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K-State Today

May 20, 2024

Research and teaching awards presented at Division of Biology's annual awards ceremony

Submitted by Kathrin Schrick

The Division of Biology hosted its annual Graduate Student Awards Ceremony on May 3. The division is home to approximately 57 graduate students pursuing master's or doctoral degrees in biology or microbiology.

Two graduate students received awards for outstanding oral presentations at the 49th annual Graduate Student Research Forum in the Hale Library on April 1. David Hayes received the James E. Ackert Award for his presentation on "Mosquito-Associated Fungi Produce Larvicidal Compounds of Mosquito Control Potential." Bianca Morejon Viteri received the H. Henley Haymaker Award for her presentation on "How Mosquitoes Maintain Immune Balance to Survive Infections." The awards are named after two former professors from the department of zoology, which predated the Division of Biology. Ackert served as a former dean of the Graduate School.

Three other Division of Biology graduate students received awards for excellence in research, and one student was honored with a teaching award.

Sidney Noble received the Chris Edler Award for Outstanding Research on Konza, named after a former graduate student in the Division of Biology. Noble was instrumental in establishing a long-term experiment to study the influence of bison on woody encroachment and plant communities on the Konza Prairie Biological Station. Noble also conducted comparative fieldwork on the effects of bison grazing in other North American prairie systems including the Badlands National Park and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in South Dakota and North Dakota, respectively. Noble will complete his doctoral degree very soon, and he has accepted a position as a botanist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Idaho.

Bilal Ahmad received the L. Evans Roth Award for Outstanding Graduate Research in Cellular, Molecular or Developmental Biology, named after the first director of the Division of Biology. Ahmad's research on developmental regulators of the plant epidermis has uncovered evolutionarily conserved protein motifs that mediate nuclear localization and chromatin remodeling. In each case, Ahmad identified the interacting proteins and molecular mechanism involved in regulating gene expression. Ahmad plans to finalize his doctoral research by the end of the year.

Sarah Herzog received the John C. Frazier Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Research in Plant Science, named after a professor in the department of plant pathology and botany prior to the inception of the Division of Biology. Herzog's research examines impacts of a changing climate on North American native herbaceous plant populations. Herzog particularly focuses on how rare plants will respond to a changing climate. Herzog is planning to complete her doctoral research by the end of the year.

Anna Kazarina was honored with the Michael Scott Watkins Teaching Award, in memory of a former graduate student in the Division of Biology. Kazarina has taught laboratory sections for General Microbiology for the past four years, and she served as a course material developer last year. She was also a guest lecturer for Biology of Fungi and Host-Microbiome Metagenomics for multiple years. Kazarina earned the Teaching and Learning Center Professional Development Certificate, and expanded her teaching pedagogy through Teaching University STEM and Principles of College Teaching. Kazarina's students describe her as an outstanding educator and mentor who sincerely cares about her students with a teaching style that fosters active engagement. Kazarina's graduate research project is in the area of microbial ecology and impacts on plant-host growth, and she plans to complete her doctoral degree in microbiology within the next year.

At the end of the awards ceremony, the Biology Graduate Student Association honored Zak Ratajczak, assistant professor of biology, with the Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award. Ratajczak leads a research program in grassland ecology and resilience, and he teaches Resilience Theory and Application, a popular graduate seminar.