The early years
I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. I was always aware of the problem of waste growing up poor. We would return glass bottles for deposits, naturally. My grandfather lived next door and we could eat out of his garden and pick pears or cherries from his fruit trees. I have vivid memories of him taking us to the Missouri river banks to forage for watercress. I think I remember this so well since it was close to the park that had the “tornado slide”, the tallest metal, winding slide in town. In the heat of the summer, you may get a burn from the hot metal or get a bad gash from the old slide but those were the 70s… not much plastic besides our Star Wars action figures.
I really dove into waste as an undergrad at University of Nebraska at Omaha. We had to tackle a waste project in a Special Topics class for Biology Majors, I chose to learn about large-scale composting in windrows. The professor of the class had a buddy who he had our team partner with. He was an old hippie and super passionate about waste. He would shame you for your practices, but I learned so much from him. Back in the early 90s, my friends and I weren’t thinking of our purchases and the consequences. We were minimalists, shopped in thrift stores, and did not see all the waste we see now. I now try not to use shame as a motivator.
After I received my Bachelor’s Degree, I was lucky to have known someone working in the Genetics Lab at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. This is where I learned molecular biology, phylogenetics, and conservation biology under the tutelage of Dr. Ed Louis, Jr. I created microsatellite libraries for almost 100 taxa and have several publications from collaborations in Africa, Madagascar, and South Korea. A highlight was documenting and publishing a paper of the first known captive shark parthenogenesis.
Right before college graduation in 1997, I met my husband, Jerry Hug. He had 2 beautiful daughters Madeline age 5 and Sophie age 2. We had Zane in January 1999.
More College years…
I wanted to further my education in molecular evolutionary biology, so I joined the lab of Dr. Guillermo Orti at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. As a graduate student, I had many opportunities to teach many lab courses at several levels for undergraduates, as well as, upper level evolutionary biology recitation courses.
My first experience as an NSF fellow was Project Fulcrum. Project Fulcrum is a teacher-scientist collaboration that teams science and mathematics graduate students from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln with elementary and middle-level teachers from Lincoln Public Schools in an effort to improve K-12 math and science education. I was able to bring my evolution and ecology graduate school emphasis to the Lincoln Public Middle Schools.
The second NSF Fellow opportunity came with the NSF Partnerships for International Research and Edulcation (PIRE).
The first time I left the country and FINALLY got to use my passport (that I got in 1997) was in 2006 (it was almost ready to expire without one stamp!). I went to Argentina to sample freshwater and marine silversides (genus Odontesthes) for my research. A girl from the Prairie who never thought she’d leave Nebraska was standing at the foot of the Andes Mountains. I was in awe.
The NSF PIRE research focused on reconstructing phylogeographic histories of several distinct species (or species complexes) that occupy the Patagonian region of southern Argentina and Chile. We used molecular markers and morphometric data to evaluate population histories of five freshwater fish species and one fish species complex, two large complexes of lizard species, two frog species, three freshwater crab species, and two plant species. Our near-term goal is to evaluate these data in a comparative framework to better understand factors that have shaped biological diversity in this unique part of the world.
I collaborated with other South American researchers to obtain samples of marine and freshwater silversides from all over the range of the tribe Atherinopsini in temperate South America to complete the molecular systematics, documenting all the marine incursions into freshwater and speciation events.
I am proud to work at The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) as Manager of Research Resources for The Vice Chancellor for Research office. As UNMC Research Resources Manager, I am still involved in science by managing the Research Facilities. https://www.unmc.edu/vcr/about/research-facilities.html
I am also a LiveGreen Ambassador for the UNMC/Nebraska Medicine Campus. Livegreen was initiated by Melanie Stewart in 2008, who is now the current Manager of Sustainability on Campus. Embedded in a history of patient care, health education, and research, UNMC and Nebraska Medicine recognize the need to protect human and environmental health. Sustainability requires both, using resources wisely so as to provide for the future while meeting current needs.
In 2013, I led the effort to make UNMC a Tree Campus USA. I have been involved in many initiatives on campus since 2010. Please read these Livegreen-related stories:
I love to garden and craft meals based on what I grow. Feeding people, and making a comfortable and welcoming home is so important to me. This “Plastic -free” journey is a part of that narrative. I need to have a healthy family and environment.
The Bike Union and Coffee
My brother, Miah Sommer, started a non-profit The Bike Union and Coffee which is a social enterprise offering workforce development and personal growth to young adults impacted by foster care.
The Bike Union provides year long, part time employment and mentoring for youth who have been in foster care. Employees have the opportunity to work in a retail shop, gain customer service experience, learn the skills to be a barista, and learn how to work on bikes. Additionally, everyone participates in financial literacy classes, health and nutrition classes, book club, mindfulness meditation classes, and other life skills programming. At all times program participants are surrounded by a network of positive support that follows them even when they transition on to new employment.
I am giving him a plug because he is my brother, we shared the same childhood experiences, and he is doing great things for this community. My intention is to make an impact in my community regarding raising awareness of the affects of plastic pollution.
Please visit his website and watch his Tedx talk!
Science has been my means to understand and see the world. I have met so many strong women and men from all over the world. I didn’t have to leave Omaha to meet friends from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Columbia, China, Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Indonesia, India… Science took me out of the country for the first time at age 34.
I have the best friends a girl could ever ask for… I can’t wait to make more!
A few more publications
Please let me know if you would like a copy of my CV.
I can’t wait to see what this next adventure brings…