SWB Awards Presented in Little Rock, AR

Lanham, MD; March 8, 2012 – The Southwestern Branch of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) presented awards at a Joint Meeting between the Seoutheastern and Southwestern Branches in Little Rock, Arkansas, held March 3-7, 2012. The awardees are listed below.                 

2012 John Henry Comstock Award Outstanding Ph.D. Student -- APURBA BARMAN grew up in a small village of India in the state Assam, where his family farmed for their livelihoods.  Apurba was fortunate to receive a well-rounded education and experience in agriculture during his undergraduate years at Assam Agricultural University, India. The impressive diversity and enormous economic impact of insects beckoned him to pursue a career in entomology.  Apurba investigated how to incorporate botanicals with biological control agents for efficient insect pest management in rice ecosystems. Following his research interest in entomology, Apurba studied modes of action of insect growth regulator (chitin synthesis inhibitor) to be used for pest management.  He has also had the opportunity to work with two key pests of vegetables in India, i.e., Plutella xylostella, and Helicoverpa armigera, especially populations’ genetic variation and resistance to insecticides.

Apurba’s interest in entomology and dream for international experience steered him to join the Cotton Entomology Program at former Texas A & M Agricultural Experiment Station at Lubbock, TX, where he received a MS degree from Texas Tech University.  Apurba then pursued a doctoral program at Texas A&M University, where he conducted his dissertation research on genetic and phenotypic variation in cotton fleahopper populations as influenced by host plant species and geography.

More than 10 years of postgraduate research experience, education, and the fascination of insects have convinced Apurba to pursue an entomology research career. Apurba’s envisioned goal is to address pest problems in agricultural crops and finding ways to manage these pest species by understanding their ecological interactions and evolutionary history. In addition to research, Apurba enjoys communicating his interest and ideas to interested students by mentoring and classroom teaching. Apurba has taught laboratory sections of “Integrated Pest Management” and has directly and indirectly mentored several undergraduate students. 

2011 PH.D. Oral Presentation, 1st Place -- RACHEL MOHR is a native Texan, who received her BS in entomology from Texas A&M University in 2004. She earned an MS in entomology from the University of California - Riverside in 2007 under the direction of Dr. Alec Gerry. She returned to Texas A&M in 2008, and will be graduating in May, 2012 with a PhD focused on forensic entomology under the direction of Dr. Jeffery Tomberlin. Her dissertation work focused on the seasonal behavior and ecology of common Texas blow flies such as Cochliomyia macellaria and Chrysomya rufifacies. She developed a novel framework for characterizing the postmortem interval of a decedent based on the interaction of insects with the corpse, which was published in the Annual Review of Entomology in 2011. Her other research focus has been on the developmental trade-offs made by blow fly larvae under nutritional stress and competition. In 2011, Rachel and her labmates were invited to Malaysia to speak on their current research in forensic entomology. She also competed on the Texas A&M Linnaean Games team, which earned a place in the semi-finals at the 2011 ESA national meeting in Reno. She is currently seeking employment in academia or in national criminal investigation.

2011 PH.D. Poster Presentation, 1st Place -- REBECCA PACE - In 2003 I entered college as an Entomology major.  As I moved through my classes I developed an interest in microbiology.  So as I prepared for graduation I applied and was accepted into a microbiology graduate program at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.  In Spring of 2007 I graduated with my BS in Entomology from Oklahoma State University.  The following fall I began my graduate program at the University of Oklahoma.  My research focused on Borrelia burgdorferi outer surface proteins.  As I worked through the microbiology class work and research, I started to miss my Entomology.  So as I was finishing my Master’s degree, I decided to go back to the field of entomology for my Doctorate degree.  In the Summer of 2009 I graduated with my Master’s degree in microbiology.  The following fall I returned to Oklahoma State to begin my Doctoral program in entomology.  When I joined the program with Dr. Wayadande, I knew that it was the perfect fit because it combines both microbiology and entomology.  These are my two passions.  As I have continued to learn about the connection between entomology and microbiology, I have become increasingly interested in livestock entomology. 

This is my third year in the doctoral program. My projects focus on the interactions of plants, flies and bacteria.  Last year I finished one of my objectives and have begun my second objective.  The first objective focused on the interaction of calliphorid flies (blow flies) with various plants.  It gave some insight into the preferences of flies for resting on plants such as lettuce.  These interactions are important for understanding the reasons why flies may land on a plant and thus contaminate it.  I presented the data from these experiments at the 2010 ESA National Meeting.  Then I presented a continuation of this work at the Southwest branch meeting 2011.  My other two objectives focus on the fly/bacteria interaction.  The purposes are to discover how the flies (house flies and blow flies) carry the bacteria, importantly if the bacteria remain viable and if the flies can transfer viable bacteria to lettuce plants.  The bacteria we are using are E. coli O157:H7 and S. enterica, which are two of the common food-borne bacteria.  I presented data for this portion of my work at the 2011 ESA National Meeting.
2011 M.S. Oral Presentation, 1st Place -- CASSIE SCHOENTHAL, originally from Paradise, Texas, is a graduate student at Tarleton State University where she studies the effects of condensed tannins on house flies. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Entomology at Texas A&M University in 2010 and will be returning this June to start her PhD with Dr. Roger Gold.

