Lake Erie Center

Undergraduate Laboratory/Research Assistants - Past and present

Laboratory Assistants & Student Researchers

Lola MassenbergLola Massenberg
Student Researcher

Research Interests:
Evolutionary genetics, phylogenetics

I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Toledo. Beginning in the fall of 2013, I have worked in the Great Lakes Genetics Laboratory (GLGL) as a lab assistant. I have assisted in the lab by organizing and indexing microsatellite data from various research projects, inventorying frozen specimen collections, and replenishing lab supplies. Skills that I have learned include: record keeping techniques, sterilization methods, the protocols for DNA sequencing, minigel electrophoresis, and the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Additionally, I have been conducting research on the Clinidae family to determine phylogenetic relationships amongst diverse species by exploring the mitochondrial and nuclear genes: Cytochrome oxidase I (COI), Cytochrome b (Cytb), S7 and Recombination Activating Gene 1 (RAG1). The experienced obtained here at the GLGL will be advantageous to me as I pursue a life of research and analysis with hopes of becoming a patent attorney.

Devon EddinsDevon Eddins
Student Researcher, 2015 REU Student

Research Interests:
Immunogenetics and histocompatibility

I am completing a Bachelor's degree in Biology with a research focus at the University of Toledo.  I started working in the GLGL in Fall 2013 and my current responsibilities include ensuring proper preservation and documentation of specimens, collection inventory, and creation of a collections database. I am currently undertaking a study of the Eurasian ruffe, Gymnocephalus cernua, analyzing temporal and spatial population genetic structure throughout the invasion history in the Great Lakes and Bassenthwaite Lake in northern England, which I also worked on as a NSF summer REU fellow. The tasks that I have performed at the GLGL thus far are better preparing and orienting me for my future education and research endeavors.

ShelbyShelby Edwards
Student Researcher

Research Interests:
Invasive species, water quality issues and population genetics

I am finishing a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science with a focus in Biology at the University of Toledo. I started at the GLGL in the spring of 2015 to work with Megan Niner in collecting, recording, analyzing and dissecting fish and mussel species known or thought to harbor VHS virus and to assist in prep work. Currently, my tasks are to go through the collection inventory to ensure proper preservation and documentation of specimens, as well as assisting others in their lab and field work. Through the GLGL, I have assisted and am now familiar with seining, electrofishing, gill netting and trawling along the Great Lakes Basin. Both field and laboratory techniques learned through the GLGL have provided me with a valuable skills for my future career and continuing education. 

2011-2013 URM Student

SusanneSusanne Karsiotis
Undergraduate Student Researcher in the NSF URM program

Research Interests: 
Population genetics, Landscape genetics/ecology.

I  completed a B.S. in Environmental Sciences at the University of Toledo in 2013. My first undergraduate research project investigated the salinity tolerance of Great Lakes’ round gobies (Neogobius melanostomus), an invasive species from the Ponto-Caspian region. The project completed with a publication of the same name in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, where I was the first author.  The findings showed that the round goby have wide salinity tolerance to 25 ppt and actually grow better at moderate salinities. I then moved on to studying the population genetic patterns of smallmouth bass in the Great Lakes and outlying watersheds. I compared spawning populations using two genomes, the mitochondrial DNA cytochrome b gene and nuclear microsatellite loci, adding it to previously collected microsatellite data (Stepien et al. 2007).  I am working on completing this study and preparing it for publication.  I had the opportunity to travel with Dr. Stepien's laboratory to present my results at the International EcoSummit Conference in Columbus in fall 2012 and at the International Association for Great Lakes Research conference at Purdue University in May 2013. I also had a lot of fun collecting gobies and other fishes with the laboratory.  I believe I obtained unique and valuable experience in learning about research and experimental design.

2012 Laboratory Assistant 


Bevin Blake
Laboratory Assistant, summer 2012 

Research interests: 
Ecotoxicology, genetics, and behavior.

I  completed my Bachelor's Degree at University of Mount Union in spring 2012, majoring in biology and psychology.  Throughout summer 2012, I worked as a lab assistant in the Great Lakes Genetics/Genomics  Lab with Dr. Stepien and her Ph.D. student Amanda Haponski. I assisted several graduate students in the lab and also aided a study that examined the genetic impact of a walleye (Sander vitreus) stocking event that occurred in Cattaraugus Creek, NY.  I learned how to sequence DNA, how to collect and analyze nuclear microsatellite data and some of the basics on how to write a scientific paper. It is very exciting to have the experience of helping with a scientific paper that is being submitted for publication! I also had the fun opportunity to collect fish in the field.  I am currently working towards my Master's Degree at East Carolina University doing research pertaining to the relationship between environmental contamination and behavior on the genetic level.  I believe that the summer experience in the GLGL significantly helped prepare me for graduate school. 

