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Goodnight Spotlight: Rhianna Absher

As a KIETS Climate Leader, undergraduate researcher, and double major in Environmental Science and Plant Biology, Goodnight Scholar Rhianna Absher ’25, is on her way to becoming an expert in the realm of plants with aquatic ecosystems. Currently, Rhianna is “working with Dr. Ardón from the Ardón Research Lab and Michelle Moorman in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife services to analyze sea level rise in wetland ecosystems.” In her spare time, Rhianna loves to hike, thrift, and play her fender stratocaster! Read our latest Goodnight Scholars Spotlight to learn more Rhianna’s passion for the environment, journey to NC State, and what songs she would play on her fender stratocaster in the Goodnight Scholars lounge!

Goodnight Scholars Program: Tell me about yourself and your journey into the Goodnight Scholars Program

Rhianna Absher ’25: I am currently working on a double major in Environmental Science and Plant Biology, with minors in Forest Management and Environmental Education. Although this sounds like a lot, there is much overlap and I have really enjoyed having the opportunity to be involved in different departments at NCSU so far. I am a freshman at NCSU, originally from West Jefferson, North Carolina. It is a tiny town right above Boone, NC, and it is where I found my passion for plants, water, and the environment in general. Specifically, I am interested in trees! I am fascinated by trees, and would be more than happy to spend my entire life exploring forests and studying beautiful old growth trees. 

Can you tell us about the Ardon Lab, why you decided to do research with the lab, and about your research interests?

Before coming to NCSU, I completed my last two years of high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM). At this absolutely wonderful public boarding school, I received the opportunity to research in the Lohmann Lab at UNC Chapel Hill. In this lab, I studied magnetoreception in marine animals. I loved doing this research and learned so much from it, but I found over time that I was more interested in plants within aquatic ecosystems. Upon reaching out to Dr. Ardón the Summer before my freshman year, I was delighted to find the incredible research he and the students in his lab have done on wetland ecology research. Now, approximately seven months into researching and being involved within his lab, I have become particularly interested in how climate change impacts wetland ecosystems, and how specifically trees can identify the consequences. In this lab I have begun researching false tree rings in Bald Cypress trees and how changes in wetland ecosystems can impact the formation of these rings. Saying this, after my recent acceptance into the KIETS Climate Leaders Program, this project has taken a backburner. At the moment, I am collaborating with the Dr. Ardón and Michelle Moorman in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife services to analyze sea level rise in wetland ecosystems.

What has your involvement with the KIETS Climate Leaders Program been like?

Although the program has just begun, it has been absolutely fantastic so far! We have monthly meetings in which we discuss leadership building through our respective internships. Since I am one of two undergraduate students in the program, it has been so inspiring to hear the different experiences of graduate and PHD students. Having so many people to look up to in this program is so motivating, especially as I continue to grow as a researcher. My internship in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services will fully begin in the summer, where I will have the opportunity to analyze RStudio code and different statistics that will be beneficial to the growing literature on sea level rise in wetland ecosystems. I am overwhelmingly thankful for the opportunity to be in this program, especially with Dr. Ardón as my mentor, who I really look up to as a researcher and professor in the field I would like to go into. 

How did your experience at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics prepare you for the transition to NC State?

Coming from a rural area, NCSSM really helped with my transition to NCSU. Not only was I taking much more rigorous courses than at my previous school, I was also immersed in a community of people from different cultures and backgrounds that were from all areas of North Carolina. NCSSM challenged me, gave me life long friendships, and connections with fantastic professors that I will never forget. Upon coming to NCSU, I was able to adapt to college life readily as I felt much more comfortable living independently, taking high level courses, and making new friends.

Some of your hobbies include hiking, thrift shipping, and playing the fender stratocaster electric guitar! If you could come to the Goodnight Lounge and play one song on your guitar, what would it be and why? What are some of your favorite hiking places in the area?

Throughout my entire life I have been raised on the genre of classic rock. Although I have only played the guitar for around three years now and am still an amateur, I would love to learn and soon play Suite Judy Blue Eyes by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Not only is it an absolutely beautiful song, but it is also my Mom’s favorite song of which I was raised on. 

My all time favorite hiking spot is Snake Mountain in Todd, NC. Although it is only a three mile hike, it is almost completely uphill one way, with some spots you have to climb. At the top of the mountain, you can see North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia all in one spot. It is really a sight to see. Besides that particular trail, one of my favorite things to do while hiking is to simply drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and pull over onto random spots of the Mountain to Sea Trail. I have found some neat gems while doing this, and highly recommend it to anyone taking a trip to the mountains of NC. 

What is one experience you hope to have before you graduate from NC State?

One experience that I hope to achieve before graduating NCSU is running a half marathon. I absolutely love to run, and no matter how slow, I would love to get to the point where I can consistently run a thirteen mile stretch. I have definitely been slacking on this goal as of recently, but I hope to make it a commitment as I continue to find my academic, health, and social life balance.

Tell us about your experience so far in the Goodnight Scholars Program. What does it mean to you to be a part of the Goodnight Scholars Program community?

My experience in the Goodnight Scholars program so far has been nothing less than fantastic. The awesome opportunities that we receive and the friendships that I have been able to make have been like no other. One aspect of the program that I especially enjoy is all of the events that we have the chance to participate in. I find myself being involved in activities that I never thought I would be able to do!

Being a Goodnight means so many things to me. I absolutely adore being a part of this wonderful and accepting community, and am so fortunate to have been accepted into this program when applying to colleges. Saying this, being a part of the Goodnight Community to me means always having a support group or a friendly face. I could be having the worst day, but when one of my fellow scholars waves at me walking on the sidewalk, my day immediately brightens. If I am in a stressful situation or am struggling, I can always count on my community in the Goodnight Scholars Program to lift me up and support me. This community has been incredible, and for that I am forever grateful. I am so excited to spend the rest of my undergraduate career with my fellow scholars!