Two Wilkes University biology graduates are among a select group of early-career scientists chosen to receive National Science Foundation research fellowships. Andrew Bartlow of Muncy, Pa., and Rachel Curtis of Waymart, Pa., both of the class of 2010, credit undergraduate experiences in preparing them for the honor.
The NSF receives more than 13,000 applications for the fellowships, which carry three years of support and, including a $30,000 annual stipend and an additional $12,000 annually to cover tuition and fees. It is only the second time in Wilkes history that recent graduates have been awarded the fellowships.
Both Bartlow and Curtis worked as post-graduate researchers in the Wilkes biology department after earning their undergraduate degrees. Bartlow now is a doctoral student at the University of Utah, where he works in an evolutionary parasitology lab, examining the evolution of parasites and host/parasite interactions. However, his NSF proposal was based on work he started at Wilkes with biology professor Michael Steele and post-doctoral research fellow and Wilkes alumnus Salvatore Agosta ’98, who is now on the faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University.
“It is an extension of acorn dispersal and plant/animal interaction research that I worked on there,” he said. The research examines weevils, miniscule insects that infect acorns, and the impact on the oak population as their numbers increase in northern latitudes.
Curtis is a doctoral student in epidemiology in the Veterinary Integrative Biology Department of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. Her research examines the factors that determine the transmission of the parasite that causes Chagas disease, a debilitating disease with no known cure and no treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
“Chagas disease has always been an important tropical disease, and is found throughout South and Central America. However, only recently has it been recognized as being acquired in the United States,” Curtis said.
Both Bartlow and Curtis credit their research experiences at Wilkes with preparing them to compete with other doctoral students for the NSF grants. Curtis states, “Wilkes was the perfect place to develop the background I needed to be a successful applicant to this fellowship. NSF specifically looks for applicants with substantial research experiences, which were abundant at Wilkes. Attending Wilkes for my undergraduate degree gave me the research experiences, presentation skills and publications needed for success in the world of science.”
Both Bartlow and Curtis also acknowledge the role that mentoring from Wilkes faculty played in their development as scientists while undergraduates. Their faculty mentors cited the NSF fellowship as confirmation that both will make their mark as research scientists.
Biology professor Kenneth Klemow has high praise for Curtis. "Of the roughly 4,500 students whom I have taught in my 30 years as a Wilkes faculty member, Rachel ranks among the top two or three in terms of authentic intellectual curiosity and potential for professional development at the graduate level and beyond,” Klemow said. “She had a significant impact as a researcher in two projects under my direction, including the Kirby Park podcast trail guide and efforts to isolate resveratrol from Japanese knotweed. Her work set the stage for numerous follow-up research projects by other students.”
Mike Steele, H. Fenner Chair of Research Biology at Wilkes, said, “The news of this very prestigious award from the National Science Foundation leaves us tremendously proud and ecstatic for Andrew. During his time at Wilkes, Andrew’s research resulted in eight publications in international journals, six of which are already in print. This level of productivity, no doubt a major reason for the award, is quite rare, especially for first-year doctoral students. Couple this with a superb research proposal that Andrew derived from his Wilkes research and this NSF pre-doctoral fellowship seems almost inevitable.”