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K-State Today

May 23, 2023

Division of Biology graduate students receive annual research and teaching awards

Submitted by Kathrin Schrick

The Division of Biology hosted its annual Graduate Student Awards Ceremony on April 28 at Union Station by JP’s. As the largest unit in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Division of Biology is home to approximately 46 graduate students pursuing master's or doctoral degrees in diverse areas of the biological sciences.

Two graduate students received awards for outstanding oral presentations at the 48th Annual Graduate Student Research Forum, which was held in the Alumni Center on April 17. The awards are named after two former professors from the department of zoology, which predated the Division of Biology: James E. Ackert and H. Henley Haymaker. Ackert also served as a former dean of the Graduate School.

  • John Cleveland received the James E. Ackert Award for his presentation, "Going With the Flow. Does Hatchery Flow Training Influence the Movement of Stocked Age-1 Colorado Pikeminnow in the San Juan River?"
  • Emily Burghardt received the H. Henley Haymaker Award for her presentation, "Transcriptome Analysis Reveals Temporally Regulated Genetic Networks During Border Cell Collective Migration."

Five other Division of Biology graduate students received awards for excellence in research, and one student was honored with a teaching award. Each award recipient has shown evidence of a productive graduate career, having published one or more scientific articles within the past two years. The awardees are as follows:

  • Rachel Keen, John C. Frazier Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Research in Plant Science. Frazier was a faculty member in the department of plant pathology and botany prior to the inception of the Division of Biology. Keen's research explores plant ecophysiological responses to drought, with a particular emphasis on ecohydrological change following grassland conversion to shrubland. Her work is collaborative and interdisciplinary, focusing on tallgrass prairie and South African savanna. Keen was recently honored at the Capitol Graduate Research Summit in Topeka for her poster highlighting how woody encroachment affects water yields on the Konza Prairie, and she earned her doctorate this May.
  • Bianca Morejon Viteri, L. Evans Roth Award for Graduate Student Research in Cellular, Molecular or Developmental Biology, named after the first director of the Division of Biology. Viteri’s research on the molecular biology of mosquito immunity identified a complex regulatory network that fights bacterial and fungal infections. To facilitate these studies, Viteri devised and recently published a bioassay for antimicrobial activity of mosquito hemolymph. Viteri plans to complete her doctoral research in the next year.
  • Matthew Nieland, Chris Edler Award for Outstanding Research on Konza, named after a former graduate student in the Division of Biology. Nieland recently published a research article on how microbial ecosystems respond to long-term nitrogen fertilization and fire treatments at the Konza Prairie Biological Station. He established his ecological research career as an undergraduate in a Research Experience for Undergraduates program at Konza. Thereafter, Nieland continued his research in microbial ecology and biogeochemistry on Konza, earning his doctorate degree this May.
  • Libby Wilson, Christopher C. Smith Graduate Student Award in Evolutionary Biology. Former Division of Biology faculty member C.C. Smith was an ecologist who studied evolutionary trade-offs in foraging biology and reproduction. In Wilson's first project, she examined how seasonal diets affect metabolic adaptations in extremophile fish models, and she has since published these findings in a first-author paper. Wilson’s current research in the area of evolutionary biology investigates whether host-microbiome interactions play a role in adaptation to extreme environments.
  • Sophia Bonjour, Robert J. Robel Graduate Student Award in Wildlife Biology and Ecology, named after a former Division of Biology faculty member and eminent wildlife ecologist who devoted his career to game bird research. During her master's work, Bonjour authored several publications on freshwater ecosystems affecting fish populations at Konza. Bonjour's doctoral research addresses the importance of tributaries toward the reproductive success of native fishes of the Colorado River Basin.
  • Emily Wedel, Michael Scott Watkins Teaching Award, in memory of a former graduate student in the Division of Biology. Wedel has taught five different courses in the past two years, including Ecology Lab, Plant Physiology Lab and Savanna Ecology. Wedel's students describe her as an exceptional educator and wonderful teacher and mentor who is dedicated and passionate about sharing her knowledge. Wedel's research investigates tree-grass responses to future climate change in the African savanna and the physiological mechanisms underpinning woody encroachment in tallgrass prairie. She plans to complete her doctorate later this year.