ESA Names 2013 Monsanto Student Grant Winners

Annapolis, MD; September 12, 2013 -- The Entomological Society of America (ESA) is pleased to announce the winners of the 2013 Monsanto Research Grant Awards and the 2013 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.

The following entomology students are winners of the 2013 Monsanto Research Grant Awards:

CHELSEA WRIGHT obtained her BS in biology at Old Dominion University in 2010. While there she performed undergraduate research in Dr. Wayne Hynes’ lab surveying the southeastern Virginia tick population for various tick-borne pathogens. She soon became fascinated by ticks and the pathogens they carry and joined the biomedical sciences PhD program, performing research in the labs of Dr. Wayne Hynes and Dr. Holly Gaff. Her dissertation research primarily focuses on the interaction between rickettsial organisms in hard (Ixodid) ticks in the United States, specifically the Gulf Coast tick, Amblyomma maculatum, and the lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum. Ms. Wright anticipates graduating in 2014 and has great interest in continuing her research in the field of vector-borne diseases.

MARÍA CRISTINA CARRASQUILLA was born and has lived most of her life in Bogotá, Colombia. From a young age she was exposed to entomology as her mother has worked as a medical entomologist for several decades. Furthermore, growing up in Colombia, where vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, leishmaniasis, and American trypanosomiasis represent a public health problem, made her interest towards medical entomology grow even more. She received a BS degree in biology at Universidad de los Andes, Colombia (2002), performing undergraduate research on river otter ecology, and subsequently worked as a young researcher in the entomology laboratory of the Instituto Nacional de Salud (National Institute of Health) on a project focused on evaluating impregnated bed nets as a control measure for leishmaniasis. She received her MS in biological sciences at Universidad de los Andes (2008), with thesis research on the ecology and control of biting midges (Ceratopogonidae).  María Cristina is currently pursuing a PhD in entomology with Dr. Phil Lounibos as her advisor and Dr. Jorge Rey as her co-advisor at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, University of Florida, studying reproductive interference between invasive mosquito vectors. Her graduate committee has guided an interdisciplinary approach that integrates ecology, physiology, and evolution. She wants to maintain an interdisciplinary perspective in her research with a career goal of research and teaching in Colombia, working in association with national and international researchers, students, health authorities, and local communities. María Cristina is very grateful to the Entomological Society of America and Monsanto; the Monsanto Research Grant Award will greatly enhance her current PhD research project.

CHANDRA MOFFAT is a PhD student at the University of New Brunswick, where she studies the process of host-associated differentiation. Specifically, she is interested in how herbivorous insects accept new host plant species into their diets, how new specialist insect species result from novel host use, and how host use differs as insects progress through evolutionary divergence. Chandra’s interest in entomology began while at the University of Victoria (BS, 2008), where she participated in three cooperative education work terms with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, first researching behavioural responses of wireworms to IPM, and then investigating the effects of temperature perturbations on an experimental greenhouse community. Chandra then worked as a research assistant for Natural Resources Canada, detecting and preventing the spread of foreign and invasive insects in Canada; and then for CABI Europe-Switzerland, studying the biological control of canola pests. Chandra completed her MS in 2012 at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan. Her thesis investigated the ecological host range patterns of host plant selection by a candidate weed biocontrol agent (Aulacidea pilosellae; Hymenoptera: Cynipidae). Chandra is committed to engaging her peers in the activities of entomological societies. She has served as the student representative for the Canadian Forum for Biological Control, the Entomological Society of British Columbia, and the Entomological Society of Canada (ESC). She has also served as the Chair or Co-Chair of the ESC Student Affairs Committee since 2010. Chandra has been a member of the Entomological Society of America since 2009 and a University Student Representative for the Eastern Branch since 2012. As part of the ESC Student Affairs Committee, Chandra is currently pursuing opportunities for international student engagement in ICE 2016.

