Allegheny Graduating Senior Will Pursue Environmental Research in the Rocky Mountains

During the summer of 2018, Allegheny College graduating senior Leah Franzluebbers will be working among the high peaks in the Mountain West.

Graduating senior Leah Franzluebbers Will be working at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. (Photo Credit: Derek Li)

She is looking ahead to her summer job as a research assistant at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado. This will be Franzluebbers’ second summer in Colorado working at the world-renowned high elevation field station.

This year, she will lead the undergraduate research team assisting on a project designed to understand how shifts in the distribution of species associated with climate warming will affect the way an ecosystem functions. The study is funded by the National Science Foundation*.

Franzluebbers’ responsibilities will include a mix of lab work, such as running water chemistry and processing caddisfly (aquatic insects) samples, and field work, including helping survey aquatic macroinvertebrate populations in study ponds, setting up and taking down experiments, and collecting insect and water chemistry samples from the study sites.

Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Scott Wissinger will help to oversee Franzluebbers’ work in Colorado. He also served as a faculty co-advisor for her Senior Comprehensive Project at Allegheny. “Her senior project in political science and environmental science focuses on how moral foundations theory might provide insight into finding common ground between the political left and right on environmental issues such as climate change,” Wissinger says.

“In addition to her interests in understanding the human part of the sustainability question, she is fascinated with understanding how natural systems work, which is the other side of the equation,” Wissinger says. “For example, it helps to understand how the machinery of nature works so if we need to fix it — goals of restoration and conservation ecology — or make sustainable the services nature provides — clean air, water, and food — we understand how the machinery works.

Franzluebbers will be among the more than 350 graduates receiving diplomas at Allegheny’s Commencement on May 12. She has double-majored in environmental science and political science, all while managing to play Division III women’s volleyball for four years and devote hundreds of hours to community service.

A circuitous — but fulfilling — path

It took Franzluebbers a couple of years at Allegheny to settle on her unusual combination of studies, however.

“I took a circuitous route to get to where I am today,” says Franzluebbers, who is from Wethersfield, Connecticut. “When I declared my major sophomore year, I was a biology major and a political science and German double minor. At a certain point, I realized that I wasn’t satisfied with just a minor in political science, and that I wanted to pursue a major in it. My time at Allegheny has been following my interests wherever they took me, and I am incredibly thankful that it has worked out so well.”

In early April, Franzluebbers presented her senior project at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago. “My research focused on finding the right way to reframe the argument for climate action in order to appeal to a broader audience,” she says. “The project merged my interests in political science and environmental science, and the conference was a great opportunity to gain experience presenting research to others and to see professional political science research.”

Franzluebbers also spent a year as a Center for Political Participation Fellow at Allegheny. “College students today are more politically engaged and knowledgeable than they have been in decades, and through our programming, the CPP gives students ample opportunity to engage in topics of local, national and international relevance,” she says.

Being a student-athlete helped her academically, Franzluebbers adds. “During the season, my schedule was essentially the same five days a week: class, work, practice, and then homework. This often helped because it provided a structure that cultivated good academic habits. Being an athlete also teaches the relentless pursuit of a goal — that it takes practice, planning, and conscientious work to achieve anything truly worthwhile.”

Franzluebbers is a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, including a year as its scholarship director. She also joined numerous honor societies, including Pi Sigma Alpha (political science) and Phi Sigma Iota (foreign language). In May, she will be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society.

Commitment to the community

Franzluebbers is proud of her four years of community service with E=MC2, a STEM-education program for Crawford County elementary school pupils. “I originally volunteered because friends of mine were also volunteering, but I soon volunteered more consistently and became the lead coordinator in my senior year,” she says. “Along with administrative duties, I help develop and teach the weekly lessons. The lessons engage the students, getting them excited about science while teaching them key scientific principles.”

One event that stands out in Franzluebbers’ Allegheny experience, she says, was the Battle for Bridget women’s volleyball match in October 2016. At the event, the team raised money for the Meadville Medical Center’s Yolanda Barco Oncology Center in honor of Coach Bridget Sheehan, who died in October 2017.

“Allegheny volleyball alumnae from all over came back to support Coach,” Franzluebbers recalls. “After the game we spent time with alumnae talking about lessons we learned from Coach Sheehan and swapping stories about preseason conditioning and long bus rides to games. It was a wonderful reminder that the community of Allegheny volleyball never leaves you and extends beyond the women you played volleyball with for four years.”

Her overall time at Allegheny also will be memorable, Franzluebbers says.

“I decided to come to Allegheny because I saw how the students here were not solely focused on academics, but on every aspect of their lives,” she says. “They were committed to excellence not only in the classroom, but also in extracurricular activities, in athletics, and in service. Students here are dedicated to cultivating their whole person, not just to getting the best grades — a quality unique to Allegheny compared with some of the other colleges I had considered.”

Franzluebbers’ advice to incoming first-year students: “Take every opportunity you can get to pursue what excites you, whether that be classes, clubs, or internships. Be relentless in your pursuit of your passions.”

* This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1557015.