Maryellen Zbrozek. Image credit: Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP)

Maryellen Zbrozek grew up in a family that taught her to learn about and love nature. Fast forward to today, she’s a Fulbright Scholar teaching in Poland.

“My fondest childhood memories are of me discovering cool things about the world around me, and I have never stopped wanting to do so. This intrinsic love for learning about the way the world works has caused me to follow a scientific path, both to learn about the world and to do the research necessary to protect it in our rapidly changing environment.”

Zbrozek graduated winter 2019 from the LSA Honors Program with a major in Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity and a minor in Computer Science. Her advisor was EEB Professor Elizabeth Tibbetts.

She studied a fungal parasite called Nosema ceranae that infects pollinators. “Specifically, I study how factors in the pollinator community, such as species diversity, abundance, and frequency of floral visitation, impact the prevalence of N. ceranae in honey bee and bumble bee populations.” She hopes her research will contribute to findings on how this parasite is transmitted from one pollinator species to another.

Collecting river samples during a General Ecology lab at the U-M Biological Station.

Pollinator populations are rapidly declining, which poses a threat not only to the natural environment, but also to the agricultural industry and public health. It is hoped that having a better understanding of N. ceranae, which is implicated in pollinator decline, will help scientists, farmers and policy-makers to take action to prevent this parasite from spreading and to try to mitigate declining pollinator populations. 

As a University of Michigan student, she was a peer facilitator for the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, where she was heavily involved. “I love helping other students to discover what the university has to offer and to help them find research they love.” Additionally, she was involved in the student organizations Do Random Acts of Kindness and Books for a Benefit.

She is currently on a Fulbright Scholarship, an international educational exchange program to increase mutual understanding and support friendly and peaceful relations between people of the United States with people of other countries.

She is teaching English for special purposes classes for students at the University of Science and Technology in Bydgoszcz, Poland. This semester, she’s teaching English classes focused on veterinary studies, information technology, and business management. She’s also participating in the EducationUSA program, where she travels around Poland as a representative of the U.S. and gives presentations to students in K-12 schools. 

Made it to the peak of Kozi Wierch in the Tatra Mountains in Poland during summer 2018. One of Maryellen Zbrozek’s favorite things to do is to hike.

“I have felt incredibly welcomed by all of the people I've met so far, as Polish hospitality is a very real thing. I've also enjoyed exploring the rich history in all of the cities I've visited, eaten lots of good pierogi, and (on the ecology side of things) have enjoyed learning about the mushrooms that grow in the forests here. It has been mushroom season since I arrived, and it has been interesting learning about the culture surrounding mushroom-picking as a fun family activity. That being said, a month ago I didn't like mushrooms, and now I do!”  

As for future plans, Zbrozek hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology and work as a scientist at a government agency. She’s using this time in Poland to figure out her future plans more thoroughly. “I hope to contribute scientific knowledge at the intersection of science and policy to help make positive environmental change.”