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Cunningham Fellowship recipients selected

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 06 - September 28, 1995

Seven individuals from around the country have received Virginia Tech's prestigious Cunningham Fellowship which recognizes the students' outstanding credentials and potential as doctoral degree candidates.

The proceeds from an endowment from Virginia Tech alumnus George Cunningham and his wife Gladys, combined with department and university resources, provide up to 10 $17,000-to-$20,000 fellowship packages each year. The fellowship is renewable for three years.

In an open competition, the university's academic departments submit the names of blue-ribbon students to whom they would like to offer a Cunningham Fellowship. This year's recipients and their majors are Barbara Bennett, biology; Michael Cyterski, fisheries and wildlife sciences; Bryan Dickerson, materials science and engineering; Heather Harris, science and technology studies; Thomas Kuhar, entomology; Jennifer McPeak Howard, materials engineering and science; and Jean Marie Whichard, veterinary microbiology.

Bennett has always been interested in stream ecology. When she got to college she "was very excited when I found out there could be a career studying streams."

As an undergraduate in biology at Transylvania University, she worked on a research project to observe predator-prey interactions in a stream in the Bernheim Forest in Kentucky.

Her undergraduate research experience wasn't entirely concerned with streams. She received a National Science Foundation summer research fellowship at Northeast Missouri State University, where she studied a fungal endophyte in fescue-a system related to "fescue toxicity."

She earned an award for her outstanding work in biology and graduated with honors from Transylvania University. Bennett's goal is to become a professor. "I like teaching. I like people and helping them understand. And I like research."

Cyterski says, "Growing up on the shores of Lake Erie instilled in me a fascination for aquatic communities." Through undergraduate studies at Harvard and master of science studies at the University of Minnesota, he studied the population dynamics of fish that are important for commercial consumption and recreation.

At Virginia Tech, Cyterski will further develop the application of quantitative ecology to real-world problems, particularly refining computer models for application in fishery management. He notes that the department's faculty members "are internationally recognized for their applied research in freshwater fisheries dynamics and development of predictive models of fish community response." Cyterski hopes to teach and do research in applied aquatic ecology.

Dickerson's creativity has moved from using light, color, and canvas to create art to using light, energy, and thin films to create the next generation of random-access memory devices used in computers. He received a bachelor's degree in studio arts from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1985. He then went to work for Cordec Corp., a composite manufacturing laboratory in Norton, where he "enjoyed imagining how observed microstructure developed, and then testing these hypotheses by redesigning the process and equipment to improve the products."

He earned a bachelor's degree in materials engineering from Virginia Tech in 1995. "I enjoy exploring the nature of physical phenomena....I wish to apply old, and generate new, electrical concepts to develop materials processing for the computer industry. A Ph.D. in this area will prepare me to contribute to advancements in optical and electronic materials in a research environment, allowing me to serve people by converting theories into useful tools," Dickerson said.

His research at Virginia Tech is also supported by the Oak Ridge National Lab Advanced Industrial Concepts program. Dickerson plans to work for an integrated-circuit manufacturer, a government laboratory, or a research consortium.

Harris' goal is to become a teacher and a scholar-and she has already demonstrated outstanding ability as a graduate teaching assistant and master's-level researcher.

Her master's-degree research at Virginia Tech obtained important findings, according to faculty colleagues. She discovered that the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky conducted trials of birth-control pills of a sort that were widely thought to have been conducted only in Puerto Rico. "The discovery has opened up an important line of investigation into the development of the pill, the institutional base for clinical and populations studies on its safety and reliability," said Richard Burian, director of the Science and Technology Studies Center where Harris is a student.

Her doctoral research will continue to look at the development and dissemination of the pill and its impact on society.

Harris received her bachelor of arts, cum laude, in history from the University of Missouri. She is a member of Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Alpha Theta honor societies, and the American Historical Association.

Howard decided to become a materials engineer after working as a co-op student with Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, Mich., while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. "I developed an understanding of the behavior of materials. I realized my potential for success in materials research."

She chose Virginia Tech for her graduate work because of the interdisciplinary materials science and engineering program, which offers courses in engineering science and mechanics, chemistry, mathematics, chemical engineering, and materials science. In her first year at the university, Howard has worked on an industrial research project to discover why a composite part used in water filtration begins to fail after long-term exposure to pressure and salt-water solutions.

Her doctoral research will address another materials challenge. Howard plans to construct a molecular and mathematical model of the crystallization behavior of polymers in the presence of solvents.

She also is assisting with Project SUCCEED, a multi-university project to propose curriculum changes and open engineering education to a broader base of students.

Describing an undergraduate research project at Towson State University, Kuhar said the study of insects, called entomology, "sparked more interest and enthusiasm in me than any academic area had done before."

Since enrolling as a master's-degree student in entomology at Virginia Tech in 1992, Kuhar has conducted research on management of the Western corn rootworm, an economically damaging pest in Virginia. His research has helped determine when to use controls, and has resulted in four publications and five presentations at national meetings.

Kuhar also has worked and volunteered as a teaching assistant, given on-farm talks and developed Extension protocols for measurement of corn rootworm, and is a leader in professional and department activities. He chairs the Entomology Society of America's Eastern Branch Graduate Student Committee, is president of the university entomology society, serves on the department's seminar committee and student awards committee, and is student tour coordinator, giving slide shows and live-insect demonstrations to grade-school children. He judged the Blue Ridge Highlands Regional Science Fair, and represented the Virginia Tech entomology department at the Insect Expo at the Roanoke Science Museum.

Kuhar is a member of several other professional and honor organizations, including the Virginia Academy of Science, American Museum of Natural History Society, and Tri Beta National Biological Honor Society. He has received numerous scholarships during his academic career. His goal is a career in academics.

Whichard's graduate student research has made contributions in the area of salmonella in poultry, and she also works in bacteriology as it relates to food safety. She is interested in preventing, diagnosing and treating microbial diseases in animals.

Her goal is to "conduct socially relevant research in veterinary microbiology" as a research scientist in the pharmaceutical industry or as a university researcher and teacher-bridging basic science education, clinical applications, and research. She has been the student representative to the College of Veterinary Medicine's curriculum board for four years, has worked as a lab assistant, and been co-head counselor of the "Young Women in Science" program.

Whichard earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry from Mary Baldwin College in 1991.