2010 - 2012 URM Student

HillaryHillary Dean
Student Researcher

Research interests:
Marine conservation, habitat use and movement patterns of large marine species

I completed my B.S. in Environmental Sciences at the University of Toledo, where for two years I was a research student in the NSF Undergraduate Research and Mentoring program in Dr. Stepien’s GLGL lab. My senior honors thesis was, “The genetic history of walleye spawning in Cattaraugus Creek, NY”.  For this work, I sequenced the mitochondrial DNA control region and assayed 9 nuclear DNA microsatellite loci to test whether stocking influenced the genetic structure of walleye spawning in an eastern Lake Erie tributary. Fortunately, the results suggest that there was no significant effect. During my experience in the GLGL, I was extensively mentored by Dr. Stepien and her Ph.D. student Amanda Haponski in how to give oral and poster presentations, how to collect and analyze genetic data, and how to write a scientific paper.  Dr. Stepien also worked with me on how to write my resume and how and where to apply to graduate school.  I am currently a Master's student at Delaware State University studying Gulf Sturgeon habitat use patterns in Choctawhatchee Bay, FL.  I also am assisting with telemetry work in Delaware Bay revolving around movement patterns of sand tiger and sand bar sharks and using side scan sonar equipment to assess the effects of dredging on Atlantic sturgeon habitat.

2007 - 2008 REU Student


Emily Sopkovich
Student Researcher

I completed my B.S. at the University of Toledo in Environmental Sciences/Ecology in spring 2008. The objective of my undergraduate research project in the Great Lakes Genetics Lab was to test the spatial and temporal variation in the invasive round goby Apollonia melanostoma populations in North America. My work was funded by a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) supplementary award to my advisor Dr. Stepien. I used mitochondrial cytochrome b gene sequences and allelic variation at 8 nuclear microsatellite loci to test whether the genetic structure of the round goby has changed over the time course of its North American invasion. I also was awarded a $2500 scholarship from the Ohio Academy of Sciences through the Ohio EPA for the 2007-8 academic year, which Dr. Stepien showed to me and helped me to apply for. I went on to attend graduate school at Ohio State University. 

2007 REU Student


Mark Sibug
Student Researcher

I obtained a a Bachelor's Degree in Geography & Environmental Systems and certificates in G.I.S. (Geographical Information Systems) and cartography, during which I worked in the Great Lakes Genetics/Genomics Lab for a summer with Dr. Stepien as an NSF REU student. My academic work focused on the environmental and social aspects of geography. My personal goal is to bring more attention to the global biodiversity.  To further that goal, I worked on the genetic structure of Smallmouth Bass at the Great Lakes Genetics Lab, as part of the University of Toledo’s REU program at the Lake Erie Center.  I used the mtDNA cyt b gene and nuclear microsatellite loci to test broad scale population divergence/genetic patterns and determine sites of high and low genetic diversity throughout North America.  I also had the opportunity to do some field collections.  After graduation, I attended Towson University for my M.S. in Applied Information Technology.

2006 REU Students

IanIan Hoffmann
Student Researcher

My research interests include conservation biology. At the GLGL I worked on helping us to understand the genetics of invasive and native populations of the monkey goby , which is closely related to the round goby that invaded the Great Lakes from the Ponto-Capsian region of Eurasia. ( Currently, the monkey goby is confined to Eurasia, but has traveled up the Danube, Dnieper, and Volga Rivers from its native waterways and is becoming an invasive nuisance. The monkey goby is predicted to invade the North American Great Lakes, so our lab developed genetic markers that will allow us to quickly identify it and to determine its site of founding origin, when and if it appears. I helped to sequence the monkey goby's mitochondrial DNA cytochrome b gene and analyzed six nuclear microsatellite loci from a variety of invasive and native population areas in Eurasia. I graduated with a B.S. degree in 2007 as a BIOM major in the Environmental Sciences Department at the University of Toledo. This undergraduate research project was funded by a supplemental award from the National Science Foundation to Dr. Stepien, NSF DEB0620942. This funding paid for my 2006 summer and fall stipends.


Jenny Ohayon
Student Researcher

Jennifer Ohayon from the University of Toronto in Canada was in the REU program at the Lake Erie Center for the summer 2006 season. "My project for the REU program was to study the population genetics of the racer goby, Neogobius gymnotrachelus. This corresponded well with my interest in conservation biology as this species is invasive is many regions and is impacting the native biodiversity. Although the racer goby has not yet invaded the Great Lakes (unlike the closely related round and tubenose goby species), there has been a general westward and northward expansion in the Eurasian Ponto-Caspian region. For my project I compared genotypic composition and levels of genetic variability in the native populations versus those collected from invasive sites in Europe. I amplified the mitochondrial DNA cytochrome b gene using the polymerase chain reaction and then sequenced the gene for this project. The project objective was to identify original source populations for invasions and the nature of the invasion (i.e., whether it is a result of spread, possibly aided by the construction of canal systems, or independent introductions)." This work was published in the Journal of Fish Biology by Ohayon and Stepien in 2007.

2005 REU Student
DiannaDianna Brandon
Student Researcher

I was Dr. Stepien's 2005-6 REU student in the Great Lakes Genetics Lab. I graduated with a B.S. degree from the University of Toledo in the Department of Biology in winter 2006. The 10 week REU program was my first go at research and I definitely enjoyed my summer and fall research at the LEC. For my project, I studied the population genetics of zebra mussels using microsatellite data to study the genetic structure of not only the invasive populations here in the Great Lakes, but also the structure of the native European populations. I am now attending Graduate school here at UT for my Master's degree in Education. I plan to use my experience as a researcher from the Great Lakes Genetics Lab to better educate Ohio High School Students.

Last Updated: 9/24/15