Public Release: 

ESA announces winners of 2014 Monsanto Student Grant winners

Entomological Society of America

The Entomological Society of America (ESA) is pleased to announce the winners of the 2014 Monsanto Research Grant Awards and the 2014 Monsanto Student Travel Awards. The research grants will provide funds to outstanding ESA student members who are undertaking research projects. The funds may be used for salaries, equipment, supplies, or travel to initiate, accelerate, augment, or expand a research project. The Travel Awards were created to promote interest in entomology at the graduate level and to stimulate interest in attending ESA's Annual Meeting.

MONSANTO RESEARCH GRANT AWARD WINNERS:

Flor Edith Acevedo is a PhD candidate at the Pennsylvania State University. Her dissertation research focuses on the study of the adaptive mechanisms used by polyphagous insects to exploit different host plants. She has been working in entomology for the last 10 years. For her undergraduate thesis research, she developed DNA molecular markers in the coffee berry borer to study the dispersion of this insect in field conditions. After receiving her bachelor's degree in 2006 from Universidad de Caldas (Colombia), she joined the entomology team of the Colombian Center for Coffee Research (Cenicafé), where she studied the genetic variability of the coffee berry borer in Colombia. In 2010, she started her PhD studies at Penn State, partially sponsored by a Fulbright scholarship. Flor has been captivated by research in the field of insect-plant interactions. She is interested in understanding how insects evolved the ability to feed on plants and how this influences insect diversification. Further avenues that she would like to explore are related to the factors driving insect-plant specialization and its relation to speciation. She is also interested in studying the evolution of neuroethological adaptations mediating host finding in plant feeding insects.

Carrie Deans grew up in rural Minnesota in a small town called Jackson. For her undergraduate degree, she attended the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, where she worked with Adam Kay and Kyle Zimmer on several projects focused on the nutritional ecology of aquatic insects. In 2005, she graduated with a BA in biology and in environmental studies. Afterwards, she took some time away from academia and worked several jobs in the natural resources field, including a term of service with the Minnesota Conservation Corps and work at Willow River State Park in Wisconsin. She then went back to school to obtain an MS in ecology and natural resources at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, where she worked in Neal Voelz's stream ecology lab. Her master's project was largely an extension of her undergraduate work in the field of ecological stoichiometry, a sub-field of nutritional ecology that focuses on the balance of elements in consumer-resource interactions. For her doctorate, she wanted to focus more on organismal biology and physiology as a means to understand the mechanisms driving the phenomena that she had observed in her stoichiometric work, which led her to join the labs of Spencer Behmer and Gregory Sword at Texas A&M University. Their combined expertise in the fields of insect physiology and nutritional ecology has helped her to develop a highly interdisciplinary dissertation project that focuses on how nutrition impacts stress response in insects, a topic that fits in well within her more general interests in gene-by-environment interactions and plasticity.

Zachary DeVries was born in Columbus, Ohio, but raised in Auburn, Alabama. As an undergraduate at Auburn University, Zach jumped right in to field work, exploring his interests in biology by working in both a fish ecology lab and a herpetology lab. Zach later began conducting research with Dr. Ray Henry (Dept. of Biological Sciences, Auburn University), studying the physiology and behavior of giant aquatic salamanders. Zach completed his BS degree in zoology with a minor in statistics in 2011. Upon completion of his BS, Zach began pursuing his master's degree in entomology at Auburn University, working with Dr. Art Appel. His research focused on the physiology of urban pests, such as silverfish, firebrats, and bed bugs. His work has led to some interesting discoveries about the metabolism of these species as well as numerous collaborations with other departments and universities. Zach completed his master's degree in 2013. Zach is currently a PhD student at North Carolina State University, where he is studying the physiology, behavior, and management of urban pests under the direction of Dr. Coby Schal. Zach's dissertation research integrates two important areas of urban entomology: German cockroach allergen mitigation, and bed bug chemical ecology and behavior. Through his work, Zach hopes to improve the management of both of these pests by acquiring both basic and applied knowledge. Zach would like to thank both the Entomological Society of America and Dow AgroSciences. This opportunity will be invaluable to his career development.

