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Biology Professor Receives Grant from Virginia Native Plant Society

Apr 24, 2017


Professor ruppel with students outsideRandolph-Macon College Biology Professor Nicholas Ruppel has received a grant from the Virginia Native Plant Society. The grant will enable Ruppel to continue exploring the interplay between local species and natural ecosystems.

A Collaborative Project
The aim of Ruppel's grant-funded project is to assess the diversity of insect pollinators on native plants in Ashland, Virginia—including those on the R-MC campus.

"This will be a collaborative project involving R-MC faculty and students, as well as students from John M. Gandy Elementary School," explains Ruppel. "In the summer and fall of 2017, we'll use several modes of insect identification, including digital photography and trapping, to assess the pollinator abundance and diversity in R-MC's Brian Wesley Moores Native Plant Garden." The garden, designed and built in 2010 by R-MC students, is a "green space" filled with plants native to the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

After the pollinator data is collected, Ruppel and the students will assess the overall diversity of insect types and the nature of the insects (i.e. native vs. non-native).

"Our ultimate goals are to expand the educational utilization of the Native Plant Garden by R-MC students, school children, and local community members, and to increase knowledge of plant-pollinator interactions and the importance of native plant gardening," he says. "Our Native Plant Garden Facebook page is also a great resource for those interested in keeping up to date about how things are growing."

Community Connections
Ruppel has been working with Gandy Elementary School students for several months before receiving the grant.

Earlier in 2017, students from Gandy spent an afternoon with Ruppel in the R-MC Copley Science Center greenhouse, learning about many of its valuable plants. The students, members of Gandy's Ecology Club, interacted with several examples of economically important plants, including coffee, vanilla, tea, allspice, and black pepper. The Ecology Club was developed and is organized by Whitney Wells-Corfield, a mathematics teacher at Gandy.

Students enrolled in Ruppel's Biology Capstone course recently mentored Gandy students as they prepared for their school science fair. Yellow Jackets spent two weeks helping Gandy students think about an experiment, set it up, analyze the results, and make a poster for the fair.

Courtney Zehnter '17, a biology major enrolled in the Biology Capstone course, enjoyed working with and mentoring Gandy students.

"We helped the children learn about hypotheses and what is needed for an experiment to work," she says. "Our goal was to help show the students that science can be fun and cool! Having this type of connection with the community benefits everyone involved."

Ruppel, along with a local beekeeper, recently taught Gandy students about the importance of bees in the pollination process; and Ruppel also led the students on a nature walk through R-MC's campus.

"I always have fun learning with Gandy students," says Ruppel. "It's a great way to connect to the Ashland community and to get the next generation interested in science and nature."

Nicholas Ruppel
Ruppel, who earned his B.S. from Miami (Ohio) University and his Ph.D. from Indiana University, joined the R-MC faculty in 2013. He teaches a variety of courses, including Integrative Biology, Plant Physiology, and Genetics. He also teaches an Honors course, Green Allies: The Plant-Human Relationship.