College of Arts and Sciences
News from the College of Arts and Sciences
Join us in celebrating the good news from the College of Arts and Sciences. This page is devoted to departments, faculty and students who are awarded scholarships, grants, endowments and other funding; faculty and students who travel to gain experience, attend conferences and complete research; and to thank donors for supporting academic achievement, research and the future of our students.
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The Good News!
Arts and Sciences Faculty Awarded a $2.5 Million NSF Grant
This grant will fund (through scholarships) 45 full-time undergraduate students who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees in biology, chemistry, earth sciences, mathematics or physics. The overall goal of this project is to increase STEM degree completion for low-income, high-achieving undergraduates with demonstrated financial need.
The team leading this endeavor are Amy Chambers (Math), Wendy Smith (Math), Janet Coonce (Chemistry) and Hannah Kinmonth-Schultz (Biology). Collectively, “We believe that there is an untapped pool of talent in Tennessee, particularly in the Upper Cumberland region. Academically talented students who have otherwise been unable to afford a rigorous, four-year STEM education due to financial reasons will have an opportunity to learn, grow, and expand their horizons. We are excited to see what students will be able to do when significant financial barriers are removed, and our planned wrap-around resources are poured into helping them be the absolute best they can be. This grant will give these students a chance to realize their potential and then reinvest in their own communities.”
Resources provided to students include comprehensive financial support; early, targeted and continuing academic and co-curricular support; cohort-building and mentoring; and facilitating leadership opportunities and real-world client-based projects.
This project is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program, which seeks to increase the number of low-income academically talented students with demonstrated financial need to earn degrees in STEM fields. It also aims to improve the education of future STEM workers, and to generate knowledge about academic success, retention, transfer, graduation and academic/career pathways of low-income students.
Dr. Wilson Guchihi with Two Articles Published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry
Dr. Guchuhi recently had two articles published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry – January 2, 2023 and April 28, 2023.
• “Predicted Negative Ion Photoelectron Spectra of 1-, 2-, and 9-Cyanoanthracene Radical
Anions and Computed Thermochemical Values of the Three Cyanoanthracene Isomers.” https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jpca.3c01178
• “From Benzonitrile to Dicyanobenzene3s: The Effect of an Additional CN Group on the Thermochemistry and Negative Ion Photoelectron Spectra of Dicyanobenzene Radical Anions” https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jpca.2c07655 (Note: Tennessee Tech chemistry graduate ‘23, Rebecca A. Firth @firth.rebecca.73, also contributed to the research presented in this article.
Alumna Published in "Science" alongside Professor
A recent publication in the journal Science featuring Tennessee Tech alumna, Kayla Hillis, and Dr. Lauren Michel assistant professor of earth science, is reshaping what scientists think Africa looked like millions of years ago.
The study reconstructed the environments that existed 20 million years ago in eastern Africa, and how these environments influenced the development of early apes. Many previous studies showed that during this time, equatorial Africa was covered by a forest and that warm-climate grasses didn’t appear to any great extent until between eight to 10 million years ago.
In 2013, a number of researchers who had been working independently at nine different sites in Kenya and Uganda joined forces and started a large collaborative research project: The Research on Eastern African Catarrhine and Hominoid Evolution project (REACHE). Dr. Michel was one of those researchers.
In 2017, Kayla Hillis expressed interest in the research and a desire to be involved as part of her senior thesis. Michel gave Hillis the task of analyzing the stable isotopic geochemistry of some of the samples that she had brought back from the Wayando Formation on Mfangano Island.
As Hillis collected data, she found what other researchers working on the project were also discovering in their own labs – evidence at a number of different sites in eastern Africa of both open habitats and locally abundant C4 grass, 10 million years earlier than previously documented. Meaning that C4 grasses and open habits were important parts of the early Miocene landscape and that early apes were able to exist in a diversity of environments including closed-canopy forests and more open habitats.
Physics Students Visit Taiwan with Professor
Three Tennessee Tech Physics majors accompanied by Dr. Mary Kidd attended the Partnerships for International Research and Education: Germanium Materials and Detectors Advancement Research Consortium (PIRE-GEMADARC) Summer School hosted by Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan.
Starting in 2018, PIRE-GEMADARC has hosted a summer school and international undergraduate research experience. The summer school specializes in teaching about the uses of germanium detectors in physics experiments involving double-beta decay and the direct detection of dark matter and is attended by students worldwide. Participants attended seminar-style lectures on germanium detectors, neutrino physics, dark matter, and cosmology. In addition, our hosts planned multiple cultural and scientific excursions. The students completed their research experience July 21.
