John C. Young Scholar Olivia Murrell ’19 explores ‘passion for biodiversity conservation’

This article is part of a series featuring Centre College’s 2019 John C. Young (JCY) Scholars. Centre’s JCY program, now in its 29th year, is designed to serve highly motivated seniors, allowing them to engage in independent study, research or artistic work in their major discipline or in an interdisciplinary area of their choosing.

As a John C. Young Scholar, Olivia Murrell ’19 (West Lafayette, Indiana) spent her senior year developing a teaching collection of Asian flora at Centre College.

“In 2017, I had an internship at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I learned how to sample plants for an herbarium,” Murrell said. “An herbarium is essentially a library of pressed plants that have been dried and glued to archival paper. Herbaria provide students, researchers, professors and anyone else interested with the opportunity to learn about plants from all over the world, preserved in such a way that they can last for hundreds of years. While I was in Malaysia, I collected around 175 tropical plant specimens and sent them back to Centre after they were all dried, pressed and mounted onto herbarium paper.”

Murrell said she applied for the JCY Scholarship in order to continue working on this project. Since receiving the award, she organized the data according to widely used herbaria standards. She collected more plants while studying in Japan during CentreTerm 2019 and is organizing data about them. Murrell will be digitizing as many of the specimens as possible with the hopes of them being available online for wider use beyond those on campus.

Her interest in plants came from a plant biology course.

“My passion for biodiversity conservation really stemmed from all aspects of my environmental studies education,” she added. “The more I learned about how much our world and our ecosystems are changing, the more I want to take it upon myself to do anything I can to help document and preserve what exists out there, since we don’t know how much longer those ecosystems will exist in their current form.”

Murrell believes the biggest thing she’s learned from this experience is where her passions lie and the career she wants to pursue.

“I don’t think I’ll necessarily be doing herbarium work forever, but it has really taught me the importance of herbarium and botanical garden collections,” she explained. “I don’t think I ever would have thought to pursue a career in plant biology, horticulture, ecology or biodiversity conservation, which are all fields I’m deeply interested in now, without having this research experience.”

After Centre, Murrell will spend a year taking online classes and engage in either an internship or job opportunity. She then hopes to attend graduate school and study tropical forest ecology or horticultural conservation.

by Kerry Steinhofer
June 7, 2019