ERIKA MACHTINGER is a PhD student 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 a stone’s throw 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-BIIRL Laboratory in Newark, DE and also as a wildlife biologist and environmental scientist. Erika has been an avid equestrian for over 26 years and has competed on national and international levels. Because of her background with horses, involvement in the equestrian community, and interest in insects and biological control, Erika has been focusing her research on biological control of filth flies in equestrian properties in Florida. Erika was awarded the best MS Thesis and Outstanding MS Student Scholarship in the University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology for her pioneering work with filth fly management on small equine farms in Florida. With the support of Dr. Norm Leppla and Dr. Chris Geden, 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 three first-place honors for paper and poster presentations from the Florida Entomological Society and the Southeastern Branch of ESA. She has published 13 papers in refereed scientific journals and extension. Erika is an also an active member of ESA, serving as a Co-Chair of the Student Affairs Committee for the Southeastern Branch. She is also the Supervisory TA for six sections of the Principles of Entomology Laboratory offered through the University of Florida.

JEFF GRABOWSKI is a PhD candidate at Purdue University working with the vector biology and structural biology programs of Drs. Catherine Hill and Richard Kuhn. Jeff’s PhD research focuses on tick-flavivirus interactions and is supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, an Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (ICTSI) Predoctoral Training Grant, and an ICTSI Core Pilot Grant. His interdisciplinary research utilizes the genome sequence of the Lyme disease tick, Ixodes scapularis, and the use of a model tick-borne flavivirus. Potential application of this research includes the development of new approaches for the control of arachnids and tick-borne flaviviruses. Jeff joined the Purdue University Interdiscplinary Life Science PhD program in 2009 after receiving his BS in biology with a minor in chemistry at Manchester University. He first became interested in vector biology as an undergraduate when he undertook an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates project in Millbrook, NY at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, an independent environmental research organization. Jeff completed a field-based study to assess the distribution of Ixodes scapularis nymphs in Dutchess County, NY. Subsequently, his senior thesis involved a survey of tick species and Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacterium that causes Lyme disease) in southern Kosciusko County, Indiana. Jeff has made numerous oral and poster presentations on his PhD research at national and regional meetings. He currently serves as a member of the scientific user advisory group to the NIH/NIAID-funded Influenza Research Database/Virus Pathogen Resource database. Since arriving at Purdue, Jeff has participated in numerous scientific outreach activities, most notably as a “Disease Detectives” presenter on the award-winning Purdue zipTrips Program, which is designed to provide middle school students with a virtual field trip to Purdue University.

The following entomology students are winners of the 2013 Monsanto Student Travel Awards:

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. Zach worked for Dr. Rusty Wright, assisting teams collecting fish throughout Alabama, particularly the Mobile Delta. During his undergraduate career, Zach also worked for Dr. Craig Guyer, assisting in the construction of cages for the reintroduction of the eastern indigo snake to previously occupied habitats in southern Alabama. Zach later began conducting research with Dr. Ray Henry, studying the physiology and behavior of giant aquatic salamanders. Zach completed his BS degree in zoology with a minor in statistics in 2011. He enjoyed his work in biological sciences, but was ultimately attracted to the more applied aspects and fascinating diversity of entomology. He thus began 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 entomology in 2013 and is now continuing his studies as a doctoral student, working with Dr. Coby Schal of North Carolina State University. During his PhD, Zach intends to continue his research on the physiology of urban pests.

DIANE SILCOX, as the daughter of an entomologist, grew up with a love for insects. During a summer research program at Miami University, she discovered how interesting insects were and that there is much to learn about them. She found her love of turfgrass while spending time with her father, taking cup-cutter cores to sample for annual bluegrass weevil larvae. She found this work fascinating and decided to explore entomology departments that had faculty who specialized in turfgrass entomology. In May of 2008, she moved to Raleigh, North Carolina to begin her master’s with Dr. Rick Brandenburg. She spent two years in North Carolina researching the response of the tawny mole cricket to synthetic insecticides. She found some interesting avoidance behaviors by mole crickets to toxic synthetic insecticides, but apparently little avoidance to non-toxic insecticides. In January of 2011, she successfully defended her master’s thesis and decided to stay at NC State for her PhD. Her research focuses on the ecology and behavior of the hunting billbug in warm-season turfgrass. She is primarily investigating the feeding behavior and environmental factors that affect their development. Understanding this pest’s biology will allow us to develop a cost-effective and environmentally-sound management plan. Upon graduation she will be seeking employment near College Station, TX where her husband is a faculty member at Texas A&M.