Biology and Geology Students Traveled to Panama for Research
In May 2023, the Departments of Biology and Geology took a faculty led research trip to Panama. The class was focused on how the rise of the Isthmus of Panama affected biodiversity. During our 10 day trip the group hiked in the rainforest on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Panama, snorkeled in the Pacific, toured a sustainable permaculture farm on the island of Bastimentos, and visited historical ruins of old Panama that was invaded by the pirate Henry Morgan.
Faculty members who led this trip include Dr. Carla Hurt, Dr. Jeannette Luna and Dr. Richard Pirkle. This trip was supported by funds from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Departments of Biology and Earth Sciences, International Education Fees (The Provost's Office), and nominal fees from student participants.
French Students Visit High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia
Students studying French with Dr. Barnard and Dr. Duthoit recently traveled to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, to view the Shaheen Collection of French Works. This exhibition focused on French artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries including works of Eugene Boudin, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Amedeo Modigliani and Henri Matisse. This field trip was sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences.
Biology Student Wins Excellence in Creative Inquiry Award
Last summer’s research was so well-done that Natalie Perkins received the “Excellence in Creative Inquiry Award” from Tennessee Tech! This junior pre-med student is majoring in biology with a double concentration in health science and microbiology and she participated in the Creative Inquiry Summer Experience (CISE) during the summer of 2022.
The CISE program provides paid internships to help students develop their research and creative inquiry skills. Upon acceptance, students work on a project with a faculty member during the summer and present their findings.
Perkins worked with Richard Pirkle, senior instructor of biology at Tech, through the months of June, July and August. Their research compared the stress levels of geese who are raising their young in a group compared to geese who are raising their young alone.
Perkins and Pirkle caught and drew blood samples from geese in various locations across the Upper Cumberland. They found that males tend to have higher stress when they were helping to raise young in aggregations (groups of multiple pairs of reproductive geese) rather than in individual pairs.
“Natalie exhibited the type of dedication and interest that you expect from graduate students, not undergrads.” Pirkle said. “The project went better than expected. We were able to sample blood from a large number of geese and to fully analyze the samples this summer. We have plans to go to a regional science meeting and present our results, and I intend to continue working with Natalie until we publish our findings in a peer-reviewed journal.”
Southeastern Wildlife Student Conclave - Winners in Trapping and Free-Form Wildlife Art
Eleven student members of the Tennessee Tech Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society and their advisor, Dr. Steve Hayslette, travelled to Cleveland, Tennessee, March 16-18, to compete in the 2023 Southeastern Wildlife Student Conclave competition, hosted this year by the student chapter at Cleveland State Community College.
The Wildlife Society is the premier society of biologists, managers, and other wildlife professionals in North America. The student Conclave competition this year featured students from 18 southeastern universities.
Our students competed in a variety of intellectual events including quiz bowl, radiotelemetry, dendrology, lab practical, orienteering, and forest measurements, as well as physical competitions including obstacle course, archery, shotgunning, riflery, trapping, and flycasting. Our students had a great time and placed in several events, including trapping (first place!) and a free-form wildlife art competition.
Biology Student Wins 1st Place Tennessee Academy of Science - Botany Section
Emily Powell (Biology graduate student) poster presentation received first place in the Botany section at the recent Tennessee Academy of Science meetings in Nashville. Her research was part of a class project with Dr. Peter Li called Environmental Applications of GIS (GEOG 5650).
Emily examined the use of light detection and ranging (lidar) data to explore the relationship of vegetation height and the distribution of the federally endangered plant species Physaria globosa (Short’s bladderpod).
All students in Dr. Li’s course attended and presented their projects at the conference.
Interdisciplinary Trip to Belgium and the Netherlands
Faculty and students from the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering experienced Belgium and the Netherlands during spring break thanks to support from the College of Arts and Sciences Interdisciplinary Student Travel Fund, the Provost’s Office, the Department of Earth Sciences, the College of Engineering and the Department of Civil Engineering.
College of Arts and Science students Jonathon Stem (Earth Sciences), Creek Anderson (Political Science), Holly Stripling (Professional Sciences), Chapel Bell (Earth Sciences) and Sierra Alexander (Earth Science) visited historical sites, museums, structures and a host of other destinations on their trip last week. Accompanying them on this Study Abroad trip were Dr. Lauren Michel (Earth Sciences), Dr. Brian Williams (English), Dr. Lenley Weathers (Civil Engineering).
They experienced culture, history, art, architecture, advanced public works systems and so much more at locations including Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Delta Works in the Netherlands, Antwerp and Ghent.
