2022 Beck Fellow: 'This opportunity is going to change my life'

Lamar University is proud to announce that Angel Flowers is one of two recipients of the David J. Beck Fellowship, which rewards outstanding academic achievement and allows top students to further challenge themselves with unique opportunities for undergraduate research and creative study.
David J. Beck Fellows are awarded full academic scholarships to cover all tuition, books, fees and on-campus room and board. They also receive up to $10,000 in tuition funding for a summer project, which may entail research, an internship or international study.

The Beck Fellowship is one of the most prestigious honors that a student can achieve at Lamar University. 
We sat down with Flowers to discuss her journey, research and future as a 2022 Beck Fellow. Beck Fellow Angel Flowers

Q: Can you tell me about your background and your journey to LU? What brought you to Lamar University?
A: I am a 36-year-old mother of two who is starting over in my life. I received my associate degree in Surgical Technology back in 2011 at Lamar State College in Port Arthur. I couldn’t get a job in our area with my degree and I was unable to move due to family, so I turned to the construction and refinery job market. I got a good job as a radio technician and operations supervisor for a communications company that provided Motorola two-way radios to refinery contracting companies. After a few years, our company was bought out by another company and my job was liquidated with company restructuring. This left me like a fish out of water. Here I was, over 30 years old, with no job, no career and no prospects.

I spent the first year I was out of work attempting to find a new job that was equivalent to what I was doing before as an operations supervisor and as time passed, I started looking for any job I could get. After a year of no success, I began to become discouraged. My husband then suggested what I had not considered — going back to school and earning a bachelor’s degree. I immediately thought of Lamar. Not only would this be close enough to home, but it would also be an affordable option for my bachelor’s degree. I registered for classes in fall of 2019.

Q: Can you tell me about your experience at LU? How do you think your experiences will help you in the future?
A: My experience in the first couple of years was what I would have expected from college — lots of classes, learning better study habits — heck, just remembering how to study! I had been out of high school for 15 years at this point and I felt slightly out of place at first. It was initially a struggle to balance responsibilities as a mother and wife and responsibilities to classes. I had to learn to lean on others for help when I needed it in both areas. I began to make new friends and once I started getting into upper-level biology courses, my passion and love for nature bloomed and I knew I had made the right decision to come back.

The most impactful thing I learned from my experience at Lamar University is the importance of collaborating with others and taking advantage of the knowledge that professors share. In essence, not to be afraid to ask questions!

Q: How did you find out about the David J. Beck Fellowship? What was the application process like?
A: I met Dr. Matt Hoch during the spring of 2021 when I took his Environmental Toxicology class. I showed great interest in what I was learning, so when Dr. Hoch provided the chance to go out in the biology boat to test a water sonde, I jumped at the opportunity to get some practical experience outside of the lab. Dr. Hoch remembered my interest later that summer when he received a commission to do sediment coring for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. During the time spent working together, I learned from Dr. Hoch about the research opportunities provided by Lamar University. I had no idea I could do research as an undergraduate!

The following fall I applied for and received an Office of Undergraduate Research grant, beginning my research journey. During the OUR grant award ceremony, we were informed that the Beck Fellowship was extending the application deadline. The application itself is at first daunting with all its requirements, but with help from Dr. Hoch, my mentor, I managed to navigate the application process and get through it smoothly.

Q: How did you find out the news that you were named a recipient?
A: I honestly began to worry that I would never hear back! After applying by Nov. 1, it seemed to take forever for the announcement to be made. We interviewed with the board that first week of February. I must have checked my email 100 times a day for the next couple of weeks, waiting for news of who was selected.

By this time, I had started work for my OUR project on tardigrades in Live Oak trees. I was at Lamar University that Saturday, Feb. 19, sorting samples in the lab. I got home that afternoon and when I checked my email, I was nervous and excited to see I had a letter from the Office of Academic Affairs regarding my Beck interview.

When I realized I was a Beck Fellow, I screamed and started crying; I was so happy and excited! This opportunity is going to change my life! Happy belated birthday to me! (My birthday was Feb. 17).

Q: Tell me about your project. What are you most excited about? What do you think the biggest challenges will be?
A: My project is a biodiversity study of the tardigrade populations in Belize. I will be sampling moss from granite and limestone substrates on cliff faces, waterfalls and cave entrances. No species of tardigrade have been found in Belize before, so this is all new discovery. I hope to document tardigrade species diversity and distribution patterns, as well as compare samples across the different features to see if anything drives tardigrade distribution patterns in this tropical environment. This knowledge will add to what is known about tardigrades, as well as fill in gaps in our understanding of their global distribution and habitat preferences.

I think the most exciting part for me is the chance to travel to a new country. This will be my first time abroad and I look forward to the experience! I already know the biggest challenge for me will be knowing how to rein myself in and not try to sample every piece of moss I find! Essentially, I tend to go overboard, so lots of planning and a clear game plan will be important for staying on task and gaining the most from this opportunity.

Q: What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to gain from this experience?
A: My long-term goal is to earn my doctorate in restoration ecology with a focus on microcosms and the role they play in ecosystem health and maintenance. My dream is to rebuild what humans have destroyed so there might be nature left for my children and grandchildren to enjoy. I believe to properly restore an ecosystem; you must first understand how it works down to a microscopic level. For example, the human body works similarly to a microcosm, with all the little pieces interacting and affecting each other. Different cells have different roles to play, but if one type of cell doesn’t work properly, it can affect the whole system. Think of the liver; if the cells in the liver stop working properly, the entire human body is affected. Similarly, if microinvertebrates in an ecosystem no longer perform their function, the ecosystem cannot work effectively. I hope to learn and understand the relationships within microcosmic communities, as well as how they affect the larger ecosystem.

The research opportunity provided by Beck will allow me to learn from others in their prospective fields. I will be working with University of Belize faculty Dr. Latha Thomas, a terrestrial entomologist, and Dr. Arlenie Rogers, a marine biologist, learning field sampling skills. After Belize, I will fly to Kansas to work with Dr. William Miller at Baker University. A tardigradologist with more than 50 years of experience, Dr. Miller, a co-mentor, will be teaching me imaging techniques such as Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). Then I will travel next door to McNeese State University in Louisiana, where I will work with Dr. Kathy Jackson and Dr. Harry Meyer on molecular phylogeny. All these experts have agreed to spend one-on-one time with me to teach me various techniques that will directly apply to my future work and career plans as an ecologist. In essence, I plan to gain valuable field and laboratory experience as well as make connections within the scientific community that will propel me forward into a future career.

Learn more about the David J. Beck Fellowship.