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Indiana State undergrad researcher honored with national recognition

May 5, 2015

An undergraduate student drawn to Indiana State University for its research opportunities has garnered national accolades for his efforts.

David "Mac" McLennan, a senior graduating in December, learned last week he was the recipient of national recognition from the Council on Undergraduate Research for Outstanding Undergraduate Research.

In his second year at Indiana State, McLennan, a geology major, conducted three research projects this year -- and prompted a glowing recommendation from his advisor Jennifer Latimer, assistant professor of geology at Indiana State.

"Mac is a model student and remarkable researcher," she wrote. "Mac has an unwavering thirst for knowledge and an unparalleled work ethic. In addition to his academic achievements and his tremendous potential as a research scientist, he also routinely volunteers to help other students complete their lab and fieldwork."

His research focusing on phosphorus burial in the South Pacific Ocean over the past 31 million years earned him a presenter's spot at the National Geological Society of America Conference in Vancouver last fall. He is additionally working on a manuscript from this project.

In December, McLennan presented a poster describing his Holocene record of sediment geochemistry from the alpine lakes in Wyoming's Beartooth Mountains.

His evaluation of heavy metal accumulation in Green Valley Lake, a West Terre Haute fishing spot, which has been impacted by acid mine drainage, was shared at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research in April.

For McLennan, the honor hasn't quite sunk in yet, but he said he's glad a local project received so much exposure.

"I had no idea I was going to get anything," he said. "I'm glad I have the opportunity to pursue that kind of avenue."

McLennan came to Indiana State after he and his wife, who is in the U.S. Army, welcomed their daughter into their family. McLennan was staying home with the baby and saw an opportunity to finish his degree. He'd previously studied engineering at Ohio State, and after a seven-year stint in the U.S. Air Force (both active and reserves, 1999-2005), he was done with that field. He chatted with professors in the earth and environmental systems at Indiana State and zeroed in on geology.

"It just seemed interesting," he said. "I didn't know anything about rocks, but I knew a lot about the way the earth works."

Latimer was one of those professors and invited McLennan by her office to discuss the opportunities students have at Indiana State.

"Coming from Ohio State with 60,000 kids, that's not something that's normal. You're an undergraduate, and you take these classes. If you're lucky, you might get to carry someone else's research equipment," he said.

Sandra Brake, professor of geology at Indiana State, keeps a notebook of projects. As McLennan flipped the pages, "I was like, awesome, awesome, awesome," he said. "Not only was I going to study something of interest, but ... I was going to get to apply it and think about what I was getting into - preview of what work might be like or if I go on in higher education for this field."

Even McLennan's 2-year-old daughter has been bitten by the research bug and accompanied him to the conference in Canada.

"My daughter gets to see a lot of cool things, too," he said. "She picks up every rock she sees. (He tells her), ‘We can't pick up all the rocks.'"

With one more semester at Indiana State, it's difficult for McLennan to say what his next step will be.

"Without knowing where we end up, it's a little hard to plan," he said.

He'd like to continue his research, so if his wife is stationed somewhere near a university with a Ph.D. program in geology, he'll pursue that avenue.

Otherwise, he'll look for work in his new field -- and that national research recognition certainly won't hurt to have on his resume.

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Photo: http://www.smugmug.com/photos/i-bMPddGr/0/O/i-bMPddGr.jpg -- Indiana State University student David McLennan, right, presents a poster about his research into heavy metal accumulation in Green Valley Lake, a West Terre Haute fishing spot, at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research in April.

Contact: Jennifer Latimer, Indiana State University, assistant professor of geology, 812-237-2254 or Jen.Latimer@indstate.edu

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or libby.roerig@indstate.edu