Engaged Student: Morgan Brizendine
It started out as a hobby with her dad, but now fishing is the focus of study, undergraduate research, and work experience for Morgan Brizendine of Bastian, Va., a senior majoring in fisheries science in the College of Natural Resources and Environment.
She originally enrolled at Virginia Tech as a University Studies student leaning toward business as her academic path, until she discovered fisheries science as an option. “I thought, ‘Wow, they want to pay me to go find fish.’ Now as I dive deeper into the curriculum, it has caught my interest even more. I snorkel for freshwater mussels – I mean, that’s pretty low stress. I play in the creeks and get paid for it.”
Since finding her passion early in her first year at Virginia Tech, Brizendine has embraced every opportunity to get experience in her field – from undergraduate research projects, work-study opportunities, internships, and membership to professional organizations.
“Fisheries is such a broad field,” Brizendine said. “You can go from crayfish, to actual fish, to mussels, or look more at the policy or law side of things. My goal throughout my undergraduate education is to try to get a little more experience in each of those areas.”
Brizendine says the smaller environment and culture of the College of Natural Resources and Environment encourages students to get involved beyond just their classes. “From the staff in our main office, our faculty, and professors, everyone really encourages you to immediately start doing stuff – get internships, get employed, get experience. Listening to that helped motivate me,” Brizendine said. “In the college, you really get more individual attention than probably some other places on campus with it being smaller.”
One of her undergraduate research projects is analyzing the population of small-mouth bass in the New River. “Recently, anglers and guides along the river have seen a real decline in the number of trophy bass and the overall experience of fishing,” Brizendine said.
She was able to gain access to depletion data taken in 2005 and 2010 that had not been analyzed. “In that time period, there was a definite drop. There are a lot of younger fish, those that are less than 12 inches. But once fish hit about a foot long to 14 inches – about four years old – they really start declining and disappear. The oldest fish you get if you are lucky is about eight years old, which is stock trophy. With this we can show what is going on, the fisherman are right – there’s a definite problem.”
Now, Brizendine is taking the data and trying to determine what is leading to the discrepancies in number among age groups – whether fishing tournaments or a biological issue or something else.
“Interning, volunteering, and doing the research is what opens your eyes and gives you a taste of what the field is all about,” Brizendine said. “It’s hard in a classroom to capture what really the essence of what getting out everyday and working with fish is like.”
Even as an undergraduate, Brizendine is looking to publish this study and an additional one. “I want the experience of getting published. I’ve had some faculty members really encourage me to at least give it a shot.”
Also to build up her list of experiences, Brizendine has served in leadership positions within student and professional organizations related to her field, such as the American Fisheries Society.
With her love of her academic pursuits, Brizendine applied to become an ambassador for the College of Natural Resources and Environment her first year. She has represented the college ever since. “Educating other people about the college, especially if you are excited about your major, is always fun. It’s really helped me get used to speaking in front of groups of people. Just learning how to communicate with people – it’s been pretty invaluable.”
As of now, Brizendine is not sure if she will continue directly onto graduate school or work for a few years first. Either way, she hopes her path will lead toward becoming a field biologist for a state or federal agency.
Until then, she has plenty to keep her busy while she recruits the next round of students for the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “That’s the great thing about our college. You get the benefits of a large university while getting smaller class sizes. It’s the best of both worlds.”