Recent Biology Graduates Earn National Awards

Recent Columbus State University graduates Mary Hill and Dorothy Cheruiyot have distinguished themselves nationally among their biologist peers.

The pair earned high honors for individual research presentations at the recent Tri-Beta National Biological Honor Society's 2004 Biennial National Convention in Grand Junction, Colo.

Hill, a 2003 graduate and staff member for CSU's Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center, earned first prize in the ecology category. Meanwhile, Cheruiyot, a 2004 graduate earned third place in the organismic and developmental biology category.

Cheruiyot, like Hill last year, qualified for the national event, staged every other year, by winning first prize - the Frank G. Brooks Award - in Tri-Beta's regional competition just months earlier in Memphis, Tenn.

Cheruiyot's work was on a fern called Ceratopteris richardii, which can develop as either males or hermaphrodites, depending on a pheromone the hermaphrodite secretes. Previous studies have shown the pheromone is necessary for both the induction and maintenance of males. In her study, Cheruiyot isolated just the fully developed male ferns and her results showed that some males converted themselves into hermaphrodites.

'She started her project early and was able to carry out a significant amount of research, much of which was not even included in her presentations,' said CSU Professor Brian Schwartz, who mentored Cheruiyot.

Hill's study yielded discovery that the Florida Scrub Jay, a species with a limited and diminishing environment, utilizes a unique survival instinct: it avoids eating the toxic seeds of the precatory bean plant by interpreting the seed's color as the warning indicator.

CSU Professor Harlan Hendricks, who supervised the study, said Hill developed and carried out a sound project. 'I had no doubt that she could win such a prestigious award. In fact, her approach to carrying out this study and presenting the results to the scientific community should serve as a model for future students in our undergraduate research program.'

Cheruiyot, of Iten, Kenya, has paralleled her academic achievements in CSU's cross country program, earning Peach Belt All-Conference honors in her final season last fall. But academically, Schwartz describes Cheruiyot as 'an ideal undergraduate research student, and she has a bright future in biological research.'

Hill, a former Servant Leadership scholar, plans to eventually pursue graduate studies in behavioral ecology or conservation biology. For now, she has opted to share her passion for biology and research savvy with regional K-12 teachers and students through Oxbow Meadows, one of seven education outreach operations that comprise CSU's Centers of Excellence.

Hill said she appreciates the opportunity to 'inspire and feed the curiosity of young children - as so many adults and mentors were kind enough to do for me as I grew and matured. I know that eventually I will want to return to field research; but for now I am content to contribute to my field in another way... by recruiting the future researchers who might someday aid in conserving nature and the environment we all share.'

Hendricks said she is well suited for such work. 'Mary is a knowledgeable and dedicated biologist; a passionate speaker on any subject, and a delightful individual to be around.'

Regarding her recent award, Hill describes the recognition among her peers as gratifying. 'Having fellow researchers and students express interest in and respect your work validates and reinforces the effort and dedication that is required to successfully conduct original, independent research.'

Both Hill and Cheruiyot said they intend to support fund-raising efforts for local research grants, in order to inspire other students to test their work and have it judged against other biology students around the country. Both described the trip in late May to Colorado as 'an amazing experience' and one they desperately hope other students will have a chance to experience.

Hendricks said the pair's achievements have had immediate, broader effect. 'Mary's and Dorothy's accomplishments not only reflect their individual abilities as scientists, but also brings national recognition to our undergraduate program.'

Schwartz, concurring, said a significant milestone has occurred for CSU and the biology program. 'The biology faculty are proud of both Dorothy and Mary. Their success at the national level affirms our commitment to provide quality research opportunities for our undergraduate students. Many students would not have such an opportunity at a larger institution.'

###

Contact: Mary Hill, 687-4090; Harlan Hendricks, 568-2069; Brian Schwartz, 569-3017