DR. LEIGH ANNE HARDEN is an associate professor of biology at Benedictine University (BenU), Lisle, IL. She is an integrative ecologist and has been involved in the research and conservation of reptiles and amphibians since 2005. She received her B.S. in Biology from Davidson College, NC in 2007 and received her Ph.D. in Marine Biology from UNC-Wilmington in 2013 with Dr. Amanda Southwood Williard. Before coming to BenU in 2015, she was a Postdoctoral Research and Teaching Associate position at Loyola University Chicago in the Milanovich Lab. The Harden Lab continues to collaborate with The Milanovich Lab @ LUC studying amphibians and reptiles.


KEITH MCGEE studies biology and zoology at the College of DuPage and plans to continue his journey at a 4-year university, eventually becoming a wildlife zoologist specializing in big cats and great apes. Keith started working with the Harden lab in the summer of 2023 through the The Promotion of Underrepresented Minorities in Academic STEM (PUMA-STEM) summer research program. PUMA-STEM is focused on strengthening underrepresented minority student success in STEM at primarily undergraduate and regional institutions in the greater Chicago area. Keith’s research focuses on the population ecology of common snapping turtles inhabiting BenU’s campus Lake St. Benedict.

MADDIE RUSSELBURG ’24 is a senior biology major at Benedictine University. She joined the Harden lab in the fall of 2022. Her interdisciplinary research includes collaborating with Dr. Perez Morales’ Microbiology Laboratory to develop and refine Bacterial Killing Assay protocols specific to endangered wild-caught spotted turtles. These BKAs allow for an innate immune health assessment of spotted turtles inhabiting industrialized Northern Indiana wetlands. She has plans to attend veterinary school after her time at Benedictine University with the goal of becoming a Veterinarian! 

RACHEL CEPOLSKI ’25 is a junior Health Science major at Benedictine University. She began research with the Harden Lab in the summer of 2022 as a part of NSSRP. Her research includes a collaborative effort of assessing turtle populations of Lake St. Benedict alongside a Macroinvertebrate diversity survey. She currently works as an Optometric Technician and is interested in pursuing a career in Optometry.


YUMNAH KHAN & SAMREEN HUSSAIN ’23 were health science majors at Benedictine University. They came as a package deal to the Harden Lab in fall 2022 to conduct research on parasitemia in our freshwater turtles on campus by counting red blood cell parasites in blood smears. They both presented their research at the Undergrad, Research, Scholarship, and Arts Symposium at BenU in spring 2023. They are both pursuing degrees in medicine.

DANNAH MEDINA ’22 was health science major at Benedictine University. She joined the Harden Lab in summer 2022 to do research supported by The Promotion of Underrepresented Minorities in Academic STEM (PUMA-STEM) summer research program. Dannah’s research focused on measuring trace metal concentrations in aquatic turtle blood as an indicator of aquatic ecosystem health. Dannah is currently in pursuing a career as a speech therapist.

NICK MUSICK ’23 was a biology major at Benedictine University. He joined the Harden Lab in Spring 2020 working on educational outreach resources for the Jurica Suchy Nature Museum to share with the community. He also conducted summer research in 2021 and 2022 as part of the NSSRP cohorts. His research focused on monitoring both the environmental health and the turtle populations of Lake St. Benedict on the Benedictine University campus. Nick is interested in pursuing a career in zookeeping.

ALLISON DICKMAN ’21 was a biology major at Benedictine University and the 2021 biology department research award recipient highlighting her success in multiple research projects. Allison began researching with the Harden Lab in the Spring of 2020 and is currently writing her first scientific manuscript describing the aquatic behavior of wild female terrapins in North Carolina salt marshes. This research will be critical for terrapin population assessments via visual encounter surveys along the coast.

ELENA GARZA ’20 is a health science graduate at Benedictine University and a Rising Star award recipient highlighting her academic and research achievements. Elena began research with the Harden Lab in the Summer of 2019. Her research focused on developing a method for measuring stress hormones in freshwater turtles that can be applied to future studies on turtle conservation. She is currently working as a pathology technician at a dermatology clinic.

REBECCA WEBER ’20 is a Jurica Scholar, an environmental science major, chemistry minor, and biology concentration graduate of Benedictine University. Rebecca was the 2019 Lincoln Laureate recipient of State of Illinois and also the 2020 Benedictine University Procopian Award Recipient. Rebecca began researching with the Harden Lab in Fall 2017. Her research is focused on evaluating the hematological health and stress levels of captive-reared Blanding’s turtles following their release into DuPage County wetlands. This research has been submitted as a scientific manuscript and is currently under peer review. Rebecca is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in biology at Governor’s State University.

MACY ANDLINGER ’20 is a biology major graduate of Benedictine University. Macy began her research with Dr. Harden in the summer of 2018. Her research focused on assessing the population dynamics of a variety of freshwater turtle species as well as how these organisms are influenced by their ecosystems. Macy is pursuing a career in wildlife veterinary medicine at University of Illinois starting in Fall 2021!

ALEX KARWOWSKA ’20 is Jurica Scholar, and a double major in biology and music at Benedictine University. Alex was a summer 2017 research student in the Harden Lab and continued research into the school year and throughout the rest of her time at BenU. Her research project was part of a collaborative effort to assess the hematological health of augmented Blanding’s turtle populations. Alex is in medical school at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine to pursue a career in medicine!

ELIZABETH KVITEK studied Biology, Spanish, and Chemistry at Benedictine University. Elizabeth began research with the Harden Lab in the Fall of 2018. Her research involved monitoring the health and population of freshwater turtles on campus. She also worked extensively on the development of Blanding’s turtle-related educational materials as part of the Jurica Suchy Nature Museum’s free loan discovery box program. Elizabeth joined the US Marines in Fall 2019!

MARY KEENAN ’19 is a 2019 biochemistry/molecular biology graduate of Benedictine University. She was a member of the Benedictine University soccer team and the Tri-Beta Biology Honor Society. Mary began her research with the Harden Lab in the fall of 2018. She conducted research on the captive-reared Blanding’s turtles program focusing on evaluating the health of turtles caught and released through the program. Mary is currently pursuing an M.S. in Marine Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks!

SUMAIYA SHAHJAHAN ’18 is a 2018 graduate of Benedictine University with a major in Medical Humanities along with a minor in Medical Spanish. Sumaiya began her work with the Harden Lab in Spring of 2017 and was also a 2017 NSSRP summer research student. Along with Alex and Rebecca, Sumaiya worked on research to assess the hematological health and immune response of captive-reared, re-released augmented Blanding’s turtle populations. Sumaiya is headed to Utah in Fall 2021 to pursue a career in medicine!

TIM BENJAMIN ’18 is 2018 environmental science graduate of Benedictine University. Tim began working with the Harden Lab in the summer of 2017 as NSSRP research student and continued with research his senior year. His research project focused on utilizing non-destructive techniques to measure mercury (Hg) concentrations in endangered, adult Blanding’s turtles, which was published in Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology in Summer 2018! (see publications page for PDF). Tim is currently employed as a Natural Areas Maintenance Technician with Integrated Lakes Management (ILM) in West Chicago.