Discovering a passion for clean water research

Elise Cordle standing outside

Elise Cordle’s senior year at South Albany High School ended abruptly (and three months early) with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Classes were canceled; graduation celebrations were postponed. But that didn’t thwart Cordle’s ambition to be the first in her family to attend college.

“College is something that was always talked about in my family,” Cordle said. “My parents would have attended if they’d had the opportunity, and it was something they really wanted for me.”

As a lover of nature and the outdoors, Cordle opted to major in environmental engineering with a desire to contribute to solutions for water pollution. Last summer, she was selected to participate in the Clean Water Initiative’s Research Experience for Undergraduates, with Stacey Harper, professor of environmental engineering and toxicology, as her mentor.

“It was everything I’ve ever dreamed about,” Cordle said. “To learn from Stacey Harper, a woman whose brilliance and success inspires me to succeed in this field, has been one of my most favorite takeaways from my time in the undergraduate research program.”

Zebrafish embryos

In Harper’s lab, Cordle investigated the effects of organic pollutants and nanoplastics, using zebrafish embryos as a human health model. Cordle says she’s had ample freedom to conduct her own trials, construct data analysis, and manage her own research.

“I have been able to ask questions and get help wherever I need it,” she said. “The trust and
guidance I’ve received within the Harper lab has empowered me to learn not only from my
research, but also my mistakes.”

Cordle has continued to work in Harper’s lab through the URSA Engage undergraduate research program, supported by an undergraduate research scholarship. She says she has felt her confidence grow immensely through presenting her research in weekly lab meetings, in a flash talk, and at a poster session for the REU.

In May, she presented to a larger audience at the conference of the Pacific Northwest Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, for which she received a travel award. After graduation, Cordle plans to go to graduate school to continue her studies.

“I just want to keep doing research,” she said. “I think this is where I belong.”

June 4, 2024