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Excellence in Teaching, Scholarship and Service 2023 – Sarah Orlofske

June 8, 2023

Assistant professor Sarah Orlofske is passionate about expanding opportunities for undergraduate research at her alma mater of UW-Stevens Point.

Earlier this month, Orlofske, and her husband, Robert Jadin, an evolutionary biologist, worked with colleagues from across the country attending the annual meeting of the Midwestern Association of Parasitologists (MAP), June 1-3, 2023, held for the first time at UW-Stevens Point. As she worked with Jadin behind the scenes to support the event logistics, Orlofske also made sure that many of her student researchers would be organized and prepared to present their findings for the professionals at the conference on a variety of projects—from waterfowl to snails. 

Assistant Professor Sarah Orlofske, biology, won the 2023 Excellence in Teaching, Scholarship and Service Award.
Assistant Professor Sarah Orlofske, biology, won the 2023 Excellence in Teaching, Scholarship and Service Award.

“They can see that what you do in the lab models the real world, why it matters,” she said. 

As part of the Student Research Colloquium Committee in the School of Biology, Chemistry, and Biochemistry, Orlofske has been actively working to spread awareness about the various research opportunities open to interested UWSP students. With a more formal structure in place, the committee is helping to remove barriers and attract younger students who might feel uncomfortable about getting involved in research. The group is working to present student seminars, bring in external speakers, and get younger students excited enough to reach out to their professors to gain research experience. 

Her university service, along with Orlofske’s leadership in her labs and classes, has earned her the 2023 Excellence in Teaching, Scholarship, and Service Award.   

“It’s an inspiration to keep at it,” Orlofske said. “I know I’m doing work that makes a difference on UWSP as a whole.”   

While some of her students may not desire to work in the field, the techniques they hone in research help them to become successful critical thinkers, who can write and comfortably present their work.  

“I can describe it really well,” said Gina Magro, a 2023 biology graduate. “When you’re doing the research, you are the expert.” 

Orlofske had a core group of 14 researchers working in her lab over the past year. Working hands-on with the specimens tells only part of the story. The labeling and data analysis of what students in the lab collect then becomes the narrative as it can reveal entirely new species of parasites compared to the existing collection. The plot can and often will play out in unexpected directions. 

Over the past year, Roxanne Gasperetti, a senior in wildlife ecology and management major, has studied parasites in snail populations and parasite communities in the American Woodcock, with specimens harvested and donated by hunters.   

“We found a parasite in it that has never been found before in woodcock,” Gasperetti said. 

Gasperetti and her peers presented in the College of Letters and Science’s Undergraduate Research Symposium in May. Orlofske said the students share abstracts and provide feedback with each other as they practice and grow confidence for sharing their work.  

Magro, who is interested in studying avian malaria, had to overcome some roadblocks in their research. Finding a lack of research literature in which to compare the amount of blood parasites she found in Scaup, duck species collected in Green Bay, Magro decided she would produce the academic knowledge herself as she finalizes several years of waterfowl parasite research. She is working on a paper to submit to the Journal of Parasitology, to be co-authored by Orlofske and Jadin, along with collaborators who performed molecular work for the paper at the University of North Dakota. 

She said Orlofske has built a connected, supportive space and encouraged students in her research lab to think of themselves as scientists. In turn, the students’ interests have kept the Orlofske lab moving in new directions. 

All of the research successes go back to Orlofske’s of love of teaching and instilling good science practices. Beyond the field work, dissection, research on past papers, and gathering data, students benefit from the trust Orlofske shows them and a community in which to thrive. 

“You’re ready for your next step. Even if you get out of science, you are now comfortable you just gained that confidence in yourself,” Magro said. 

Sarah previously won the 2022 University Scholar Award.