Balancing Bat Nets and Sports Nets

Lexi Brown ’16 personifies the scholar-athlete ideal

Kara McDuffee ’15

People at st. lawrence university might know Alexis “Lexi” Brown ’16 for her success on the volleyball court and strong presence in the classroom. What they might not know, however, is that she has done years of cutting-edge research on bats. 

Since sophomore year of high school, Lexi, a biology major and geology minor, has been making annual trips to a remote research field station in Costa Rica to study bats. “Nobody knows much about bats there, so there’s high potential for new findings,” she says. 

Every night in the rainforest, the Sayville, New York, native spends two to three hours catching bats in a mistnet (think of a volleyball net, with smaller spaces). After identifying the gender, age and species of the bat, she carefully removes its parasites using tape. The unharmed bat is set free after five minutes, but Lexi will spend hours analyzing and enumerating the parasites. Further analysis is done in a lab in the United States.

“We’re trying to find correlations between the type of parasites and type of bat,” she explains, “as well as compare the genetics of these parasites with the ones already in genetic databases.” Eventually, this research could be used to increase our knowledge of disease ecology and how to protect humans from the spread of diseases carried by bats.

For summer 2015, Lexi received a St. Lawrence Tanner Fellowship to spend 12 more days in the rainforest to expand her research, which she has turned into an honors thesis.

Despite the time Lexi dedicates to her research, she still has found time to achieve All-America recognition on the volleyball court. Ranked in the top ten for eight St. Lawrence records, she finished her career as the all-time career leader in kills, and was named a Regional Academic All-American as both a junior and a senior.

“Lexi is the epitome of what we want all of our student athletes to strive for,” says head coach Shelly Roiger. “Her passion for volleyball is unreal, but it doesn’t hold a match to the passion she has for bats.”

Lexi has seemed to master the balance between academics and athletics. She once managed to attend the annual North American Society for Bat Research conference in Albany during the day and play a volleyball match that night. Her mother, a specialist in the evolutionary relationship between organisms and in molecular ecology, had to present her poster for her, but Lexi didn’t seem disappointed—perhaps because she will be presenting at the International Bat Research Conference this summer in South Africa.

Lexi has even fitted in a semester on St. Lawrence’s program in Australia. She is considering returning to study flying foxes, which have a five-foot wingspan and, according to Lexi, “are adorable.”  

Whatever country she ends up in, she wants to pursue a doctorate in conservation ecology and continue to study bats and diseases. “My professors at St. Lawrence have helped me shape my plans for future research,” Lexi states. “I’ve had such a meaningful experience.”

Though her volleyball career might be ending soon, it seems certain her research career is just getting started.

Kara McDuffee, also a stellar scholar-athlete at St. Lawrence, is an English teacher and girls’ basketball coach at Brewster Academy, as well as her class’s reporter to this magazine.

Whether she's powering volleyballs over the net in Burkman Gym or studying bats in Central America to learn more about disease transmission, Lexi Brown '16 is a St. Lawrence standout. (Photo courtesy Lexi Brown)
"Her passion for volleyball is unreal, but it doesn't hold a match to the passion she has for bats"
(Photo courtesy Lexi Brown)