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K-State Today

April 30, 2020

Division of Biology names most promising students

Submitted by Nancy Thompson

Fifteen sophomores and juniors in biology, microbiology, and fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology will receive the Division of Biology's 2019-2020 Most Promising Student Awards.

Faculty nominated students for the award. Grades, rigor of academic program, extracurricular activities, recommendations by faculty, and performance in an interview were factors used to determine the award winners. Division of Biology faculty sponsor the Most Promising Student award and consider it to be one of the greatest honors bestowed on biology students at K-State. The winners are an accomplished group of students, representing the breadth of biology in their interests.

The following students are recipients of the 2020 Division of Biology Most Promising Student Award:

Ryan Donnelly is a sophomore in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology from Los Angeles, California. He has conducted research with David Haukos and Alice Boyle and currently is working at the Kansas State University Herbarium, under the supervision of Carolyn Ferguson. He is a member of the University Honors Program. Donnelly is an excellent naturalist, with interests in plants, birds and insects, who has impressed his mentors with his hard work and ability to think critically. As an enthusiastic participant in iNaturalist, a citizen science project and online social network, Donnelly shares his observations about nature with people around the world. He is also the organizer of Manhattan's City Nature Challenge for 2019 and 2020.

Emma Francis is a junior in biology from Topeka. She currently works in Rollie Clem's laboratory, where she is investigating the interactions between Sindbus virus and its mosquito host. She serves as a certified peer educator in WellCAT Ambassadors. In this position, she educates K-State students by providing evidence-based health and wellness information. Francis is serious, mature and hard-working. In addition to her scientific endeavors, Francis is a campus tour guide for New Student Services and is active in her sorority, Alpha Delta Pi. Francis is looking forward to a career in medicine.

Victoria Gaa is a sophomore in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology from Overland Park. She works for the Konza Prairie Long-term Ecological Research program at Kansas State University, where she is an outstanding lab and field assistant. She also works in the entomology department, photographing moth and butterfly specimens for the Lepidoptera database. In addition, Gaa finds time to volunteer at the Kansas City Zoo. Gaa is eager to learn and dedicated to her studies.

Cathryn Haas is a junior in microbiology from Wamego. She currently serves as president of the Microbiology Club. Haas is involved in two research laboratories, Kimberly Kirkpatrick's in psychological sciences and Lorena Passarelli's in biology. In the Kirkpatrick laboratory, Haas cares for animals, conducts behavioral testing, and is attempting to manipulate cells in the nervous system with viral vectors. In the Passarelli laboratory, Haas is determining the subcellular location of an enzymatic reaction that modifies viral proteins. Haas is a strong student, who thinks deeply about her work. She is considering a career in research.

Tommy Herrera is a junior in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology from Shawnee. He participates in evolutionary ecology research with Andrew Hope. Herrera has gained considerable experience in the field and in the lab, where he excels in specimen preparation, preservation and curation. With a strong interest in mammalian conservation, he traveled to Thailand and Cambodia to work with rehabilitated Asian elephants, macaques, gibbons and waterfowl. Herrera is a Developing Scholar and a McNair Scholar. He plans to pursue graduate studies and a career in academia.

Elise Hesseltine is a junior in biology from Orange Grove, Texas. Hesseltine worked on a research project involving red flour beetles with Alison Gerken at the USDA-ARS Center for Grain and Animal Health Research. She also works as an assistant to the College of Arts and Sciences accounting office. Hesseltine is a vice president for the newly launched Biology Ambassadors group and is a member of the Honors Program. Her advisor describes her as "mega-capable." Hesseltine is on track to complete her biology degree, entomology minor and the Honors Program requirements within three years before entering the College of Veterinary Medicine, where she has been accepted through the early admission program.

Reilly Jensen is a junior majoring in biology and Spanish from Buhler. He is doing research with Thomas Platt on the evolution of pathogens, and he has co-authored a research article. Jensen has a strong work ethic and is highly motivated to make progress in his research. Jensen has an unwavering interest in Spanish and Latin American cultures, as well as in teaching and mentoring. Jensen is bilingual, and he has lived abroad. He actively volunteers with underrepresented groups in STEM, including serving as a 4-H mentor. Jensen is interested in neurobiology and plans to pursue a career in research.

