Natalie Leake-JaraNatalie Leake-Jara

Hope College junior Natalie Leake-Jara of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, has received a Student Research Grant from the American Ornithological Society.

The $2,033 award is supporting her work on the research project “Effects of urbanization on stress levels, auditory and visual processing of the house sparrow (Passer domesticus),” which she is conducting with Dr. Kelly Ronald, assistant professor of biology, and students Emma Yonker (rising senior) and Madeline Tinskey (rising sophomore).

Leake-Jara, who is majoring in biology, is completing her second summer in the Ronald Lab, where she also worked part-time during the 2023-24 school year.  Last summer she was supported through a Dow Scholarship, and her support this summer also includes an undergraduate fellowship from the Michigan Space Grant Consortium.

“I am very proud of her accomplishments and her dedication to applying for external funding to support her work and the lab,” Ronald said. “This summer she has taken on a leadership role in the project, and it is fun to watch her growth and advancement of our work.”

The research team is comparing the level of the stress hormone corticosterone (CORT) between birds from rural, suburban and urban areas.  The researchers are seeking to learn how much impact the amount of urbanization has on the CORT levels, and if the levels make a difference in how well the birds hear and see.

Leake-Jara began participating in research during her freshman year through the two-semester, research-based Phage Discovery and Genomics course.  She has also been a teaching assistant for the college’s General Chemistry Lab and worked as a technician in the chemistry stockroom.  She is a 2022 graduate of STEM School Highlands Ranch.

The American Ornithological Society, the world’s largest international ornithological society, is a diverse, global network working together to advance the scientific study and conservation of birds. AOS bestows a range of awards and grants that recognize excellence in ornithology and honors outstanding service to the society.