By Sean Devlin ’15
Northland College student Kaitlyn Windschitl was accepted into the McNair Scholar’s Program in November to fund her research project on the burbot (Lota lota), sometimes referred to a seelpout, lawyers, or even the poor man’s lobster. In May 2016 she will become the first member of her family to receive a college degree.
“It is important because it means a lot to my parents,” said Windschitl, who is studying biology and natural resources with an emphasis in fisheries and wildlife management. “They will be proud that I did things to better my life; I’ll be in a better place than a lot of people in my situation.”
Windschitl will be taking samples of burbot on Leech Lake in Walker, Minn., near her hometown of Marble, Minn. Her research will include deciphering the impact on the population if heavy harvesting were to take place.
“I am looking at population dynamics by assessing relationships within the population between length, weight, maturity, sex, and age,” Windschitl said. “I plan to further this study in the future to compare the population with a population that experienced low harvest levels.”
Burbot are not highly targeted fish, partially due to their eel-like appearance. They are also bottom feeders that can be difficult to catch using traditional fisheries sampling techniques as they are not scaly, but rather smooth and slimy. Burbot don’t warrant much attention from researchers, which is why she chose them for her research project.
“I wanted to do something big that nobody has ever done before,” Windschitl said. I’m excited because if I discover something new about this fish, I could impact my field in a big way.”
The McNair Scholars Program is a federal program designed to assist first-generation students, under-represented minorities, or students from low-income families.
The program is named for Ronald E. McNair, an African American who perished on the blighted NASA Challenger shuttle in 1986. The program is designed to assist students in finding a mentor and funding for a research project, but more importantly, it helps them build confidence and gain experience before they enter graduate school. Northland works through the McNair program at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
Windschitl will hand in her initial research to the McNair program this month. She plans to further her research with burbot next school year for her senior capstone project.
“After Leech Lake, I’ll begin to study the fish in the St. Louis River between Duluth and Superior,” she said. “This scholarship will help me learn more about the research process and even allow me to gain college credits.”
After she graduates, Windschitl hopes to continue studying fisheries management in graduate school. Her sights are set westward towards Washington, Nebraska, or even Alaska.