2011 M.S. Poster Presentation, 1st Place -- HELEN KIM VESSELS graduated from New Mexico State University in 2010 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science. She currently is working on her Master’s degree in the graduate program at NMSU. Her research is on the life history, laboratory rearing, and morphological description of the immature stages of Narnia femorata, a cactus-feeding coreid found in southern New Mexico. During this final semester of her graduate work, she looks forward to being an active participant on the NMSU Linnaean team.
2011 B.S. Oral Presentation, 1st Place -- CASSIE SKIPPER is a native of Tyler, Texas.  This past spring, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Texas at Tyler, where she currently works in a molecular biology lab under the direction of Dr. Blake Bextine.  She is continuing her studies to pursue a second Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology.  In the Bextine Laboratory, her primary research goal is to develop inexpensive and rapid protocols for subspecies differentiation of the xylem-feeding bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, one of which adversely affects the wine industry.  Cassie has presented oral and poster presentations on this subject at several meetings over the past 3 years; the Entomological Society of America annual meeting in San Diego, California, the Kansas Entomological Society Annual Meeting in Stillwater, Oklahoma (won second place in the student competition), and the annual meeting of the Southwestern Branch of the Entomological Society of America (SWB ESA) in Amarillo, Texas (won first place in the oral competition).  At the 2011 SWB ESA meting Cassie was presented with the Undergraduate Student Achievement in Entomology award.  She will be entering graduate school in the Fall of 2012 and aims to receive her doctorate degree in Biological Anthropology.  Ultimately, she plans to obtain a professorial position at a respectable university and begin working on her own bioarchaeological research.
2011 B.S. Poster Presentation, 1st Place -- MELISE SCHMIDT-TAYLOR graduated from New Mexico State University in December of 2011, earning her Bachelor’s of Science degree in the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology, and Weed Science. As an undergraduate she helped design and conduct an independent research project on the seasonal dynamics of flea beetles associated with chile in southern New Mexico. This work led to Melise being the recipient of second and first place awards at the ESA SWB student poster competitions in 2010 and 2011, respectively.  Melise recently began her Master’s degree in the graduate program at NMSU with Dr. Scott Bundy in the Integrated Pest Management laboratory. She looks forward to starting her master’s project on Bagrada hilaris, an invasive stink bug species new to New Mexico. Melise stays active in her department as the president of the NMSU entomology club and as an active member on the NMSU Linnaean team.
2012 Undergraduate Student Achievement In Entomology -- CHRIS POWELL is an undergraduate student majoring in Biology at the University of Texas at Tyler.  Chris was involved in molecular toxicology, working on a project involving vector mosquitoes in the genera Aedes and Anopheles.  Chris’ research has resulted in three poster presentations, including one at the national meeting of the Entomological Society of America in 2010.  Chris’ current research focuses on the red imported fire ant and naturally-occurring virus as a potential control agent.  This work has resulted in five poster presentations, including the national ESA meeting in 2011 and the upcoming Southwestern branch of ESA meeting.

Chris’ excellence in research has been recognized by a number of awards, including President’s Prize Runner Up at the 2011 ESA meeting, 1st place in the university-wide poster competition at UT Tyler, and two competitive, monetary research awards.  Chris is in the process of applying for graduate schools to pursue a MS degree in entomology.

2012 Percival Scientific Undergraduate Student Activity Award -- JUAN MACIAS is the recipient of the inaugural Percival Scientific Undergraduate Entomology Student Activity Award ($250).  Juan Macias is a Biology major at The University of Texas at Tyler.   Juan has received a fellowship from The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). As an LSAMP fellow Juan has won one poster competition held at UT-Tyler, given a poster presentation at the system wide LSAMP conference, and was selected to deliver an Oral presentation to the conference. Through Juan’s participation in LSAMP he was invited to attend the World Science Forum held in Budapest, Hungary, sponsored by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Juan has subsequently been invited to the European Science Forum in 2012. Juan has also participated in the last ESA-SWB meeting where he gave a poster presentation. Juan is a participant of UT-Tyler’s Linnaean Team and has served as a volunteer at the Southwestern Association of Naturalists (SWAN) meeting hosted at UT-Tyler. Juan has also taught a free unofficial course in PERL programming and plans to offer the course again in the spring semester.  Juan also serves as a T.A for Dr. Bextine’s Cell Biology, an undergraduate mentor to Project SEED students, a summer internship for economically disadvantaged high school students designed to introduce them to the world of Scientific Research, and upholds several responsibilities in the Lab. Juan is the second author on "Rapid biotype differentiation of the potato psyllid (Bactericera cockerelli) using quantitative real time PCR melt curve" which has been submitted to the Journal of Insect Science. Juan has reviewed an article for the Florida Entomologist, "Phoresis between Serratia marcescens and Steinernema carpocapsae (Rhabditida: Steinernematidae) During the Infection of Galleria mellonella (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) Larvae." In addition, Juan is a member of the American Chemical Society, the Entomological Society of America, Beta Beta Beta biological honor society, Eta Sigma Phi Latin honor society, Biologists of UT Tyler, and The UT Tyler Math club.

The Entomological Society of America (ESA) 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 6,000 members affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Members are students, researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, and hobbyists. For more information, please visit http://www.entsoc.org.