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Local Ex-Marine

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Life has taken a 180-degree turn for MTSU senior Mike OConnell since graduating from Wilson Central High School in 2003 and joining the U.S. Marine Corps. In fact, life has taken numerous turns and detours.

OConnell, a Wilson County native who expects to graduate with honors in spring 2013, will be one of 23 presenters Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 1-2, during the 13thannual McNair Program Research Symposium.

The McNair symposium will run from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Aug. 1 in the Tom H. Jackson Buildings Cantrell Hall. It will be held from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Aug. 2. Both are open to the public and campus community.

The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program helps first-generation and under-represented (African American, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaskan native) undergraduate students prepare for and succeed ingraduate school.

The McNair program is named for the late NASA astronaut Ronald E. McNair, who died in 1986 during the space shuttle Challengers ill-fated mission.

A range of disciplines mathematics, social work, anthropology, English, dance performance, psychology, philosophy and more will be on display and students research presented at the symposium.

OConnell, a Murfreesboro resident who still has family in Lebanon, is in a collaborative effort with two others trying to determine species boundaries in a predominant reef-building coral from the Pacific Ocean, he said. It is calledPorites lichen.

OConnell said two populations that display different growth forms have both been described asPorites lichenin American Samoa.

Our goal is to determine if this is an accurate description or if the two morphologies are separate species, OConnell said of the research being conducting with Dr. Doug Fenner of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources with the American Samoa government and Dr. Sarah Bergemann of the MTSU biology department.

We aim to do this by comparing both molecular and morphological characteristics from each of the two morphologies, he added.

After high school, OConnell enlisted in the Marine Corps. He served as an infantryman for six years. He said his time in service included combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

OConnell, who received three Certificates of Commendation (two for actions in combat), was medically discharged from the Marine Corps because of injuries sustained in Afghanistan. He then began college at MTSU in fall 2009.

He said he began working in Bergemanns lab in May 2011.

Since then, I have worked on variousprojects for Dr. Bergemann aimed at characterizing the genetic diversity of various fungi from around the world, he said.

Graduate school looms on the horizon for OConnell.

I hope to expand upon this project in graduate school by characterizing genetic diversity ofPorites lichenthroughout the Pacific and look for patterns of connectivity among populations, he said.

McNair Director Dr. Diane Miller continues to be amazed at the research work submitted by students in the program and the role faculty mentors play in the process.

Each McNair Scholar and mentor makes a personal commitment of time and effort to create a program environment of academic excellence and achievement, Miller said. The mentor relationship that each scholar experiences helps promote in our McNair scholars a dedication to the process and promise of higher education their own, as students, and the education of others, as future professors and researchers.

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