Making an impact — in the field + on the field

impact-on-the-fieldFor Mount Mercy University sophomore and Cedar Rapids native Meleah Baloch, turtles and turf are opening whole new worlds of learning. The gifted biology major is also an accomplished soccer player with aspirations of becoming a neurosurgeon. Mount Mercy provides the perfect setting for science and soccer.

Baloch spent the summer in the sand prairies of eastern Iowa researching ornate box turtles.

“This is our 19th year studying this population,” said Dr. Neil Bernstein, professor of biology and Baloch’s advisor. “We are studying the home range, dispersal and growth in hatchling ornate box turtles as a continuation of studies on adults.”

Dr. Neil Bernstein, professor of biology and Baloch’s advisor.
Dr. Neil Bernstein, professor of biology and Baloch’s advisor.

A team of researchers from Mount Mercy, in collaboration with Cornell College, spent the summer in the field.

“We place very tiny radio transmitters on the turtles to monitor their position, movement, behavior and habitat,” Bernstein said.

“Meleah is very accomplished,” Bernstein said. “Not only is she bright, dedicated, athletic and goal-oriented, but she is a consistent and dependable person I am fortunate to have her on the project. Meleah and I are also planning on adding medically-oriented volunteer, job shadowing and research opportunities to her resume, all of which will further her future goals.”

“The research is going to help me a lot with getting into medical school,” Baloch said. “The opportunities I have here are a lot more than what I had in high school. My friends joke that I’m a turtle hunter now, and I am OK with that!”

The work being done goes far beyond field work.

“Neil gave us an equation that will get us to growth rate and help determine age classes of turtles,” Baloch said, embracing the challenge. “As a state-threatened species, the research being done on ornate box turtles is important and can ultimately contribute to their survival for centuries to come.”

On the field, with the Mount Mercy Women’s Soccer Team, Baloch is also making a difference.

“Meleah is a very strong player,” said Raven McMurrin, women’s soccer head coach. “She played in the mid-field much of last season and was asked to play the back line a few times. She transitioned from one position to the other perfectly and persevered through every challenge. Meleah is a great example of the students we would like to have at Mount Mercy. It is our responsibility to make sure her experience, like that of all of our students, is a great one that sets her up for success.”

Baloch credits her accomplished professors along with Coach McMurrin on her decision to become a Mustang. “My dad gave me a love of science, and the professors and coaches I met when I visited sealed my decision to come to Mount Mercy,” she said. “The coaches believe in academics first and that is very important to me.”

Coach McMurrin couldn’t agree more.

“Academics is the number one priority, always,” McMurrin said. “Students are going to college to get a degree to use for the rest of their lives. We try to schedule matches so they don’t interfere with classes. My athletes will never miss class because of practice. Those that need some extra help academically are free to go to study sessions and miss practice without consequence. We want them to be successful.”

“Soccer is going to help me build leadership skills, but I know that my coaches believe in success in my studies first,” Baloch said.

Coach McMurrin encourages her students from the very minute they step on the field. Proactively talking about time management from the very beginning, McMurrin’s team conversations include discussions that stress both academic success and success on the soccer field.

The Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex, now in fundraising and planning stages, has a great deal of importance for Baloch.

“I’m really excited to have a place of our own,” she said. “Having the field right down the street will definitely be better than commuting and sometimes getting moved around.”

Her local high school gave her a taste for the turf of the soccer field.

Sophomore and Mustangs defensive mid Meleah Baloch
Sophomore and Mustangs defensive mid Meleah Baloch

“Prairie spoiled me, so I’m excited for the turf,” Baloch said. “For the most part, we’re currently playing on grass. With turf there are no bumps or holes you have to worry about. It makes the game a lot faster. You have to be careful with your passes and touches because the ball rolls more quickly. It makes the game more exciting and helps improve our skills because we’re focusing more on accuracy.”

Indeed, enthusiasm for the complex is echoed by Mustang athletes past and present.

Baloch said that the students she has met at Mount Mercy, who come from all over the world, is another benefit of being on the Hill.

“It is really cool to meet people from different countries and learn about their culture,” she said. “I might get to go to Australia someday to visit a friend I met at Mount Mercy!”

Baloch is working toward a Spanish minor, under the guidance of Belkis Suarez, assistant professor of Spanish, a choice she believes will help her down the road.

“I think knowing Spanish and understanding a little bit about how other people communicate will help me a lot in my career as a doctor,” Baloch said.

On the rare occasion when Baloch has some free hours, she stays close to home.

“I spend a lot of time with my family and a couple of close friends,” she said. “In my down time, I really like to chill out with the people I care about.”

Within her circle is her sister, and fellow Mustang, Aminah Baloch, a junior psychology major who is also a soccer teammate.

“You can do sports. You can do research. You can do pretty much anything you want at Mount Mercy,” Baloch concluded.

Written by Lisa Lafler ’93