Southern Utah University students present research at international conference in Amsterdam

ST. GEORGE — Two Southern Utah University students presented their research at an international conference last week in Amsterdam.

Erin Flores, an SUU student completing her Master of Interdisciplinary Studies, and her partner, worked to collect mosquitoes near Cedar Breaks National Monument to record when higher-elevation mosquitoes are most active, what species are present in the area and if the mosquitoes were likely to carry disease.

Flores and her partner, Ashley Tyler, decided to focus their study in and around Cedar City because the municipality doesn’t track its mosquito population. Many people participate in recreational activities at Cedar Breaks, and there isn’t a lot of research on high-elevation mosquitoes in the area.

The pair were invited to the 41st annual Association for Interdisciplinary Studies conference in Amsterdam where they shared a five-to-seven-minute presentation on the research itself and the mechanisms behind it that are reflected in the interdisciplinary programs.

According to the conference’s website, 150-250 participants from over 35 states and 10 countries attend the conference to represent institutional research and network with others in their field.

Erin Flores attending the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies Conference, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Oct. 24, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Erin Flores, St. George News / Cedar City News

Flores told St. George News one of the biggest lessons she came away with was the importance of finding local partners. The Washington County Southwest Mosquito Abatement and Control District helped the students begin their research and supported them in their efforts to present the information.

Interdisciplinary programs allow students to focus on more than one track. SUU’s specifically helps students combine three programs into one degree. Students working toward interdisciplinary degrees focus on how each of the programs are naturally connected and teaches them how to integrate skills from each one into everyday tasks.

“I chose it (a interdisciplinary degree) because these three different disciplines were really interesting to me, and I didn’t really want to do just one,” Flores said. “I really liked that I had the freedom to choose different classes within each different discipline, and I could explore all of these different topics rather than being confined to just one.”

Flores’ presentation focused specifically on the ways the pair used leadership, communication and public administration to complete the project while also reporting the findings and biology behind the research.

Throughout their research, Flores and Tyler discovered that in the sample population of mosquitoes they captured, West Nile virus was not present. Flores said although other illnesses were found in the mosquitoes, none of them are as concerning or can affect humans as negatively as West Nile virus, which is why the team focused on that disease specifically.

She said there are plans to continue to the research and return in following years to present on contemporary findings.

In future research, Flores and her partner plan to look at mosquitoes in lower elevations near Cedar City proper because carriers of West Nile virus have been found in a number of lower places in Utah. Flores said she is hoping to use this research as a stepping stone to different locations within Iron County.

Students and industry professionals network during the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies Conference, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Oct. 24, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Erin Flores, St. George News / Cedar City News

Conferences like this, Flores said, offer students and faculty the opportunity to network and speak with industry professionals and like-minded people. She uses conferences like the one hosted by the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies to get feedback on her studies so she can improve.

“Most of the people who attended, their full-time job is interdisciplinary studies,” she said. “As we are just students, we get to just see what you can do with a degree like this, and how it can actually be applied in real life.”

In 2018, SUU announced that it was selected to host the conference from Oct. 14-16, 2021. SUU’s Master of Interdisciplinary Studies degree began its first full cohort in January 2018 and is offered exclusively online or in a hybrid format of online and in person.

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