When Audrey Harrod, a senior biology major from Hinckley, applied to the Beneficial Insects Summer Research and Extension Experiences (REEU) program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), she did not expect that her summer internship based in entomology would end up encompassing so much more.

In the REEU program, students work with a mentor—a UNL professor in a field of their interest—over the span of 10 weeks on their own research. From the internship’s start in the first week of June, Harrod worked alongside Dr. Doug Golick, a professor in the department of entomology.

Harrod had obtained the internship in 2020; however, the program was cancelled due to the pandemic. The REEU program is typically very difficult to get into, but her receiving the position the year prior made her more confident when applying the second time around. Working with professors in Illinois State’s School of Biological Sciences prepared her for the internship. She researched in the labs of Drs. Benjamin Sadd and Scott Sakaluk and took the 2018 Rainforest Ecology Class with Distinguished Professors Dr. Steven Juliano and Dr. Rachel Bowden.

Though the internship was primarily focused on insects and common pollinators, it involved a wide variety of interdisciplinary research. A larger portion of Harrod’s hours in the laboratory were spent delving into research literature published in psychology and philosophy.

“I worked with my mentor, and the subject of his stuff had largely to do with human dimensions of insects and pollinator knowledge,” Harrod said. “I worked with what are called cognitive construals, which are informal and intuitive ways of thinking and understanding the world. They’re not necessarily incorrect, but they can lead to some really big misconceptions. Using these misconceptions, we conducted a study to examine that link between cognitive construals, pollinator knowledge, and conservation action.”

Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program, she surveyed a sample of the general population, asking questions like, “True or false: dogs can be trained to function as pollinators in an ecosystem.” The survey received over 200 responses, through which she discovered the misconceptions and construals most prevalent across the sample. With this information, she can figure out how best to approach educational efforts to teach individuals more about pollinators and their roles in an ecosystem.

“The purpose of the research was to determine how people are understanding pollinators and pollinator systems, because if people’s understandings are skewed by negative misconceptions, it can lead to poor conservation efforts, which ends in loss of species,” Harrod said. “I found that there is a significant number of people who don’t understand concepts like what a flower is for, or that bees are not the only pollinators. If these gaps in education can be mended, then we improve the chances of preserving animals on the endangered species list.”

At the close of the internship, Harrod’s research was compiled into a poster project, which outlined background information on the subject, as well as methodology and statistics pulled from their work. On August 5, the final day of the internship, the projects were presented in a virtual showcase to be judged by their mentors and other students who received internship positions with UNL.

The skills Harrod picked up over the course of the 10 weeks will be useful as she starts her senior thesis project, and begins looking into graduate schools, where she will continue to study entomology research.

“It’s kind of cemented my idea that I really want to go into entomology. You go into undergrad and you think you kind of know what you’re doing, and then you get there, and you don’t always agree with that later on down the road,” Harrod said, “This was a great way for me to say, ‘Yes, I love working with insect mentors, I love working with other insect people; this is where I want to be.’”