CHET JOYNER grew up on his family’s farm in rural Georgia, where he developed an interest in biology as a child. During high school, he was selected to participate in the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program and did a summer research project at Valdosta State University. This experience left Chet with a passion for biology and research, and he decided to pursue his BS in biology at Georgia Southern University. At GSU, Chet completed his undergraduate thesis with Dr. Dana Nayduch on house fly-microbe interactions, where he investigated fly antimicrobial responses after ingestion of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This work has been submitted for publication. In addition, Chet co-authored two house fly publications in the Journal of Medical Entomology this year, and is a coauthor on two submitted manuscripts that involve house fly antimicrobial responses. Chet graduated from GSU summa cum laude and as a University Honors Program Scholar. He received four internal fellowships at GSU and one summer fellowship for biomedical research from Georgia Regent’s University. Additionally, Chet served as a mentor for five high school, master’s, and undergraduate students and has presented at two national meetings and one regional meeting, along with numerous presentations while at GSU. He is a previous runner up, and then first-place President’s Prize winner (MUVE Section) at Entomology 2011 and 2012, respectively. Currently, Chet is a PhD student in the laboratory of Dr. Mary Galinski at Emory University in the Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis program where he is working with the vector-borne protozoan Plasmodium, the causative agent of malaria. Chet is continuing to pursue his passion for vector-borne diseases. He is currently a graduate student member of the Malaria Host-Pathogen Interaction Center led from Emory University, and his research is focused on innate immune responses and liver-stage biology.

SANDIPA GAUTAM has a BS in agriculture from Tribhuwan University in Chitwan, Nepal. She obtained her MS in entomology from Oklahoma State University under the mentorship of Dr. George Opit. Her MS research focused on investigating the biology and ecology of stored-product psocids, which are small insects that have emerged to become serious stored-product pests worldwide in the last three decades. Sandipa is currently working on her dissertation entitled “Circumventing ovicidal deficiencies of fumigants during postharvest fumigations” at Oklahoma State University under the mentorship of Drs. George Opit and Spencer Walse. Her research has yielded exciting data on a possible relationship between respiratory structures on the surface of the egg and efficacy of fumigants, and elucidating why eggs of some stored-product insects are tolerant to fumigants. Sandipa’s research represents a critical first step in understanding the role that egg morphology plays in efficacy of fumigants and the development of methods that can be used to overcome ovicidal deficiencies of fumigants. Sandipa is active within ESA and has presented results of her research at Branch and national meetings and in the Annals of Entomological Society of America; Journal of Economic Entomology; Environmental Entomology; Entomology, Ornithology, and Herpetology; Fumigants and Pheromones; Proceedings of International Organization for Biological and Integrated Control – Integrated Protection of Stored Products; and Proceedings of the International Working Conference on Stored Product Protection. She has won student competition prizes in seven presentations out of 16. She was also the recipient of the 2012 ESA ICE travel award and the 2011 Oklahoma State University Graduate Research Excellence Award.

ROB MORRISON is originally from Mesa, Arizona, and he developed an immense appreciation for the natural world from a young age. By high school, he knew that he wanted to be a biologist. Rob graduated with his bachelor’s degree in biology cum laude from Kalamazoo College in 2006. His senior thesis centered around finding indicator arthropod species of overall invertebrate richness in Michigan old field sites. Since college, Rob has been highly interested in questions of arthropod diversity as well as chemical ecology. After graduating, Rob pursued a research internship at the Archbold Biological Station, dealing with how grazing affects the diversity and abundance of macroinvertebrate communities in Florida wetlands. He graduated with his MS in ecology, evolutionary biology, and systematics from the University of Munich in Germany in 2009. Rob’s thesis focused on the ecological, genetic, and chemical divergence between two closely related species of ants. In 2010, Rob began a PhD program at Michigan State University in the Department of Entomology. His dissertation focuses on the integrated pest management of the asparagus miner, a pest that poses serious problems for the asparagus industry. Using a combination of different approaches, including conservation biological control, chemical and ecological analysis, as well as the development of a degree-day model, Rob is attempting to develop alternative approaches to controlling the asparagus miner. He is expected to graduate in May, 2014 and is actively looking for a postdoctoral position in academia or government. While in his program, Rob has developed a passion for outreach to the public and educating the next generation of scientists. Rob had the privilege of marrying his best friend over a year ago, and in his free time he is an avid photographer and hiker.

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 more than 6,500 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