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Inaugural Week of Women in STEM

By: Sophia O’Brien

WSU’s inaugural Week of Women in STEM will be held April 2-5. It is a week to celebrate, acknowledge, and inspire women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Women remain underrepresented in all fields of STEM, and are continually paid less than their male counterparts. Women can be credited for many accomplishments in science, but have historically been shadowed by male peers. While there are pioneers for women in the STEM fields like Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson, Mary Leakey, and Rosalind Franklin, young girls are still in dire need of role models in their everyday lives. The week is designed to help Washington State University women in STEM gain the confidence they need to excel in their futures.

On Monday, a screening of the acclaimed movie Hidden Figures will take place, it is the story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program. CUB Auditorium at 8 p.m.

Events continue on Tuesday with a keynote address by Cougar Alumnae, Starbucks Executive V.P. and Chief Technology Officer, Gerri Martin- Flickinger.

A dinner on Wednesday night will include a networking session and panel discussion with STEM professionals. Dr. Noel Schulz, WSU First Lady and professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, will moderate the discussion. This is a private event that required previous registration and invite.

Thursday includes workshops by AAUW on salary negotiations. It will compromise of two workshops, one for those just beginning in their careers, and another on how to advocate for a raise or promotion. AAUW’s research on the gender pay gap shows that, one year out of college, women are already paid significantly less than their male counterparts.

The week wraps up with showings of WSU Performing Arts production of the play Silent Sky. Based on the true story of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, the play explores a woman’s place in society during a time of immense scientific discoveries, when women’s ideas were dismissed—until men claimed credit for them.

Animal Cognition, Communication Expert Pepperberg to Deliver Jonas Lecture in Biology at WSU

Dr. Irene Pepperberg will present the 2018 Robert Jonas Lecture in Biological Sciences, “Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots,” on Tuesday, March 27, at 6:00 p.m. in Todd Hall, 230. Pepperberg is a lecturer and research associate at Harvard University and well known for her comparative studies into the cognitive fundamentals of language and communication. She was one of the first to work on language learning in animals other than the human species. She is also active in wildlife conservation, especially related to parrots.

The 2018 Robert Jonas Lecture is sponsored by the WSU Zoology Club, School of Biological Sciences, and College of Arts & Sciences. The lectureship was established in memory of professor “Bob” Jonas, who taught biology and wildlife management at WSU for 25 years, and brings to campus prominent speakers on important conservation and environmental topics.

Dr. Michelle McGuire Wins Excellence in Nutrition Prize

By: Sophia O’Brien

SBS professor Dr. Michelle McGuire has been named the winner of the American Society for Nutrition’s (ASN) 2018 Excellence in Nutrition Education Award.

The Excellence in Nutrition Education Award is given for outstanding contributions in teaching nutrition. The award is given to a senior investigator who demonstrated superior ability as an educator in nutrition science, as shown through acknowledged excellence in nutrition teaching or nutrition education research and original contributions to teaching and translating new discoveries into classroom or educational materials. Dr. McGuire will receive the award this coming June during ASN’s Nutrition 2018 hosted in Boston, MA. She is currently researching the variability and regulation of milk composition in humans. Dr. McGuire believes that understanding milk constituents is important for both scientific and public health purposes.

Eric Navarro Is Named a Winner at the SACNAS Conference

By: Sophia O’Brien

A presentation by SBS undergraduate junior, Eric Navarro, was one of the 117 winners of 1000+ student research presentations at the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Diversity in STEM Conference on October 19-21.

SACNAS, which hosted the event, is the leading multicultural and multidisciplinary STEM diversity organization in the country. The conference included over 4000 attendees and 1000 student research presentations in multidisciplinary fields.

When Navarro walked into the convention center, he said he felt awe at the number of people from under-represented communities pursuing STEM degrees.

“There wasn’t a lack of cultural experience either,” he said. “There were many different presentations throughout the conference showcasing the beauty of a range of cultures.”

