|Growing fungal colonies|
Her favorite part of her summer REU experience was learning new skills such as “how to sample soil, plate and grow fungi on media, extract DNA, run gels, and modify the experimental design along the way.” She also learned “how to organize and plan experiments, and how and when it is necessary to try different approaches to answer a question.... there is a lot of trial and error involved in executing an experimental design, and changing the plan is a standard part of the process.” In addition, Achala enjoyed working in the lab, attending lab meetings and discussing everyone’s project with them. She said within the lab, the group developed "a great community with people always offering help and advice." And, she added, the overall experience "has been fun."
As for her immediate future, she plans to return to UMass in the fall of 2018 where she is a part of the Commonwealth Honors College on a Dean's Award scholarship and is also an alto in the University Chorale. “Singing is a huge passion” of hers. Her long term plans include applying for graduate programs in biology so that she can one day have a career that balances "fieldwork/research along with science education and communication." Her dream job would involve working at “Institutions like natural history museums or biological stations.”
Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the Summer MAPS REU program is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: "Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas." The grant's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.