Biology Professor Dr. Carla Hurt Travels to Curacao to Assist in Filming National Geographic Documentary
Dr. Carla Hurt, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology, traveled to Curacao to assist National Geographic and Disney Plus, in obtaining footage of the Alpheus armatus (pistol shrimp) for a documentary on underdogs of the biological world.
Dr. Hurt and her collaborator from Seattle University, Kristin Hultgren, worked on location in Curacao with the film team Wildstar Films (United Kingdom) in January to film the pistol shrimp underwater and in an aquarium. The pistol shrimp received its common name from the loud snapping noise they make with their large claw. Alpheus armatus live in curly cue sea anemones and protect their anemone home from predators, such as fireworms. This trip was funded by a National Science Foundation Grant.
The film group is also interested in generating a three-dimensional image of the claw to look at the snapping mechanism. Dr. Hurt and her team brought back claw samples to scan for the three-dimensional imaging and are hoping to work with the IMaker space on Tennessee Tech’s campus to obtain these scans.
Chemistry Student Claudia McDavid Receives 2023 Student Leadership Award from the American Chemical Society
Congratulations to Claudia McDavid for receiving the 2023 Student Leadership award from the American Chemical Society (ACS)! Claudia is a junior from Kingsport, Tennessee pursuing dual degrees in Chemistry and Biology, and minors in Sociology and Honors. She is a peer mentor for the Honors program and the Secretary of the Tech chapter of the Student Members of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Claudia is one of 14 students selected by ACS to receive this award. Recipients are selected from competitive pools of students from United States and international universities based on their leadership skills and extracurricular activities. The students selected possess the skills and potential to become future leaders within the ACS professional society.
As part of her selection Claudia attended the ACS Leadership Institute in Atlanta, Georgia in January. The Leadership Institute is an invitation-only conference that allows students to attend workshops and network with other student leaders from around the world, as well as ACS leaders from local sections, technical divisions, and the ACS national board.
Retired Biology Professor, Dr. Ray Jordan, Received Robert Hatcher Conservation Achievement Award
Dr. Ray Jordan was selected for the Bob Hatcher Award because his career exemplified in teaching, research, and service, a lifetime commitment to the study and conservation of Tennessee’s reptiles and amphibians. His greatest contribution to the conservation of Tennessee’s herpetofauna is probably his tremendous effort to educate students and the public about reptiles and amphibians with his coursework, specimen collection, and outreach efforts. He established a legacy of excellence in herpetological education at Tennessee Tech that continues to this day and will certainly do so for decades to come.
Two Earth Sciences Students Receive Outstanding TA Awards
Please join us in congratulating Sydney Beltran and Gabi Burke on winning the National Association of Geoscience Teachers Outstanding TA Awards! This award recognizes TAs that have gone above and beyond their normal service.
Gabi and Sydney both have provided elevated instruction and great experiences for students in the earth science labs at Tennessee Tech and are very deserving of this award. So, if you see them around Kittrell Hall, please make sure to tell them congratulations.
Rural Reimagined Grants Received by Four College of Arts and Sciences Faculty
The College of Arts and Sciences is pleased to announce that four of our faculty received a total of $52,771 in Rural Reimagined grants. The Center for Rural Innovation’s, Rural Reimagined Grand Challenge Faculty Grant Program aims to transform rural communities across the state through collaborations with TN Tech faculty and students.
“We are proud of the continued innovation and community involvement of the faculty in our College,” stated Dean Roberts. “These awards allow teaching staff to continue their vital research that enriches our region.”
Principal investigators include Dr. Erica Bower (Sociology and Political Science) “Uniting, Empowering, and Engaging our Upper Cumberland Community to Reduce Mental Health Issues and Substance Misuse,” Dr. Helen Hunt (English) “We Persist: A Women and Gender Studies Seminar in Livingston, Tennessee,” Dr. Ed Lisic (Chemistry) “Increasing Young Student Interest in STEM Education Through Games and Apps,” and Dr. Lauren Michel (Earth Sciences) “Establishment of the Upper Cumberland Climate History Project.”
Dr. Rajabali's Team is Creating an Ion Beam Lab
Associate Professor Dr. Mustafa Rajabali and his team are building an ion beam laboratory at Tennessee Tech University. The lab is a unique facility in that it involves only undergraduates in every aspect of its design, development and construction. It is envisioned to be a training ground for undergraduate science and engineering majors who intend to pursue graduate studies or a career path in applied physics. The facility will, among other things, be used for work related to Dr. Rajabali’s Department of Energy Grant.
