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NMSU students get creative to secure research funding

New Mexico State University students are ambitious. They’re also creative. And when they’re passionate about their research, they’ll take the path less traveled to secure funding.


Close-up of woman looking at an orchid outdoors
New Mexico State University biology graduate student Grace Smith Vidaurre helps pollinate a small batch of wild orchids in Chile in 2009, where she worked as an intern for the National Botanic Garden of Viña del Mar. Smith Vidaurre was awarded a 2016-2017 Fulbright Scholar grant to study native populations of a parrot species in Uruguay. (Courtesy photo)
Close-up of man holding young bird
New Mexico State University biology doctoral student Brian Ramos-Guivas is researching factors that may be affecting the reproduction of the Puerto Rican Amazon parrot species. (Courtesy photo)
Woman with a hat, holding a shovel
Sativa Cruz graduated with University Honors with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a minor in sustainable development in May 2016. While at NMSU, Cruz received a grant from the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute to set up an irrigation system for cocoa tree farmers in Colombia. She also received funding from Aggies Go Global and the Honors College. (Courtesy photo)

Many research projects are funded through organizations, such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, United States Department of Agriculture and the Fulbright Scholar Program. But sometimes students need to leverage their research funding.

Following are a couple of examples of NMSU students and their quests to discovery:

Grace Smith Vidaurre, biology graduate student

Smith Vidaurre will spend nine months in 2017 studying native populations of a parrot species in Uruguay as a result of being awarded the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Award.

The parrots she is researching are also known as monk parakeets, which Smith Vidaurre said have been exported to many countries all over the world for the global pet trade.

“I'm studying monk parakeets to better understand how some species can thrive in human-altered habitats,” she said. “In Uruguay, I'll be working with wild parakeet populations to find out how nest-building behavior, morphology and genomes may change in response to human land-use.”

Smith Vidaurre’s current genomic research is supported in part from a pilot award from the National Center for Genome Resources as part of a larger Institutional Development Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, as well as by private donations from Michael and Susan Achey.

She is seeking additional funding for transportation once she’s in Uruguay, for trap construction materials, for birdseed and for iButtons, which log temperature and humidity data.

She and a collaborator – Kevin Burgio, a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut – recently launched a crowdfunding campaign. Titled “Beyond conservation concern: monk parakeets hold clues about human influences on evolutionary processes,” her campaign may be found on Experiment.com, a platform that connects scientists with public funding sources. Her campaign deadline is Dec. 2.

Smith Vidaurre’s adviser is Tim Wright, associate professor of animal behavior and evolution in the NMSU Department of Biology.

Brian Ramos-Guivas, biology doctoral student

Also part of Wright’s lab, Ramos-Guivas has turned to public funding to support his research with the critically endangered Puerto Rican Amazon parrot. He is working on finding factors that may be affecting the reproduction of the parrot species.

“Mostly external factors have been studied to understand why these parrots have such low reproductive success, but no study to date has analyzed how behaviors inside the nest may affect the production of new chicks,” Ramos-Guivas said.

In addition to his grant from the World Parrot Trust, Ramos-Guivas started a crowdfunding campaign with GoFundMe, an organization that provides the opportunity for individuals, groups and organizations to raise funds for numerous purposes.

Funds raised will be used to purchase recording equipment to analyze the behaviors inside the nest, including infrared cameras, cables and a digital video recorder.

Last year he turned to Instrumentl, an organization that matches scientists with ideal grants for their research. Instrumentl successfully matched him with Vista Outdoor Operations.

“Vista Outdoor provided me with Bushnell equipment I need for my research,” Ramos-Guivas said. “I received a camera, binoculars, a backpack and a tent to use when I’m in the field.”

He will return to Puerto Rico in December to collect more data during the breeding season.

Sativa Cruz, recent College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences graduate

Sativa Cruz graduated with University Honors with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a minor in sustainable development in May.

While at NMSU, Cruz received a grant from the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute to set up an irrigation system at an agricultural engineering school for cocoa tree student farmers in Colombia. Aggies Go Global and the Honors College contributed to her funding as well. She and other students, researchers and faculty associated with the project also received free access to aWhere, Inc.’s online Weather Analysis Module and Colombian weather dataset.

Cruz turned to GoFundMe to raise money to help her with field supplies and to maintain her living expenses at home while she was away in Colombia.

“While much of my funding came from grants and from NMSU programs, the GoFundMe campaign really brought my family together to help me,” Cruz said. “More than 90 percent of the donations came from family. It provided them with an opportunity to see what I did in school, to be part of my research experience and to congratulate me for graduating.”

Cruz now attends graduate school at Oregon State University.

Thinking outside the box

NMSU students aren’t the only students seeking to connect with crowdfunders. Student researchers from universities such as Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard Medical School and UCLA use Experiment. Duke University, University of North Carolina and University of Southern California have each been granted over $32,000 for various research projects listed with Experiment.

GoFundMe has been used to fund research projects and travel expenses for students from schools such as University of Alabama, Chicago State University, University of Connecticut and Florida International University.

To view Smith Vidaurre’s campaign, go to https://experiment.com/projects/beyond-conservation-monk-parakeets-hold-clues-about-human-influences-on-evolutionary-processes. Ramos-Guivas’ campaign may be viewed at https://www.gofundme.com/2tufn598, and Cruz’s campaign may be viewed at https://www.gofundme.com/sywu2u7g?ssid=812466212&pos=45.