In her freshman year alone, biology major Helena Rheault ’18 took classes, worked as a lab assistant, and traveled to Costa Rica to study tropical ecology. On that trip, the tranquility of sleeping in the rainforest was contrasted by lurking snakes and jaguars. Helena, 19, talks about the prospect of working and conducting research in the new Science and Innovation Center and her plans after graduation.
Q. Has anything surprised you so far about your education at Westfield State?
A. I came in here wanting to teach biology and thinking the last thing I wanted to do is research. Now, all I want to do is research because of my opportunities here. I didn’t realize how much there is still to discover about biology.
Q. What was one of the highlights of your trip to Costa Rica?
A. One of the most exciting things was contributing to a reforestation study, in which I collected data and helped interpret results. Farmers and local people need to get involved with planting various species of trees, including avocado trees, and learn how to grow forests back and the best way to take care of them.
Q. We heard that on your Costa Rica trip, you may have discovered a new species of snake? Really?
A. We were hiking in Monteverde in a cloud forest…and I saw a snake and took a picture with my camera. We reviewed books for a few hours, trying to identify the snake. The photos even got sent to snake experts. We know there are a lot of undiscovered species, and there is a possibility that we are looking at a species not many people knew was around.
Q. How will the new Science and Innovation Center benefit you as a biology student?
A. There will be even more access to developing research, leading technology, and more challenging learning opportunities. The building is something that I am personally ecstatic about. It is not very often that students are privileged enough to have access to brand-new facilities designed for their major, and I feel very fortunate that I get to be a part of that.
Q. So what are your plans before and after graduation?
A. I got accepted to study conservation in Tanzania, Africa, in the fall. The program is focused on learning field techniques, concepts in wildlife conservation, and natural resource conservation. Once I graduate from Westfield State, my goal is to enter into a Ph.D. program in the field of conservation and dedicate my career to contributing new research to science.