Navarro was the only winner in the animal science/zoology field with his presentation, “Retention of learning through life stages in Xenopus laevis”. Xenopus laevis is commonly known as an African clawed frog. His research hopes to find the effects of early life (pre-metamorphosis) stress have on later life (post-metamorphosis) learning. This could translate into understanding the effects of stress on human babies in the womb and learning in later human life. Metamorphosis is typically viewed as a fresh start for an animal, like hatching, but if early life stress has negative effects on cognitive function after metamorphosis, then it would confirm newer hypotheses that some effects can be retained even through metamorphosis.

Navarro grew up in the small town of Quincy, WA where, due to lack of activities, he spent a lot of his time watching the animals around him react to stimuli. Navarro has always loved animals and science, but his curiosity is what has driven him into the world of animal behavior. He is a member of the Gamma Iota Omicron, Fraternity Inc., and one of the founding members of WSU SACNAS chapter.

His parents originated from Jalisco, Mexico before moving to the United States. Being of Mexican heritage, he has found it rare to find a person of color in a high-ranking position. In STEM, he said he has often felt uneasy about the lack of people of color pursuing degrees, and the lack of faculty members who have looked like him. Navarro believes role models can be found anywhere, but it’s harder to make a connection when you don’t have someone who understands how it feels to be a Mexican-American, first-generation college student. His goal is to become an academic in STEM, so that he can show someone like him, who is on the edge of continuing, that they can be successful in the field.

One of his goals for this year was to present at a big conference, and with the help of his mentor, Dr. Erica Crespi, SACNAS was his largest conference yet. No matter how smart one may be, he said, if findings aren’t communicated to other scientists and people outside the scientific community, the true potential of one’s research won’t be fulfilled.

In the future, Navarro plans to get a Ph.D. in Animal Behavior. His interests lie in how the animal’s environment, if bad at any point in time, can have lasting impacts on the animal’s behavior. Eventually he hopes to enter academia or work as an animal behaviorist at a zoo.

Student Spotlight: Madison Armstrong

What year are you? – Junior

What is your major? – Biology – Ecology/Evolution Option

Describe your favorite experience with SBS. – Maddie does a lot of community outreach, with the SBS Biology Graduate Student Association and as part of departmental recruitment events.

“It’s fun to be able to inspire science,” she says, “I love science so I want other people to love science, too!”

What advice would you give to students considering a major in Biology or Zoology? – “It’s important to understand that yes, the classes will be difficult,” for SBS majors, she says, but points out there there’s so much more to college than just getting through classes. “It’s more about, what’s your passion; the reason you’re here in college is to follow what you would love to do for your future career. It’s going to be worth it.”

What are your post-WSU plans? – “My primary research interest is environmental epigenetics,” she says, which leads naturally to the pursuit of a PhD. Eventually, Maddie might work with conservation works or a university. “I’d be really interested to better our understanding of how humans are influencing the environment and how that in turn is affecting the physical expression of genes in species,” she says.

Madison’s taking advantage of all the opportunities available to SBS undergrads: involvement in faculty research, community outreach, and more! If you’d like to know more about how to get involved, contact us at sbs at today!

WSU’S Very Own Bat Woman, Kara McClanahan

By: Sophia O’Brien

Kara McClanahan saves bats in her off time. The Instructional Lab Supervisor for SBS grew up in the southwest, which is where her love for bats arose — the climate there is warm and dry making it the perfect environment for many bat species. McClanahan spent part of her childhood in the subtropics of Japan, where she first saw fruit bats. She found it fascinating that such little animals could create such a demonic ideal in people and in the media.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in zoology from WSU, she looked to WSU faculty member Mike Webster for guidance on continuing graduate studies here. Webster studied animal behavior, specifically birds, and became McClanahan’s informal “genetics advisor”; he put her in contact with Christine Portfors a WSU Vancouver professor who became McClanahan’s “bat advisor”. McClanahan’s and Portfors’ studies on foraging bats in Central Washington looked at identifying what insects bats were eating by looking at the DNA in bat feces.

