February 26, 2016

NM EPSCoR Spotlight: Brianne Willis, STEMAP Student

By Chelsea Chee

We are continuing our February Spotlight on the STEM Advancement Program, this time through one of our students’ perspective. To date, 25 New Mexico students have been part of STEMAP – 11 students in 2014 and 14 students in 2015. Brianne Willis is a student at Eastern New Mexico University and one of the 25 STEMAP students. Brianne spent her STEMAP Summer doing research on “Assessing Uranium Contamination on the Navajo and Laguna Reservations.”

(L to R) Brianne Willis, Sherwin Becenti, and Reid Brown taking samples at Tse Tah Wash on the Navajo Nation

Brianne in the lab analyzing samples with her safety gear on!

Where are you from, and what does it look like?

I was born in Santa Fe, the capital of this enchanting state. I was raised in Red River, New Mexico, which is a small Northern New Mexico town surrounded by 360 degrees of the Rocky Mountains. Approximately 350 people live in this small town year-round. However, in the winter and summer seasons, Red River becomes a very busy tourist town, accommodating many outdoor activities. One can escape reality very easily there, whether it be a simple walk in the mountains that are in your backyard, or fishing from the beautifully clear rivers that run right through town. It is my favorite place in the world. Red River is a must see destination if you love New Mexico.

What is one of your earliest and meaningful memories of your interaction/engagement with STEM disciplines?

I love Earth Science, more specifically geology. For as long as I can remember, I have collected rocks and gems. In middle school, we took field trips to the science museums in Albuquerque and I never wanted to leave. The first real time I knew I loved science and wanted to pursue it someday, was in my high school chemistry class. I went to a very small high school in Cimarron, New Mexico. We took weekly trips down to the river that flowed through town. This is where I first performed basic water quality tests, such as pH, turbidity, conductivity, temperature, hardness, and dissolved oxygen. I found all that very interesting and knew STEM was the path for me.

Brianne with her winning poster at the New Mexico Academy of Science Research Symposium

What is your current role with NM EPSCoR?

After my STEMAP summer internship, there was an opportunity with the university I attend to do a “STEMAP+” program that I’m currently participating in. STEMAP+ allows you to further the research you did during your summer internship back at your university. This is where I meet with a math professor, Dr. Pasko, and together we are looking more in-depth at the data I collected over the summer.

What has been your most memorable moment with NM EPSCoR to date?

Well, I had a blast on my internship. I was very nervous at first because I didn’t know what to expect. But once we started it was so much fun. We had a great time with a lot of laughs in fieldwork and in lab work. I made new memories and friends. I think the most memorable moment would be presenting my poster at the New Mexico Academy of Science Research Symposium and winning the undergraduate poster competition—it was completely unexpected. I went in with the attitude of “I need to do this for my communication skills and to better my presentation skills for future needs.” I learned so much from this experience, one of the major things being don’t underestimate yourself, and don’t be scared of new things.