Brackenridge Introduction: Megan Gauger

Hi! My name is Megan Gauger and I am a research technician at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Section of Botany. I am also a rising junior in the environmental science program here at Pitt! It is an honor to be apart of the 2023 Brackenridge Fellowship. My mentor is Mason Heberling from the Department of Biological Sciences and the CMNH Section of Botany. This summer I will be completing a vascular plant species checklist of the Barking Slopes Natural Conservation Area in Plum, PA. The museum has used this field site to conduct numerous projects related to forest understory wildflowers, introduced and invasive species, and climate change. This list, or flora, is an important tool in conservation efforts and will be shared with Allegheny Land Trust, who oversees the conservation of the field site. The purpose of this flora is to track the plants present at Barking Slopes for future conservation use. Each plant identified will have a vouchered specimen collected to be preserved in the Carnegie Museum’s herbarium for future research.  

Along with creating a flora for Barking Slopes, I will be researching the site’s rich history to hopefully find out how some of these plant species migrated there, and how so many wildflower populations have been able to thrive. Barking Slopes is known for its fairly recent use as a coal mine – the site was active through the 1970s. It once hosted a small town with its own school, train station, and set of homes. There are still two small building foundations located on the lower trail! We also hope to look at the site’s history pre-colonization – we know that the site has had an archeological dig in the past and we hope to discover more.

Currently, my goal in undergrad is to get as much research and hands-on experience as possible, not only to one day apply for grad school, but to also be exposed to as many types of work in the fields of botany and environmental science as possible. This is what makes me most excited about the Brackenridge fellowship – carrying out projects that are interdisciplinary in nature is extremely important, not only for the importance of the research, but also to have a more well-rounded understanding of my field. After my time at Pitt I hope to obtain a PhD in botany, environmental science, or another related field.

Outside of my research and schoolwork, I love music. I am a massive fan of Paramore (June 11th cannot come soon enough!!) and with my extra free time this summer I’ve been able to slowly teach myself piano and guitar again. I also love hammocking and slacklining outside of the Carnegie library when possible, and I am a very novice rock climber.  

During the school year I primarily focus on my involvement with clubs and research. This year I will be the Public Relations chair for my fraternity, Epsilon Eta Delta. This organization was incredibly important for me as a transfer student this past fall, and I am so thankful for the amazing people I’ve met through it. I’m also the Community Outreach Coordinator for Pitt Hydroponics, which has been an absolute blast. This club is filled with incredible, hardworking people who are always coming up with cool new ideas. I’ve also worked in the Carnegie Museum’s Section of Botany in the Heberling Lab for over a year now – I was hired last summer as a field technician and have stuck around to contribute to some really cool projects, and now I get to work on a few of my own! I’m really lucky to work with a lot of amazing people in all of the organizations and labs I’m involved with!!

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