Amy Morey is a PhD candidate in entomology at the University of Minnesota, working with Drs. Rob Venette and Bill Hutchison. Amy's research is designed to help entomologists and ecologists make better forecasts of risks posed by invasive insect species. By examining cold hardiness phenotypes, she examines the underlying cold hardiness mechanisms of an insect, which, if understood better, would improve spatially-explicit strategies to predict and prevent the spread of invasive insect species. Her research integrates fundamental entomological research with societal factors to improve the scientific basis for pest risk analysis and public policy related to control the light brown apple moth (Epiphyas postvittana) and other invasive insects. In addition to her current PhD program, Amy was awarded a two-year NSF-Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship and will be receiving a minor in the risk analysis of invasive species and genotypes. Amy received a BA in biology from Luther College, and then went on to complete an MS in entomology from the University of Minnesota, where she researched the cold hardiness and integrated pest management of Helicoverpa zea in sweetcorn. Amy is an active member of ESA, presenting numerous presentations and posters at both the national and North Central Branch meetings, and serving on the NCB Student Affairs Committee. She co-teaches an undergraduate course on integrated pest management, and is regularly involved with entomological outreach events with local schools and organizations, and departmental events.

Brittany F. Peterson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Entomology and the Interdisciplinary Life Science Program at Purdue University, working with Professor Michael Scharf. She holds both a BS (2008) in microbiology and an MS (2011) in biology from Western Illinois University. Her master's work focused on symbiont-mediated virus vectoring potential in whiteflies. She is currently working to understand the physiological collaborations of Reticulitermes flavipes and its 4,000+ symbiont species, specifically focusing on digestion and immunity. Using integrative approaches from entomology, microbiology, molecular biology and biochemistry, Brittany aims to elucidate the contributions of various symbiotic groups (prokaryotic and eukaryotic) to termite nutritional immunity. In addition to this award, she has received funding for this project through the Indiana Academy of Science's Senior Research Grant. In addition to being a researcher, Brittany is an advocate for the advancement of women in STEM fields and for science literacy. She is a member of the Association for Women in Science and a team leader for the Purdue Graduate Women in Science Program. She is also involved in community outreach activities in the greater Lafayette, Indiana area. Mentoring is a passion of Brittany's. She has served as a peer mentor for other graduate students in her program, and has mentored undergraduate students in the laboratory. Upon completion of her degree, she plans to continue researching host-symbiont coevolution and physiological interactions.

MONSANTO STUDENT TRAVEL AWARD WINNERS:

Dominic Evangelista is one of the few cockroach systematists in the U.S., and is the only person to extensively research the cockroaches of the Guiana Shield in the last 20 years. His research focuses on origins and patterns of diversity of Blattodea in this region. This includes exploring the relationship between dispersal ability and the evolution of geographic ranges (regional scale), the effect of species delimitation on estimates of species richness within a community of cockroaches (local/community scale), and the effect of specific landscape features on limiting migration and genetic divergence (local/species scale). In addition to this, Dominic has described new taxa, contributed to the barcode of life project, and identified a pest cockroach species recently introduced into New York City.

Erica Kistner is originally from Maple Valley, Washington, where she spent many an hour exploring the local woods as a child. By high school, she knew she wanted to be biologist. She obtained a BS in biology from the University of Portland in 2006. After graduating, she joined Mark Dybdahl's lab at Washington State University (WSU) as an MS student. Her MS research examined adaptation in the shell morphology of the invasive New Zealand mud snail and yielded two first author publications. In 2009, she left WSU with an MS in zoology, and she began a PhD program at the University of Notre Dame under Gary Belovsky. She spent five years studying fungal pathogen regulation of the grasshopper pest, Camnula pellucida in western Montana. This work has been published in multiple journals, including Ecology. She successfully defended her dissertation in May, 2014. Thanks to a posting on the ESA job board, she joined Mark Hoddle's lab at UC-Riverside as a postdoctoral scholar in Jul, 2014. Dr. Kistner is currently working on the ongoing biological control of the Asian citiris psyllid in southern California. Her research utilizes both empirical techniques, including laboratory and field experimentation, and theoretical approaches (both mathematical and statistical) to provide a comprehensive understanding of biological systems.

