STILLWATER — While many of her fellow students are in class, Lauren Foley spends hours in a lab, working with prairie voles.
That's been the case, more or less, since Foley came to Oklahoma State University last year.
Foley, now a sophomore, participated in an OSU program that allows students to take part in meaningful research during their freshman year.
“To me, it was just a good opportunity to get outside the classroom,” Foley said.
Foley, a zoology major, was a part of Freshman Research Scholars, an OSU program that gives about 60 first-year students per year the opportunity to take part in research on campus.
In addition to their regular coursework, those students may either work with faculty researchers on a project that's already under way, or raise a question of their own and, under faculty supervision, develop a study to answer that question.
Foley's freshman research involved social behavior among prairie voles, a type of rodent that is native to the central United States and Canada, including Oklahoma.
Specifically, she looked at whether a male vole can tell other voles apart.
She found that male voles can distinguish among other males, but aren't well-equipped to be able to tell one female from another.
This year, Foley received another scholarship, this time under OSU's Wentz Research Project program, to continue her research.
Foley is building on last year's research, this time looking at whether voles have a kind of home-field advantage — that is, whether voles do a better job of telling each other apart when they're on their own turf.
The freshman research program was beneficial, Foley said, because it gave her the chance to get practical experience in her field even as she went through her freshman courses.
It also helped her form relationships from the beginning of her college career with faculty members who might go on to be mentors in later years.
Tim O'Neil, director of the freshman research program, said those faculty connections are one of the program's major selling points.
What other universities offer
A similar program at the University of Texas includes students in science-
Our goal is that this is a meaningful experience to these students. They can actually add to the body of knowledge in their field.”