April 10, 2015 at 11:45am

MU biology undergrads take top honors at Tri-Beta Convention

Millikin University biology students took top honors at the 2015 Tri-Beta National Biological Honor Society North Central District 1 Convention, held March 28 at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill. The convention gave students and faculty members opportunities to share current research and discuss scientific topics.
The convention featured 38 presentations (nine oral presentations and 29 posters) from students representing 11 institutions in the Midwest.
Millikin student Spencer Hudson, a senior biology major from Wilmington, Del., won the Richard G. Brooks Award for Best Oral Presentation. Senior biology majors Ashley Fulk, from Altamont, Ill., and Elizabeth Wrobel, from Tinley Park, Ill., each received John C. Johnson Awards for Best Student Poster.
Jade Becker, a senior biology major from Decatur, Ill., won a 2nd Place Poster Award, and Kendra Peterson, a senior biology major from Batavia, Ill., received an Honorable Mention Poster Award.
"The overall environment at the convention was very welcoming," said Ashley Fulk. "It was nice to be able to speak with judges and people interested in my research one-on-one."
In addition to individual accomplishments, Millikin's Tri-Beta Chapter, Iota Epsilon, won the Travel Gavel Award for bringing the most participants the greatest distance to the convention. Dr. Travis Wilcoxen, Millikin assistant professor of biology, was also named North Central District 1 Outstanding Advisor for the 2014-2015 academic year.
"It's apparent that when we are at these type of conferences, our students are prepared to present their facts and they think like scientists," said Dr. Wilcoxen. "When people look at the work from our students and compliment it, it shows the value of a Millikin education. Everyone gets an opportunity to perform real research, and I think the students gain an appreciation for doing real science before they graduate."
Spencer Hudson's presentation covered how different amounts of blue coloration in Indigo Bunting feathers relate to the health of the birds. Ashley Fulk's research covered how tadpoles respond to environmental stress and protect their skin with antioxidants, and Elizabeth Wrobel's research covered incidence of diseases in songbirds and birds of prey, as well as the health impacts of the diseases on the birds.
"I truly valued presenting my research at the Tri-Beta Convention," said Wrobel. "Through these conventions, I have the opportunity to share my research with so many people. Also, I am able to learn about other projects being completed by students from other schools, which is always interesting."
Jade Becker's research covered the impacts of elevated testosterone on growth and jumping performance in frogs, and Kendra Peterson's research covered molecular and gene responses of soy bean plants to caterpillar's consuming parts of their leaves.

Other Millikin students who presented at the convention included: Jessica Kerr, a senior biology major from Saint Johns, Fla., and Olivia Waszczuk, a senior biology major from Roselle, Ill. Kerr's presentation covered strategies for developing green techniques for plant growth on the roof of buildings. Waszczuk's poster covered strategies for using nanoparticles in breast cancer research.
Spencer Hudson added, "My experience as a member of Tri-Beta has been highlighted by the way science and people come together. I've come to realize that many of our research projects build over long periods of time in our careers, with crucial input from colleagues at meetings and key observations from other colleagues along the way. The science grows while careers grow and Tri-Beta provides that critical meeting place where one might seek out input from colleagues."
Tri-Beta is a society for students, particularly undergraduates, dedicated to improving the understanding and appreciation of biological study and extending boundaries of human knowledge through scientific research. Since its founding in 1922, more than 200,000 persons have been accepted into lifetime membership, and more than 670 chapters have been established throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. For more information on Tri-Beta, visit tri-beta.org.