Meaghan L. Pimsler is a PhD candidate in the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University, where she uses de novo transcriptomics to investigate sexual dimorphism and behavioral ecology in an invasive blow fly with a unique and poorly understood sex determination mechanism. She received her BS in entomology from Cornell University in 2007, and subsequently spent three years in Okinawa, Japan working at two high schools as an English teacher. After recuperating sufficiently from the rigors of her undergraduate education, she began her postgraduate journey with Dr. Jeffery K. Tomberlin and Dr. Aaron M. Tarone in 2010. Meaghan has had a deep and abiding love of arthropods her entire life, and determined at the age of four that she would be an entomologist. She helped found entomology clubs in both high school and college, and has helped organize many entomology themed outreach and enrichment events, including working with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History on their BugFest, and with Cornell University's Entomology Department on their Open House. Meaghan is primarily interested in forensic entomology, and this has led to a certification in Crime Scene Investigation with Texas Engineering and Extension Services; teaching at workshops for federal, state, and local law enforcement groups; and the opportunity to coordinate symposia on "Youthful Perspectives in Forensic Entomology" with Ms. Charity Owings at the 2013 and 2014 ESA Annual Meetings. She was also a member of TAMU's graduate student Linnaean Games Team for two years, the captain of the debate team for the 2013 ESA Student Debates, and she enjoys baking, science fiction movies, and training in mixed martial arts.

Erika Machtinger is a PhD candidate at the University of Florida. She received her BS from the University of Delaware in Wildlife Conservation and her MS in entomology from the University of Florida. Erika was raised in Blue Hill, Maine, just down the road from Acadia National Park. The natural areas surrounding the coast of Maine fostered Erika's love of the environment and wildlife. Erika has worked at the USDA and also as a wildlife biologist and environmental scientist. She has been an avid equestrian for over 26 years and has competed on national and international levels. Because of involvement in the equestrian community and interest in insects and biological control, Erika has been focusing her research on biological control of filth flies on equine properties in Florida. Erika was awarded the best MS Thesis and Outstanding MS Student Scholarship by the University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology for her pioneering work with filth fly management on small equine farms. With the support of Dr. Leppla and Dr. Chris Geden as co-chairs, she is continuing her work by focusing on the olfactory stimuli associated with host location by pteromalid pupal parasitoids of filth flies. Erika has received seven research grants for her work and has received several first-place honors for paper and poster presentations at regional and national ESA meetings. She has published 15 papers in refereed scientific journals. Erika is an also an active member of ESA, serving as a Co-Chair of the Student Affairs Committee for the Southeastern Branch, and most recently as a member of the ESA Student Affairs Committee. She is also the Supervisory TA for the Principles of Entomology laboratory offered through the University of Florida.

Qian "Karen" Sun graduated with a BS in 2008 from the Honors Program in Life Science at China Agricultural University in Beijing, where she continued with a, MS program studying biodiversity and molecular phylogeography of earthworms. Being attracted by the fascinating social organization of insect groups, in 2010 Qian began a PhD program in entomology at the University of Kentucky, working on termites with Dr. Xuguo "Joe" Zhou. Her dissertation research aims to understand the chemical and genetic mechanisms of undertaking behavior in termites, by integrating behavioral study with chemical ecology and functional genomics. Undertaking behavior, the disposal of the dead, is an essential part of collective immune defenses that enables social colonies to mitigate disease hazard posed by corpses. Qian's research demonstrated differential responses in termite workers toward corpses with different origins and postmortems times, and discovered chemical cues from corpses influencing the behavioral response. She is currently investigating genes and gene networks involved in the behavioral process. Qian received four fellowships to support her graduate studies at the University of Kentucky. During her PhD studies, she published a review article on corpse management in social insects in the International Journal of Biological Sciences, and a research article in Scientific Reports. Additionally, she has presented actively at the Branch and national meetings of ESA, the national meeting of ISCE, and other academic meetings. She has won the first-place award in the Ten-Minute Paper Competition (SysEB) at the 2014 North Central Branch Meeting. While working with termites, Qian found the study of eusociality to be enormously exciting. Upon graduation in 2015, she will be seeking a postdoctoral position and continue exploring the evolution of eusociality in the animal kingdom.

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The Entomological Society of America is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Founded in 1889, ESA today has nearly 7,000 members affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Members are researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, students, and hobbyists. For more information, visit http://www.entsoc.org.

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