in natural resources and environmental science as well as forest ecosystems, has made an impact as an undergraduate researcher as well as through other work experiences and club involvement.

“Being named FNR's outstanding sophomore is truly an honor,” Appelmann said. “It’s also humbling because there are so many outstanding students in the sophomore class. It's a recognition of the dedication and hard work I've put into my studies, as well as the support I've received from my peers and instructors. It feels rewarding to know that my efforts have been acknowledged and appreciated within the department. Overall, this recognition fills me with a sense of accomplishment and gratitude. It motivates me to continue striving for excellence and making meaningful contributions to the field of forestry and natural resources.

“I am honored and thankful to the department, professors, faculty, and staff who have supported me throughout my time at Purdue. As a non-traditional student, adjusting to full-time academic life wasn't easy. When I transferred to the Forestry and Natural Resources department last year, I faced significant personal challenges that made finding my footing difficult. However, through perseverance and support, I've managed to overcome these obstacles and continue working towards my degree and future goals. While I appreciate the recognition this award brings, I want to emphasize that my primary motivation has always been my personal growth and development. The award is a nice acknowledgment of my efforts, but it's not the sole reason why I've been working so hard. Ultimately, what matters most to me is the progress I've made and the journey I'm on toward achieving my aspirations.”Beca Appelmann presents her research poster on cover crops

Appelmann is an undergraduate researcher under Dr. Shalamar Armstrong in his Soil Ecosystem and Nutrient Dynamics (SEND) laboratory. She began as a lab assistant, helping clean lab areas and assisting in field and lab work, collecting and preparing samples. By the end of her first year, she was promoted to lab specialist and started her own undergraduate research project pertaining to the inclusion of certain cover crops on the soil nitrogen bioavailability.  

Beca took over a second-year incubation study looking at the nitrogen cycle and the effect of different cover crops on soil nitrogen concentrations. As part of her research, she collected and analyzed soil samples at the Southeast Purdue Agricultural Center. She then applied skills from her coursework, including capillarity and KCI extraction, and computed the associated data values.

A second project involved working in the greenhouse and examining different cover crops and some relationships with nitrogen uptake and release. The project required background research on each cover crop, the averages of precipitation and temperature for Indiana and other variables. Beca performed multiple trials to gather preliminary data for the project, which is still in further development.

“Beca is a naturally curious and self-driven undergraduate research assistant,” Armstrong said. “I have hadFNR Outstanding Students 2024 the pleasure of advising and mentoring her for the last two years as she matured from performing routine tasks in my lab to presenting her independent research. In addition to assisting graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in my lab, Beca facilitated an independent investigation of nitrogen mineralization from the residues of multiple cover crop species, a project that could have easily qualified for a M.S. thesis. As a result of her excellent work, she presented at the Agronomy Society of America International Conference, where she competed in a grad student research competition as an undergrad. Her passion and effort in my laboratory are exceptional and on level with most M.S. students. In fact, she will be the first undergrad to attempt to publish her research in my laboratory over a seven-year period.”

In addition to her presentation at ASA, Beca presented her research at the Purdue Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium.

“Presenting in 2023 for my undergraduate research was a goal I had created when I began my educational journey at Purdue,” Appelmann explained. “During ASA, I received important feedback for my presentation and stepped out of my comfort zone. The poster presentations were considered a competition. I did not place, but the valuable skills I gained and a chance for networking surpassed any need for placement. At the Purdue Symposium, the presentation style was similar to my presentation from ASA, but each judge was recognized as someone with limited knowledge of each topic. The experience from these presentations has helped strengthen my public speaking skills and communication with others about the research I have conducted. I hope to continue in these opportunities to improve myself for a future in research and outreach.”

Beyond her work in the SEND Lab, Beca also has served as a grader for CHM 11100, a position in whichBeca Appelmann with a horse she grades activities and explorations for the course, which has allowed her “to retain more information about chemistry to use for past and present work in the research lab.”

Academically, Beca has been on the Dean’s List and earned semester honors all three of the semesters she has been on campus. She also has completed chainsaw safety and Project WET and Aquatic WILD training and certifications.

Beca is a member of the Purdue student chapter of The Wildlife Society, which has allowed her to experience radio telemetry tagging, bird banding and more. She also is a member of the Purdue Student Chapter of Environmental Education (SCEE) and the Purdue Outing Club. Beca also is part of the FNR Ambassador team, which interacts with prospective students who are exploring FNR majors and serves as mentors to new students in FNR.

“Beca is one of the very best that FNR has to offer,” academic advisor Julie Pluimer said. “She is bright, kind, motivated and extremely passionate. Her knowledge, demeanor, work ethic and personality have greatly contributed to the success of the College of Agriculture and she is the perfect representation of the high-caliber student that we want to attract.”

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