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Research spotlight: Madeline Marchiafava at Research in the Rotunda

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: Madeline Marchiafava says the unique opportunity to present her faculty-student collaborative research project in the Capitol rotunda was a "once-in-a lifetime experience." (All photos by Shane Opatz)

Female student smiling, research poster behind her

Madeline Marchiafava, a Mounds View, Minnesota, native, graduated in December 2022 with majors in environmental biology and hydrogeology.

For recent University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate Madeline Marchiafava, the benefits of collaborative faculty-student research didn't end with commencement in December — they kept coming by way of a March invitation to present at Research in the Rotunda, the annual UW System event at the Capitol showcasing research activities across state campuses that contribute to the economic future of Wisconsin.

Marchiafava tells us how she got involved in collaborative research and demonstrates how Blugold research students find the doors to unique and affirming opportunities like presenting a geological lake water study to state leaders in the Capitol rotunda. 

Can you give us an overview of the project you presented at the capitol? 

I worked with Dr. Sarah Vitale through the geology department and our research compared groundwater, tap water and surface water between three Wisconsin lakes and their surrounding shorelines, examining the relationship between phosphorous levels and resulting algae blooms. We were able to demonstrate how variations in the geologic environment of lakes can act as a significant contributor to phosphorus levels.  

Female student being interviewed by TV crew talking about her research project

"Being interviewed by Madison media at the rotunda was a great experience," she says. "The chance to talk to a reporter about my research and possibly to reach even more people was exciting."

How did it feel to be invited to the Research in the Rotunda event? 

Being asked to present to state leaders in the rotunda was fulfilling and reassuring. I have been involved with this research for over two years, and knowing it has application and importance in the eyes of people in leadership really solidified how I already felt about my studies. I felt honored; it certainly raised my spirits to know other people saw the value in the project that I did.  

Presenting research in the Capitol rotunda was probably the furthest circumstance I could have ever imagined a few years ago. My years of research and collaborative work with Dr. Vitale and other colleagues have had the greatest impact of anything in my academic career.  

As a first-year student, what did you know about collaborative research and did you expect it to be part of your journey? 

When I first started college, I expected to be a high achiever academically and be involved in more than just attending class. Coming in, I was aware of some of the opportunities collaborative research can offer. My brother is a UWEC alumnus, and his research brought him two chances to travel to Peru, so his stories and appreciation for that transformative experience certainly stood out to me when considering my options for school. That said, however, I did not expect the levels of opportunity that research has given me at UW-Eau Claire. 

Young woman presenter shaking hands with a female media interviewer

How did you first become involved in collaborative research? 

For me, the actual first step in getting involved in research came from the faculty. As a sophomore, I was contacted by my instructor for mineralogy and petrology, Dr. Robert Hooper, who asked if I'd be interested in joining a research project. After that project, I was referred by a different faculty member to Dr. Vitale, which resulted in this project I brought to the rotunda. I'm quite certain that if it weren’t for the interest and outreach of my geology professors, I wouldn't have done collaborative research until much later in my academic career, or possibly not at all. I'm grateful for their faith in me.

How has your work as a student researcher shaped your student and future career success? 

     My student research and presentation experience has added next-level professionalism to my resume and my applications to internships. Having presented my research shows that not only am I capable of analyzing and understanding scientific findings, but I am also effective at communicating these results to people of various backgrounds. I am currently employed as an intern with Eau Claire County’s Recycling and Sustainability Program, and my adaptability in conveying information that I gained through research is highly sought after in the professional realm. It's especially valuable in my current position where I educate Eau Claire residents about recycling and sustainability practices, events and opportunities.

Faculty perspective 

Dr. Sarah Vitale, assistant professor of geology and environmental science, says that working with research students like Marchiafava is fulfilling, and a role that UW-Eau Claire faculty not only enjoy but see as essential to their roles as educators. 

"Our faculty make it a point to alert students to the abundance of learning opportunities in our department, including collaborative faculty-student research. I started working with Madeline in 2021, and it's been especially fun to watch her skill set evolve. At the rotunda event, she had an impressive ability to communicate with different audiences including non-geologist academic researchers, high school students and legislators, while clearly and effectively explaining her work." 

Visit the Research in the Rotunda website to find the full event program, links to all submitted student video presentations, a photo gallery and more. 

Overhead view of Madison capitol rotunda full of people and student poster presentations, speaker at a podium on left side of rotunda

The annual Research in the Rotunda event highlights the UW System as a national leader in undergraduate research, contributing to the state’s priorities, including retention, graduation rates, workforce and economic development.