Central City teen's wildlife research published in science journal

Teacher Chelle Gillan requires her students to do research projects and submit them to journals. Sydnie Reeves' project on raccoon roundworms was published recently (NTV News)

Inspiration comes from unlikely places, like roadkill and animal droppings.

It’s a project that may make some a little queasy.

“Because it's about raccoon poop, that's what everyone tells me,” Sydnie Reeves said with a laugh.

But raccoon poop isn't a laughing matter, as the 18-year-old discovered a parasite that doesn't hurt those critters, but can hurt lots of others, including us.

Central City Science Teacher Chelle Gillan said, “People need to know this disease is here, it is here in Merrick County for sure, and it can be deadly.”

“It hadn't been found in Nebraska until I did the study,” Reeves said.

Reeves credits Gillan for encouraging her to take an interest in science, doing her first project in the tenth grade.

“I believe strongly in research. I teach tenth grade biology and have all of my tenth grade biology students do a mini research project, because of all the amazing things students learn,” Gillan said.

Sydnie's work is now featured in a peer reviewed journal, the Journal of Emerging Investigators.

“No, at 18 I would never imagine I was a published author, but it’s incredible,” she said, saying it took months to get it published.

Central City’s science teacher pushes kids to take on unique science projects.

Gillan said, “They are doing authentic research that no one has done before so it's an amazing sense of accomplishment.”

Sydnie relied on her background on the farm, and as an avid hunter.

Gillan said, “And that leads to the connection with animals and ability to dissect them.

“That's how the junior year project with the deer started,” Reeves added.

She's now a freshman at Kansas State, considering vet school, or possibly a Ph. D in research.

Her teacher says even kids who don't pursue science careers benefit from time in the lab.

“They have to have resilience and grit if they're going to do research. Things never go the way you plan, they never go the way you think they're going to and you have to pick yourself up, you have to problem solve,” Gillan said.

Sydnie says she wanted to give up on her project, but Gillan pushed her.

“It was hard, I couldn't do it. She helped me get through it,” Reeves said.

Now it's published and she's going to the American Junior Academy of Science Symposium for the second time, and hopes to inspire others.

“This class like changed my life so I hope someday the younger kids will read this and be like ‘wow I want to do more.’ I want to be the push they need,” Reeves said.

The big takeaway from her paper is that raccoon roundworm Baylisascaris procyonis is in Nebraska. Reeves said raccoons may defecate in children’s sand boxes, and she warns if people notice raccoons, the parasite may be present.

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