Talon’ted Undergraduate Researcher - Andrea Brenner

KENNESAW, Ga. (March 8, 2022)  — Andrea Brenner, a senior environmental science major at Kennesaw State University, is working as a peer mentor with the Office of Undergraduate Research and as a supplemental instructor mentor with the Office of Academic Affairs. In the summer of 2021, Brenner was recognized as a Birla Carbon Scholar and continues to conduct research in two different labs. She has recently been accepted into Arizona State University's graduate program for environmental life science.Brenner

What made you passionate about  studying environmental science at KSU?

About two years ago now, I read an article about a German scientist who was using georeferencing to investigate what would hypothetically happen if a limiting nutrient was introduced into the ocean. He found that photosynthesis would flourish, the food chain would thrive, and there would ultimately be a boom in resources. While there were downsides to the scenario, he remained positive and highlighted how it could potentially curb climate change.

When I read that article, I said to myself, “This is the coolest research I’ve ever heard of.” It was so hypothetical, yet it seemed so feasible. I knew then that I wanted to be in environmental and marine science research.

How do you hope the research you are doing at KSU and your future in a graduate program will further your career aspirations? 

Hopefully, I will become a professor - basically what I do now, but as a tenure track faculty member, teaching other people about environmental science and chemistry. But I also want to conduct research. I don’t just want to be stuck in a lab or a classroom; I guess you could say I want to have the best of both worlds.

Working as a peer mentor has definitely opened my eyes to some of the struggles that can accompany a student as they navigate their first year of college. In these research programs, you can see how differently students can carry these struggles. Some of them will be thriving and others will slip through the cracks.

That’s what I love about being a peer mentor – giving those students another person to talk to and relate to outside of their faculty mentor. Hearing support from your peers resonates differently then hearing it from a professor, so being able to provide that for students is such a positive experience.

You mentioned you have worked with students who “slip through the cracks.” How do you help navigate these students through their problems?

The most common problems I’ve encountered with these students are that they feel overwhelmed by the amount of work their project(s) include, or they feel they haven’t received enough guidance to continue. When these happen, I sit with the student and talk it out: “Okay, how can we time manage this? What can you reach out to your faculty mentor for help on? Is there another faculty member you resonate with more?”

After I do this, I act as sort of a middleman, a liaison, between the faculty and the student. It’s all about communication; it makes a world of difference when you’re trying to ask for help.

Who have you met that has had the most impact on you during your time with undergraduate research?

All of my professors have had an impact during my undergraduate education, specifically Dr. Baruah. I had never actually met Dr. Baruah in person before when I sent him an email asking if I could research in his lab, and he said yes. As we continued talking, he recommended that I apply to be a Birla Carbon Scholar. I ended up getting in, and that was what really made me realize, “Wow. Okay, I guess I can actually do this.” And I owe that to Dr. Baruah for taking a chance on me when I didn’t believe that I could.

What lesson(s) have you learned both as a mentor and in your time at KSU?

I’ve learned that hard work pays off more than anything. I feel like so many people forget that rule when they’re in school; they get bogged down on all the details and the assignments and deadlines. And when it gets to that point, they just… stop pushing. They stay stagnant. It’s so important to remember you just have to push through it and know that everything is going to work out exactly as it needs to.

What advice do you have to anyone who would want to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t be afraid to try. Something I see so frequently in my work as a mentor is a lack of confidence. Students think they don’t have the skill, or they think that they’re not good enough to try. One of the main reasons I do what I do now is because I gathered up the courage to try, and someone took a chance on me. Confidence and bravery are truly half the battle.

 — Renee Hudson