Thursday, August 09, 2012

[021] Ex-Marine Takes Aim as MTSU Researcher of Pacific Coral Reef

For release:  July 27, 2012

News and Media Relations contact: Randy Weiler, 615-898-5616 or

McNair contact: Dr. Diane Miller, 615-898-8462 or
 Ex-Marine takes aim as MTSU researcher of Pacific coral reef

MURFREESBORO — Life has taken a 180-degree turn for MTSU senior Mike O’Connell since graduating from Wilson Central High School in 2003 and joining the U.S. Marine Corps. In fact, life has taken numerous turns and detours.

O’Connell, who expects to graduate with honors in spring 2013, will be one of 23 presenters Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 1-2, during the 13th annual McNair Program Research Symposium.

The McNair symposium will run from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Aug. 1 in the Tom H. Jackson Building’s Cantrell Hall. It will be held from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Aug. 2. Both are open to the public and campus community.

 The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program helps first-generation and under-represented (African American, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaskan native) undergraduate students prepare for and succeed in graduate school.

The McNair program is named for the late NASA astronaut Ronald E. McNair, who died in 1986 during the space shuttle Challenger’s ill-fated mission.

A range of disciplines — mathematics, social work, anthropology, English, dance performance, psychology, philosophy and more — will be on display and students’ research presented at the symposium.

O’Connell, a Murfreesboro resident, is in a collaborative effort with two others “trying to determine species boundaries in a predominant reef-building coral from the Pacific Ocean,” he said. It is called Porites lichen.

 O’Connell said two populations that display different growth forms have both been described as Porites lichen in American Samoa.

“Our goal is to determine if this is an accurate description or if the two morphologies are separate species,” O’Connell said of the research being conducting with Dr. Doug Fenner of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources with the American Samoa government and Dr. Sarah Bergemann of the MTSU biology department.

“We aim to do this by comparing both molecular and morphological characteristics from each of the two morphologies,” he added.

 After high school, O’Connell enlisted in the Marine Corps. He served as an infantryman for six years. He said his time in service included combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

O’Connell, who received three Certificates of Commendation (two for actions in combat) was medically discharged from the Marine Corps because of injuries sustained in Afghanistan. He then began college at MTSU in fall 2009.

He said he began working in Bergemann’s lab in May 2011.

“Since then, I have worked on various projects for Dr. Bergemann aimed at characterizing the genetic diversity of various fungi from around the world,” he said.

Graduate school looms on the horizon for O’Connell.

“I hope to expand upon this project in graduate school by characterizing genetic diversity of Porites lichen throughout the Pacific and look for patterns of connectivity among populations,” he said.

 McNair Director Dr. Diane Miller continues to be amazed at the research work submitted by students in the program and the role faculty mentors play in the process.

“Each McNair Scholar and mentor makes a personal commitment of time and effort to create a program environment of academic excellence and achievement,” Miller said. “The mentor relationship that each scholar experiences helps promote in our McNair scholars a dedication to the process and promise of higher education — their own, as students, and the education of others, as future professors and researchers.”

For more information, call 615-904-8462.

MTSU McNair Scholars Program 13th annual Research Symposium

Wednesday, Aug. 1, agenda

9 a.m. — Opening remarks and poster-presentation awards

9:10 a.m. — Jacob Basham (mathematics/chemistry)

9:30 a.m. — Joy Oduor (biology and anthropology)

9:50 a.m. — Michael Harris (biochemistry)

10:10 a.m. — Mike O’Connell (biology)

10:30 a.m. — Break

10:50 a.m. — Paige Stubbs (mathematics)

11:10 a.m. — Anne Uselton (anthropology)

11:30 a.m. — Kellum Everett (anthropology)

11:50 a.m. — Shelby Rehberger (anthropology)

12:10- 1 p.m. — Lunch

1 p.m. — John Meese (Spanish and economics)

1:20 p.m. — Melody Vaughan (studio art)

1:40 p.m. — Andrea Green (English)

2 p.m. — Chris Peterson (philosophy)

2:20 p.m. — Break

2:40 p.m. — Jamie Sutton (philosophy and religion) (video)

3 p.m. — Elijah Dillehay (dance performance) (video)

3:20 p.m. — Closing remarks

Thursday, Aug. 2, agenda

9:05 a.m. — Opening remarks

9:10 a.m. — Danielle Whitlow (athletic training)

9:30 a.m. — Gabrielle Brown (psychology)

9:50 a.m. — Zaver Moore (psychology)

10:10 a.m. — Philena Haynes (psychology)

10:30 a.m. — Break

10:50 a.m. — Janae Matikke (social work)

11:10 a.m. — Elischa Dennison (social work)

11:30 a.m. — Jake Verhoeff (social work)

11:50 a.m. — Laurence Tumpag (social work)

12:10 p.m. — Tamara Jones (English)

12:30 p.m. — Closing remarks and oral-presentation awards


Media welcomed.

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