Empowering Research Mavericks: Zachary Foley’s Journey with ASSURE

Zachary Foley’s involvement in the ASSURE program reflects his strong desire for research autonomy. His motivation stemmed from a desire to delve into the relationships between bald cypress cell properties and various weather factors, envisioning the potential to uncover correlations that could inform future investigations into streamflow seasonality. Through the program, he honed skills like grant writing and budget management, crucial for success in modern academia. Under the guidance of his mentor Dr. Nate Jones, Zachary embarked on a journey of exploration, ultimately presenting his findings at the Alabama Water Resources conference and intending to contribute to peer-reviewed journals. Zachary emphasizes the importance of the ASSURE program in promoting research ownership and development and highly recommends it to other students.

I learned about the ASSURE program through my research mentor Dr. Nate Jones, who informed me of the opportunity. I applied to the ASSURE program because it provides undergraduates with the opportunity to secure funding for their own research projects, allowing for greater autonomy and ownership over the research process as well as buying my own equipment and funding my own fieldwork. Additionally, as someone interested in pursuing a career in academia, I saw the program as a valuable opportunity to gain experience in grant writing and budgeting, skills essential for success in research-intensive fields. The program also offers the chance to enhance one’s CV for future academic pursuits, such as graduate school applications.

My research focuses on the relationships between bald cypress cell properties and weather factors like temperature, day length, and water level. If there is a correlation between cell characteristics and water level, I would like to use tree cell characteristics in the future to investigate the seasonality of past streamflow. I have been able to study this relationship and establish the foundation for further research because of ASSURE funding, which has allowed me to carry out this investigation.

During my research, I planned to conduct a tree ring-based streamflow reconstruction and cell growth study. But my research plan changed over time, and I ended up focusing more on the cell growth side of things and less on the ring width streamflow reconstruction because the cell research was more novel. During the research my mentor was very supportive and met with me weekly to help me through my project.

The research outcomes were a year’s worth of cell growth data for five bald cypress trees in Northport as well as hourly water level data from the site. This data was presented at the Alabama Water Resources conference in fall 2023 and once I have completed data analysis I intend to write it up for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. I would definitely recommend other students apply for the ASSURE program. It is a great way to gain experience writing research grants as well as take more ownership of your research. It helped me develop as a researcher and prepared me for writing the other grant applications I have had to write since.