By utilizing his grant, and teaching students how to get information and direction from departments across campus, Rajabali and his team have saved countless dollars and gained valuable hands-on experience. Examples of this team’s projects are impressive in both scope and cost savings. They have acquired the components from Oak Ridge National Lab’s Ion Beam Facility, designed the system to plug into a normal 20-amp circuit and use a high-power laser to produce an ion beam, developed plans to construct a Ti:Saph laser, built high-voltage safety and laser-safety interlocks, assembled a power generator, and rejuvenated three turbo-vacuum pumps.
Tech’s new ion-beam lab will incorporate many fields in physics and engineering and, eventually, the facility will support a multitude of projects such as laser spectroscopy of fast-ions, hyperfine structure studies for nuclear and atomic physics, molecular spectroscopy, trace element analysis, and detector and sensor characterization and development. The facility will support the interests of the faculty and students at Tennessee Tech while providing an advanced educational experience in physics and engineering for undergraduates.
The ingenuity and resourcefulness of Dr. Rajabali’s team has not only resulted in huge cost savings (costs incurred so far have been funded by grants), it has provided unique experiences for undergraduate students in acquiring knowledge, collaborating with other departments and facilities on campus, and in learning how to repair or build their own equipment. Invaluable lessons learned while building the facility.
Earth Sciences wins 43rd Annual GeoConclave
Tennessee Tech Earth Sciences students won Tennessee’s 43rd annual GeoConclave. Tennessee Tech students also placed first in the Rock Bowl!
The event took place this past weekend at Harrison Bay State Park near Chattanooga. Tennessee Tech students competed against students from Middle Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee-Knoxville and University of Tennessee-Martin. In the 43 years of GeoConclave, Tennessee Tech University students have won 20 times!
Additional congratulations go to the following students: Gabi Burke, 2nd place in Mineral ID; Kaiah Whited, 1st place in Rock ID; E Vigil, 2nd place in Fossil ID; Sydney Beltran, 1st place in Geologic Maps; Ben Lane, 1st place in Hydrogeologic Maps; and Gabi Burke, Kaiah Whited and E Vigil whose team placed 1st in the Rock Bowl! Wow! What a great showing!!! (Not sure who won the hammer toss, but it looks like fun!)
PS – Traditionally, Dr. Wayne Leimer (Professor Emeritus) would purchase a twelve-pack of Mr. Pibb for GeoConclave and the students would share it and take a picture if they won. If they did not win, they had to return the 12-pack to Dr. Leimer. This tradition continues today!
Biology Department - Trip to Guam
Dr. Carla Hurt's biology lab visited Guam this past summer to collect Alpheus snapping shrimp for her National Science Foundation funded biodiversity study. Two students accompanies her, Kati Torrance (NSF post-bacc) and Anchita Sanan (Master of Science, Biology Tennessee Tech). They met up with long-time collaborator, Kristin Hultgren from Seattle University and collected approximately 200 Alpheus from reefs, mangroves, and intertidal zones. The net step will be identifying all of the species.
Alumni Spotlight - Rachel Baker, B.S. Chemistry - Congressional Award Winner
Congratulations to alumna Rachel Baker Richards (B.S. Chemistry)! She has been awarded The Congressional Award for 2022! Established into law in 1979, the Congressional Award was created to honor, encourage, and inspire America’s youth. To earn The Congressional Award, participants set and achieve challenging goals in four program areas including Community/Voluntary Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness and Expedition/Exploration. Students (aged 14-24) must complete the requirements in all four programs to earn the awards. Rachel’s accomplishments are many!
Community Voluntary Service: Rachel completed over 400 hours voluntary service by partnering with UT-TSU Extension and Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee to help address community wellbeing through food insecurity and education support.
Personal Development: Rachel fulfilled over 200 hours of personal development by serving
the Tennessee Tech community as a student worker and tutor.
Physical Fitness: Rachel achieved over 200 hours of activities focusing on physical fitness while still a student at Tennessee Tech.
Expedition/Exploration: Rachel organized and took a trip through the Ozark area of Missouri to learn about the history of the region for which she also earned a STEM Star Award. Rachel also planned a trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to learn about its history and culture. Due to the COVID pandemic, Rachel creatively utilized remote resources provided by museums and historical sites to gain a similar experience. After earning the Award, she was able to complete this trip!
Congratulations, Rachel, from all of us at Tennessee Tech University! You are our hero!
