Millikin University Biology Major Lanie Chizmark Investigates the Health of Illinois’ Birds of Prey

Chizmark completed a Performance Learning research project at the Illinois Raptor Center last summer.

Lanie Chizmark

DECATUR, Ill. – As her graduation approaches, Millikin University senior Biology major Lanie Chizmark looks forward to continuing her studies in graduate school and a future career in medicine. 

But for the Leighty Science Scholar, she has honed her laboratory and statistical research skills dealing with the health of a species other than humans. 

Last summer, Lanie was one of several Millikin students taking part in Performance Learning opportunities at the Illinois Raptor Center (IRC), located just outside Decatur on the Sangamon River. The IRC rehabilitates injured and sick birds of prey (such as eagles, falcons, kestrels, hawks, and owls), and the center has a close relationship with Millikin as Biology Professor Dr. Travis Wilcoxen serves as IRC Board President and has been involved with the group for more than a decade. 

Lanie Chizmark
Lanie Chizmark with a baby Barn Owl at the Illinois Raptor Center. 

Performance Learning research abounds at the IRC, and Lanie investigated the number of birds of prey that came to the center suffering from the effects of being poisoned. 

“My experience with birds before this was very, very minimal. I do not have much experience, but I had a great time working with some volunteers at the center. My research was to find the prevalence of birds admitted to the Raptor Center that failed blood clotting tests. We were concerned that birds were being affected by rodenticides that they were consuming through any rodents they were eating,” Lanie said. “I looked at six species – barn owls, American kestrels, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, the eastern screech owls – and we found that about 10% percent of the birds admitted had improper clotting factors.”

Lanie Chizmark and Travis Wilcoxen.
Millikin Biology Professor Travis Wilcoxen (right) and Biology major Lanie Chizmark (left) conducted research at the Illinois Raptor Center. 

Lanie spent about 10 hours a week over the summer conducting her research, and she accessed collected blood samples from 485 birds that had been at the IRC, dating back to 2016. She will use the data for her upcoming capstone project and present her findings at the 2024 Celebration of Scholarship’s Poster Symposium on April 26. 

“This opportunity allowed me to do independent research, and I got to see all of the processes that go into creating a project and sticking with a plan,” Lanie said. “Having the opportunity to be in a veterinarian setting and getting to do the test that we were doing, like drawing blood samples, measuring all the data, was helpful to see.”

Lanie Chizmark
Millikin Biology major Lanie Chizmark is also a Leighty Science Scholar.

Along with being a standout student, Lanie is also an essential part of the Millikin Women’s Softball Team, playing centerfield on the team looking to make its fourth straight appearance in the NCAA Division III Softball Tournament. 

“I would say I'm a stronger defensive player. I am usually No. 2 in the lineup, so I get to use my bunting skills. I love running the bases and stealing bases,” Lanie said. “As a senior, I think my role on the team is to be a good role model and to have discipline. Being in centerfield, I am basically the leader of the outfield. My main role is to be very open as a communicator and provide any advice I may have. I must stay positive and have a good energy for the other underclassmen to look up to.”

Lanie Chizmark
Millikin's Lanie Chizmark (12) leads the defense in the outfield at centerfield. Photo by Christy Warlow. 

Student-athletes interested in medicine and nursing can sometimes run into challenges at other universities in balancing their studies with athletics, but Lanie’s Millikin experience was seamless in balancing her interests. 

“I have been very fortunate to have teachers that are understanding. I think sometimes people are scared away from pursuing the nursing or medical field because of the workload, but the teachers at Millikin were so flexible, and they made sure I was meeting every requirement,” Lanie said. “When I had to miss a day for a game or practice, they were very understanding. I think I had more opportunities being a student-athlete at Millikin than at other schools.”

“I chose Millikin because I liked the environment. I liked the size of the classes and the teacher-to-student ratio. I’m super happy that I made the decision that I did.”