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Drawing the Right Assignment: Juniata Senior Illustrates Field Guide

(Posted April 28, 2008)

Juniata senior Kelly Finan illustrated a field guide, "Invasive Plant Species of Raystown lake and the Surrounding Areas."

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Senior research projects give invaluable experience to students who do them, but after the grade is received, many of these academic undertakings are never seen again. Kelly Finan, a Juniata College senior from Hop Bottom, Pa. studying environmental science and art, found scientific inspiration in illustration by producing as her senior project a botanical field guide that will be used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for visitors to Raystown Lake.

During her last semester at Juniata College, Finan produced a series of drawings detailing 10 invasive plant species common to the habitat around Raystown Lake. She created drawings of such plant pests as Tree of Heaven, Japanese knotweed, multiflora rose and Canadian thistle. The resulting field guide is called "Invasive Plant Species of Raystown Lake and the Surrounding Areas."

Although Finan's interest in environmental science is not botanical, she says the artistic inspiration for her illustrations helped her academically as well. "When I draw something, I tend to remember all the little details while I am drawing," she says. "For me, it was like learning without really trying."

The field guide provides detailed drawings of each invasive species, as well as basic facts and a map of the plant's range throughout the United States. She completed most of her drawings over the winter, so she worked primarily from photographs and samples from Norris Muth, assistant professor of botany.

Finan, the daughter of Frank and Nancy Finan, used the project as one of her work samples for her applications to graduate programs. Her portfolio, which included samples of many other paintings, photographs and ceramic pieces, impressed the University of California, Santa Cruz enough that she was accepted to the university's graduate science illustration program next fall.

"It was nice to get artistic feedback at Juniata, because it's so science-oriented."
Kelly Finan '08

"Generally people who go through this program are working to become scientific illustrators or researchers who illustrate their own articles," she explains. "I'm still very interested in research, so I will use this as an added skill for my scientific research."

In addition to her artistic preparation, Finan also is well-prepared for a research career. In her senior year, she completed a research project characterizing the habitat of box turtles and wood turtles at Raystown Field Station. She created a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) map detailing how both species of turtles use the Raystown Lake habitat.

She also pursued her research and artistic inclinations beyond Juniata's boundaries. In summer 2006 she spent 10 weeks at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in Jekyll Island, Ga. She expanded her horizons again in fall 2007 when she studied abroad at the University of San Francisco of Quito (Ecuador) and spent much of the time among the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands.

While creating her pen-and-ink plant illustrations this semester, Finan received more artistic training by taking an independent study course on scientific illustration, taught by Monika Malewska, assistant professor of art.

She displayed her work on the field guide at Juniata's research event, the Juniata Liberal Arts Symposium, which was held April 16. "It was nice to get artistic feedback at Juniata, because it's so science-oriented," she says. "I got lots of compliments on the work, which is nice."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.