Biology Student Wins Second Place at GARD Conference
Xavier Jackson, a Wildlife and Fisheries Science major, won second place for his poster presentation at the Global Amphibian and Reptile Disease (GARD) Conference in Knoxville, TN. The goal of GARD 2022, according to the conference website, was “to bring together scientists from across the globe to discuss various amphibian and reptile diseases, organize facilitated discussions on…host-pathogen systems, and identify disease management strategies that can be used to ensure the conservation of herpetofauna species for generations to come.” Xavier’s presentation focused on a student-led surveillance project for the salamander-eating fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, which he and other Tennessee Tech students conducted in Fall 2021 with Aubree Hill, Ph.D. The international GARD conference was co-sponsored by the Center for the Management, Utilization and Protection of Water Resources (Water Center) at TTU, The University of Tennessee, The National Science Foundation, The U.S. Geological Survey, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and many other organizations around the world.
Dr. Bradley Cohen's Students Present at Ducks Unlimited National Convention
Two graduate students in Dr. Brad Cohen's lab - Cory Highway and Nicholas Masto - were invited to present at the Ducks Unlimited National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, July 15, 2022. Nick and Cory gave updates to the Conservation Planning Committee about their ongoing waterfowl research. Dr. Cohen's lab is conducting research to examine how mallard behavior and survival are affected by hunting pressure and food availability in west Tennessee. The information his lab gathers is being used to help inform conservation efforts for waterfowl up and down the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and elsewhere.
Senior Chemistry Major Receives Award from Tennessee Environmental Show of the South
Chance Morris, a senior chemistry major with minors in biology and environmental studies, recently received the Student Scholarship Program Award from the Tennessee Environmental Network Show of the South (TENSOS) at their conference earlier this summer. TENSOS is a meeting for environmental professionals in the Southeast to meet and work together on tackling large environmental problems. Chance participated in a three round competition where he first submitted an abstract over his research project and was then invited to submit a poster over his work in the second round. He was one of the finalists to be invited to the third round of the competition to present his poster in person and give a short presentation at the TENSOS conference. Chance received one of two scholarships awarded at the meeting, and was the only undergraduate recipient. Chance conducts environmental chemistry research with Dr. Amanda Carroll working to remediate heavy metal contaminants from water sources. Congratulations Chance!
Goldwater Scholarship Awarded to Chemistry Student
Brayden C. Copeland, a sophomore student pursing degrees in Chemistry and Biology, with a minor in Honors, is one of the 417 outstanding college sophomore and junior students selected nationwide to receive the 2022 Goldwater Scholarship (up to $7,500, for up to 2 years). Brayden’s award comes 23 years after the scholarship was last awarded to a Tech student in 1999.
Brayden is conducting research in the Chemistry Department with Dr. O. Andreea Cojocaru, email@example.com. His research focuses on converting solid-state drugs into new dual functional liquid state drugs that would address issues faced by solid-state drugs such as polymorphism, limited efficacy and bioavailability while allowing for the development of new drug delivery strategies. Brayden has presented his research at National and Regional meetings and he is an author on a manuscript that was recently accepted for publication. Brayden’s goal is to become a practicing clinical physician and researcher.
Rebecca Firth Receives Kurt Eisen Excellence in Liberal Arts Award
Rebecca Firth, a senior pursuing a major in Chemistry and a minor in Astronomy, is the recipient of the 2022 Kurt Eisen Excellence in Liberal Arts Award. This is the highest student award given by the Tennessee Tech College of Arts and Sciences. Rebecca is recognized for her chemistry research and service to the American Chemistry Society though various leadership and outreach roles.
Rebecca joined Dr. Gichuhi’s research team as a sophomore. She has presented research on negative ion photoelectron spectroscopy of deprotonated benzonitrile at the regional and state levels. Working with Dr. Gichuhi, Rebecca is planning to submit her Benzonitrile work to the American Chemistry Society’s Journal of Chemical Information and Modelling.
According to Dr. Gichuhi, “this level of research productivity by an undergraduate student, especially in the area of physical chemistry, is not only extraordinary, but a clear indication of how intelligent, dedicated and talented Rebecca is.”
Earth Science Presents at the Geological Society of America Conference
Nine students and two faculty members from the department of Earth Science attended the 2022 Geological Society of America Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, April 7-9. Two students, Billy Clanton and Sydney Beltran, received URECA! Travel grants to attend the conference. Other students raised funds through the GeoClub to fund their travel.
Billy Clanton presented his senior thesis research on the Fort Payne Formation, a rock unit that outcrops near Celina, TN. Billy will attend graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi this fall. Sydney Beltran presented her senior thesis research on alluvial fans and deltas in Norway. These features are Earth-based analogs for similar structures on Mars. Sydney received a Creative Inquiry Summer Experience award to continue her research this summer.
Dr. Bhattacharya presented results from his postdoctoral research on the Indus Basin which record evidence of a tectonic collision between the Indian and Asian plates. He will return to TTU as an Assistant Professor in Earth Sciences this fall.