Kale Mills is a junior majoring in biology and minoring in Spanish from Clearwater. He is a member of the University Honors Program. The things that stand out the most about Mills, besides his outstanding academic capabilities, are his good humor and ability to work with others. He also has impressed many people with his kindness and his sincere interest in helping people. This is manifested in his work with the Boys and Girls Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters. He also has pursued research at the KU School of Medicine-Wichita on parental perceptions of vaccinations, resulting in co-authorship on a publication. Mills has been very involved in Pre-Health Ambassadors and is currently president of the Pre-Medicine Club at K-State. Mills plans to become a physician.

Abdulrahman Naeem is a junior majoring in biology with a minor in political science from Manhattan. Naeem is currently carrying out research in plant biology in the laboratory of Ruth Welti, and previously participated in a research project in entomology. Naeem has a sincere and optimistic approach that helps him thrive in new situations. He has solid academic ability, a curious mind and a passion for learning. Naeem is a certified nursing assistant and volunteers in patient care. He is interested in a career in teaching and/or research, and is dedicated to the idea of improving the world through his work.

Miriam Reynaldo is a sophomore majoring in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology with a minor in statistics from Loyal, Wisconsin. Reynaldo is an enthusiastic avian ecological researcher, working with Alice Boyle. Reynaldo's strengths lie in her intellectual perception, integrity and work ethic. She is first-rate at interpreting field-collected data and effectively communicating her research results. Reynaldo spent the summer of 2019 at the University of New Mexico's Research Experience for Undergraduates at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, working on Scott's orioles. Reynaldo plans a career in scientific research.

Elizabeth Riforgiate is a sophomore in biology from Manhattan. She works in the research lab of Nicholas Wallace, where she studies cancer-related cell signaling. She is a co-author of a paper recently submitted for publication. Riforgiate is technically superb in the lab and has strong skills in communicating her results. She is a member of the University Honors Program and serves as treasurer of the Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity Club. She volunteers in the Ascension Via Christi Hospital emergency room, and she is currently is serving as practicum student — instructional assistant — in introductory biology. Riforgiate is a great citizen scholar, who is interested in a career in medicine.

Kourtney Rumback is a sophomore majoring in biology and psychology and minoring in Spanish from Oakley. She is a member of the University Honors Program and performs in the K-State choir. She works as an emergency medical technician in Logan County and is also a certified nurse's aide. She is involved in research in the laboratory of Kimberly Kirkpatrick in psychological sciences. There, she is working on diet-induced impulsivity, and has begun a new project to characterize a model system's microbiome during a diet study. Rumback is an inquisitive, passionate and dedicated researcher, who is interested in a career in medicine, and using research to improve medical treatment.

Pranav Savanur is a junior in biology from Bangalore, India. Savanur is passionate about health care accessibility, and he is unusually talented in his ability to work with people. His mission is to transform health care access for women and children in underserved and impoverished areas. He is a WellCAT Ambassador for Lafene Health Center, educating students about wellness. Savanur traveled to South Africa in the summer after his freshman year and earned a Gilman Scholarship to study in Liverpool, U.K. during his sophomore year. Back at K-State, he began working with RESULTS, advocating for bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress on global and domestic poverty-related issues. He heads the local RESULTS effort. Savanur plans to attend graduate school in public health before going to medical school, and to continue to support health improvements in communities near and far.

Adara Warner is a sophomore in microbiology from Concordia. She works in the laboratory of Kathrin Schrick, characterizing plant transcription factors. Warner is a bright and motivated student who quickly grasps complex concepts. She is skilled in microscopy, capturing beautiful images of leaf hairs, roots with elaborate root hairs, and seeds stained to reveal their seed coat mucilage. Warner won an Outstanding Poster Award for her presentation of her research at the 2020 Kansas-IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence conference in Wichita. She serves as vice president of the Microbiology Club. Warner plans to attend medical school and pursue a career as a pathologist.

Lake Winter is a sophomore majoring in microbiology and minoring in anthropology from Concordia. He is a member of the University Honors Program and scholarship chair for Smith Scholarship House. Winter carries out research in the laboratory of Zhilong Yang, characterizing regulation of the expression of certain vaccinia virus enzymes during the virus infection. Winter is persistent in the lab and critically analyzes his experimental results. In class, Winter is an active learner, who is willing to help others understand difficult concepts.

The faculty of the Division of Biology are delighted to award these outstanding students the Most Promising Student Award, and look forward to their continued success in their respective fields.