Notable Faculty & Student Achievements
Hot Off the Press: Antonio Mendez ’20 is a coauthor on the peer-reviewed article “CroSR391, an Ortholog of the λ Cro Repressor, Plays a Major Role in Suppressing polVR391-Dependent Mutagenesis” in the journal Molecular Microbiology. Working with Dr. Martín Gonzalez, Mendez collaborated on the research with Roger Woodgate of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.
A new research project by Assistant Professor of Biology Jennie DeMarco was featured in the newspaper Summit Daily, which serves the Summit County, Colorado, area. The article, titled “Copper Mountain Resort Begins 10-Year Carbon Sequestration Study,” highlighted the collaboration between Southwestern University, the Copper Mountain ski resort, and Peak Ecological Services, LLC, to investigate the impact of ski slope restoration as a nature climate solution.
Assistant Professor of Biology Jennie DeMarco and Southwestern students Gabrielle Garza ’22, Guadalupe Sanchez ’23, and Christine Vanginault ’23 attended a conservation summit held July 27 at the Copper Mountain ski resort in Colorado. DeMarco and her collaborators—Jeff Grasser, efficiency manager at Copper Mountain, and Rea Orthner, botanist/ecologist with Peak Ecological Services, LLC—presented their research project titled “Ski Slope Restoration as a Nature Climate Solution.” The goal of the summit was to enhance collaboration and provide an opportunity for resort operators, land managers, and researchers to share innovative methods for enhancing the conservation of local ecosystems impacted by recreation.
Assistant Professor of Biology Jennie DeMarcowas awarded $14,580 from the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservation District for her grant proposal titled “From Transect to Landscape: Investigating the Role of Remote Sensing Tools to Monitor Soil Moisture with Wet Meadow Restoration in the Gunnison Valley.”
Assistant Professor of Biology Jennie DeMarco presented her research titled “Evaluating the Carbon Sequestration Potential and Drought Resilience with Wet Meadow Restoration under a Changing Climate” at the High Altitude Revegetation Committee and Society for Ecological Restoration–Rocky Mountains Chapter 2022 Conference held April 13–14, in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Assistant Professor of Biology Kim McArthur gave an invited virtual presentation on equity in grading to the Union College (Schenectady, New York) faculty on March 22. The presentation, titled “Rethinking Traditional Grading, Working Towards Equity,” provided a framework for considering the impact of traditional grading practices on student equity, with suggestions for reconsidering and fully aligning assessment practices with course learning objectives.
During the last weekend of February, Professor of Biology Romi Burks and Professor of Biology Ben Pierce took eight biologists to the Texas Academy of Sciences (TAS) Annual Meeting in Clear Lake, Texas. Southwestern student contributions included two posters and two oral presentations as well as an exciting second-place team finish in “Science Jeopardy.”
- Two of Pierce’s research students, Sydney Cole ’23 and Claire Bason ’23, won second place for best undergraduate poster in the terrestrial ecology and management section for their work on chirping frogs and mites titled “Chigger Mite Prevalence in Texas Chirping Frogs Based on Citizen Science.” Additional student coauthors included Emma Kesterson ’23 and Gina Rameriz ’23.
- In the freshwater science section, Lillian Dolapchiev ’23 gave a talk titled “Filter Me … If You Can: Using Size Fractionation to Separate, Measure, and Determine the Size of Pomacea maculataeDNA.” Her coauthors included Cynthia Bashara ’23, Matthew Barnes ’06, and Burks. Dolapchiev earned first place for best undergraduate oral presentation within the freshwater science section.
- In the same section, Bashara gave an oral presentation titled “Snail ( Pomacea maculata ) Days of Summer: Associations Between Reproductive Output, Snail Removal Efforts, and Environmental DNA (eDNA) Concentration,” which included Dolapchiev, Barnes, Burks, and Chris Vaughn from the San Antonio River Authority as coauthors. Bashara took the second place award in the category.
- Together, Bashara and Dolapchiev presented their specific research objectives completed over the summer during SCOPE as a poster presentation titled “Stop Escargo in San Antonio: Developing Best Methodology for Detecting Pomacea maculataUsing Environmental DNA (eDNA).” This poster won second place for best undergraduate poster in the freshwater science section.
- Two more research students of Burks, Kate Henderson ’25 and Abby White ’25, also presented a poster in the freshwater science section titled “Keep Austin Snail-Free: Ongoing Removal of Pomacea maculataand Evaluation by eDNA.” The poster was coauthored by Bashara, Dolapchiev, and Dave Christie, who owns a home in Austin that has been invaded by apple snails. Henderson and White put together this poster based on just a semester of lab involvement.
- In addition to collaborating with Burks and coauthoring presentations with Bashara and Dolapchiev, Barnes, an associate professor at Texas Tech University, served as vice president of the academy and transitioned into his 2022–2023 role as president-elect. He will oversee the program at next year’s TAS meeting at San Angelo State University. His own undergraduate and graduate students from Texas Tech also won a poster presentation and a research grant award, respectively.
- Photos from the Awards Banquet can be seen on the TAS website.
Professor of Biology Romi Burks recently participated in a podcast called Conversations About Cocoa where she discussed her educational journey to becoming a “chocolate expert.” Host Lauren Heineck, a chocolate educator and moderator of the Facebook group for chocolate professionals Well Tempered, spoke with Burks about her mission in education, the chocolate industry, and how studying apple snails translates into understanding more about the genetics of cacao (the plant from which chocolate comes) and vice versa. You can access the podcast on Heineck’s website.
Five Southwestern students had the opportunity to extend their coursework and research experience beyond the classroom with poster presentations at the Texas Conservation Symposium, which was cosponsored by Southwestern and the Williamson County Conservation Foundation. The students all had the opportunity to interact with keynote speaker Kelly Ramirez, assistant professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and cofounder of 500 Women Scientists. Three of the presentations built on work the students did during the fall 2021 Conservation Biology course taught by Professor of Biology Romi Burks. These presentations, each of which delved into analyzing a particular Texas ecoregion, included the following:
- Katherine Montgomery ’23: “The Blackland Prairies in 2050: Never Lost, Just Too Often Forgotten”
- Lauren Wheat ’23: “Edwards Plateau 2050: Need for Increased Conservation of Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo Nesting Habitat”
- Nicole Ratjak ’22: “2050 at the Beach? Conservation Concerns for the Future of the Texas Gulf Coast and Prairies Ecosystem”
In addition, two students mentored by Burks in the Molecular Aquatic Ecology Lab, Lillian Dolapchiev ’23 and Cynthia Bashara ’23, presented their research from the 2021 SCOPE program titled “Escar-go to San Antonio: Using Environmental DNA to Detect the Non-native Invasive Species Pomacea maculata.”
Both Montgomery and Dolapchiev received recognition for outstanding presentations. Michael Gervasi ’23 also had his poster, “Trans Pecos 2050,” on display. You can view the ecoregions posters on Burks’s website.
Professor of Biology Ben Pierce and Assistant Professor of Biology Jennie DeMarco also gave presentations on their research, “Relative Tail Width as an Indication of Body Condition in Central Texas Euryceasalamanders” and “Invasive Species Litter Quality Alters Ecosystem Function through Enhanced Litter Decomposition Independent of Drought Conditions,” respectively. Pierce works each year to organize this symposium on behalf of Southwestern.