Though her days of bat research are behind her, she still participates in all things bat around campus. It is not unusual for the police, animal control, or environmental health to call in need of her bat rescuing expertise. McClanahan has her rabies vaccinations, which is one of the reasons she is often called when a bat is trapped indoor. Bats that are trapped inside are typically roosting on a wall or in a doorframe. She sneaks up on them and grabs them with leather gloves before taking them home to be fed and given fluids. The bats will fly away within a couple hours. She is in the process of acquiring a license for bat rehabilitation, which will make it so she can help bats with injuries and hold them for longer rehabilitation periods if necessary.

One of her most difficult bat rescues occurred in Webster Hall. All she knew was that there was a bat in the stairway; Webster has 14 floors. After making it to the top floor, she found the bat flying around the ceiling of the stairwell. Having nothing but the plastic aquarium and towel that she uses to transport the bats home, she decided to try throwing the towel in the air in hopes of it driving the bat down. The bat swooped down to avoid the towel and landed on the floor, lucky for her she was able to grab it safely.

So, what do you do if there’s a bat in your house? According to McClanahan, if a bat is found indoors and is just resting and hanging out during the day, it means it’s just seeking warmth and safety. The bat will fly back outside at night. They are creatures of habit, and will try to return to the safety of indoors. Once the bat has flown out, cover the entryway and put a bat house outside.

If you’re interested in more information on bats and how to keep bats out of your home visit:

SBS Welcomes New Faculty

By: Sophia O’Brien

School of Biological Sciences is excited to have Dr. Heather Watts joining us at our Pullman location. Dr. Watts specializes in behavior ecology and behavioral endocrinology, focusing on songbirds as models for her research. One of the songbirds is th

e pine siskin, which is found here locally. She’s looking forward to being close to her research subjects. She has lived all over the country getting her B.S. at Duke University and her Ph.D. from Michigan State University. WSU has a tradition of great research on avian biology; Dr. Watts aspires to continue that and to share her research with the community. She hopes that her students come away from her courses with a better understanding of how to think like a scientist and to approach questions scientifically. One of her goals is to help students connect what is being taught in her courses to their everyday lives. They’ll leave her courses more informed about the topics that are relevant for their lives today or in the future.

Tri-Cities WSU School of Biological Sciences is happy to have Dr. Tanya E. Cheeke as a new addition to their team. Dr. Cheeke is looking forward to getting her new lab set up and helping to train students in ecological research. She specializes in ecology and evolution of plant-mycorrhizal interactions within the context of a changing environment through disturbance, climate, or biological invasions. She’s from Corvallis, Oregon with a B.S. from The Evergreen State College, a Ph.D. from Portland State University, and post-doctoral training at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and at Indiana University. Being from the Pacific Northwest, she is excited for to the research opportunities in this region. Dr. Cheeke hopes to impart a love of science and an appreciation for the natural world through her courses. Her teaching methods include hands-on research opportunities in her classes to help prepare students for graduate school and a career in science. Her future projects include examining microbiomes of grapes and hops, and using symbiotic fungi to help native plants get re-established in the Palouse prairies.

WSU Pullman School of Biological Sciences is eager to welcome Dr. Wes Dowd to campus. Dr. Dowd is a comparative animal physiologist, primarily interested in environmental effects on how animals work. He specializes in studying animals that live in very variable environments, like the rocky intertidal zone on the coast where temperature, pH, oxygen, and other variables can change dramatically throughout the day. He grew up in Virginia, spending his summers on the Chesapeake Bay, which is where he first developed an interest for marine life. Dr. Dowd just moved to Pullman after spending 13 years in central and southern California. He is looking forward to building up his lab group with undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs. Being a member of the WSU community, he hopes to bring new opportunities for students and others to engage in marine-oriented research and education. He thinks that as a citizen and patron to the scientific enterprise, everyone should appreciate the value of studying and understanding the natural world beyond us. Some of the most important discoveries that pertain to the human condition start with descriptions of unusual observations in non-human systems. He also believes that there is inherent value in biological research even if it doesn’t directly benefit humans, and that we don’t always know how important scientific discovery is until later on.