Breakthroughs: HU transforms fate of a snake

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology’s culture of inquiry has transformed the University into one of Pennsylvania’s premier Science and Technology research institutions.

Our professors have teamed with students on research that is poised to save animals, clean up polluted waterways, transform skin-graft surgeries, and revolutionize the capability of internet data.

But that’s just four Harrisburg University Breakthroughs.

Our professors continue to launch innovative projects, studies, and experiments that give students invaluable hands-on experience while placing them at the ground-floor of ceiling-shattering research.

To accomplish this, each year University President Dr. Eric Darr awards Presidential Research Grants to professors whose goal is to work with students to enrich, innovate and advance human life with their work. The grants have funded nine projects this year alone.

“We made a turn from focusing on just teaching to focusing on teaching and research in a very conscious way by bringing on faculty that have research portfolios,” President Darr said. “People pay attention to the work that gets done because it solves real-world problems and that raises the visibility of Harrisburg University.”

From an edu-gaming system that pushes students to think on their feet to the use of drones to map out the history of populations, research at Harrisburg University shows us who we are, and where we are going.

Ever hear of data that has a mind of its own?

How about a metric that gives businesses insights into the decision-making capabilities of potential employees?

An insatiable desire to Breakthrough barriers has helped make Harrisburg University the educational, economic development and research engine that it is today.

And we’re just getting started.

We aren’t simply lecturing and transferring information to our students at Harrisburg University. We’re discovering a dazzling array of knowledge that is changing the world.

Novel Methods to Assess the Population of the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is an HU Breakthrough project that stands to help save the federally endangered snake. 

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

Professors Albert Sarvis, Christine Proctor, and Rachel Fogle have teamed with students and the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources’ Jennings Environmental Education Center to assess the population of the rare and cryptic Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.

The group is analyzing the only long-term Eastern Massasauga data set in existence to assess population trends and the snake’s survival. With the help of drones and camera traps, the team is developing new methodologies to increase the detection of the snake species, now threatened throughout 75 percent of its range, which stretches from eastern Iowa to western New York and from southern Ontario to southern Illinois.

The results of this study will help policymakers throughout Pennsylvania and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service make more informed policy and management decisions. It also will increase the efficiency of future monitoring efforts throughout the snake’s habitat. For students, the project provides real-world work experience using cutting-edge methods and equipment. This project involves the direct application of several of Harrisburg University’s core competencies, which include critical thinking, teamwork and collaboration, information literacy, communication and global awareness.

During spring break, Professors Sarvis and Proctor tested the height at which a thermal drone could potentially detect a snake using hand warmers as a proxy for the snakes still in hibernation. In the coming weeks, two students, along with Professors Fogle and Proctor, will travel to work with Jennings Environmental Education Center staff to set up the remote camera traps.

Collaboration across disciplines (environmental, biology, and GIS) will allow a multidisciplinary approach to thoroughly assess the status of this endangered species. HU has the potential to improve the accuracy of data collection by testing new methods, influencing the future of wildlife detection.

Harrisburg University is committed to solving real-world problems via innovative research. Check back as we continue to chronicle HU Breakthroughs that stand to change the way we work, think, and live.

About Harrisburg University

Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields. For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717-901-5146 or email, Connect@HarrisburgU.edu.