Professor of Biology Romi Burks engaged in a number of off-campus presentations in February about her research on apple snails and environmental DNA and also her passion and philosophy of teaching through chocolate. The chocolate events occurred in person, while the science talks occurred as part of a federal government-sponsored workshop and a Texas-based science podcast. On February 12: Not Just a Casual Love Affair: How to Cultivate a Real Relationship with Chocolate; Lecture and tasting at the Rockport Center for the Arts, February 17: Biology & Chemistry of Chocolate; Lecture and tasting for Westwood High School Enrichment Program, February 21st: Now You See Them, Now You Don’t? Using eDNA to confirm removal of invasive snails by local agency; APHIS-USDA 2023 Apple Snail Workshop, and February 24th: Science Stories Podcast (Live on community radio station KZSM) with Dr. Mateo Garcia, a postdoctoral researcher at Texas State University.

—February 2023

Professor of Biology and 2022 London Faculty Romi Burks gave an invited presentation on October 22 on chocolate education entitled “Making the word chocolate mean more to everyone” at the first edition of the Latin American International Festival of Chocolate and Cocoa in Europe. This event took place in partnership with The Chocolate Story Museum and WOW/Vinte Vinte at their location in the cultural district in Vila Nova de Gaia in Porto, Portugal. During the following week (October 26-27), Burks participated as an invited judge for filled chocolates at The Academy of Chocolate awards back in London.

—November 2022

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
—March 2022

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.

—February 2022

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.

—January 2022