Webster Biology Student Named to Prestigious Fellowship

Apr. 3, 2013

Webster Biology Student Named to Prestigious Fellowship

ST. LOUIS, April 3, 2013 - It seemed like a routine class needed for a bachelor's degree in biology. But for Samantha Powers, it was a life-changing course. Powers, a junior at Webster University, was named as one of only 15 students in the United States granted a Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB). She will conduct research this summer for the national organization.

Powers credits the one-on-one mentorship from her professors at Webster for helping her qualify for the prestigious appointment.

"I believe that one of Webster's greatest strengths, and the one that ultimately led to me getting this fellowship, is the personal relationship that faculty and students are able to share at Webster," Powers said. "Over the past three years, I have been able to form connections and relationships with many of my professors in the Biology department. It's extremely reassuring to be surrounded by so many people who are so consistently committed to seeing you succeed. I can't say enough about the entire faculty and staff of the biology department."

Her trip to becoming a nationally-recognized biology student started with her enrollment in the Plant Physiology course on the Webster Grove campus last fall. Powers - who also plays on Webster's softball team in right field - previously was interested in pursuing a career in cancer research and had been conducting independent research in that field with Professor Stephanie Schroeder.

The professor teaching the plant course – Marta Paciorek – quickly realized that Powers had an aptitude for plant biology. She also learned that Powers hoped to enter the field of research and intended to pursue a graduate degree. When the course had ended, she approached Powers and introduced her to Lucia Strader, who operates the plant biology lab at Washington University. Shortly afterward, Powers was offered a job in that lab with Paciorek's recommendation. A few weeks later, both Paciorek and Strader urged Powers to apply for the fellowship.

Powers thought it was a long shot to get the appointment because the competition is fierce for the fellowships, but said that numerous faculty members helped her with the application, proofread and made suggestions on her research proposal, and made themselves available whenever possible.

Then on March 15, she learned she was selected. Anywhere from 75 to 140 students apply for the fellowship each year, said Katie Engen, the education coordinator for ASPB. The students are selected according to the quality of the research that is proposed.

"The students aren't just used as go-fers or lab labor but have to conduct their own research experiment that can be completed in the 10 weeks of the fellowship," Engen said. "The students also will present their results at our summer conference next year, which will be held in Portland."

Powers will conduct her research in the lab of an ASPB member who has agreed to be her research mentor during the fellowship, Engen said. In Powers' case, that means she will do her work in St. Louis under the direction of Strader and Paciorek.

Samantha Powers views cancer cells through a microscope"This is a significant honor for Samantha," said Professor Mary Preuss, a plant biologist in Webster's College of Arts & Sciences. "She will be able to pursue cutting edge plant biology research and travel to present her results at the ASPB annual meeting. This award demonstrates the exceptional aptitude of Samantha in biological research and will set her up for success in achieving her goals."

Powers said none of this would have happened if it weren't for the faculty at Webster, who all went out of their way to help her. And she said she is excited for her future, which she now admits could include paths in either cancer research or plant biology now.
"Not only do I get to spend the summer doing something that I love, I also get the satisfaction of knowing that I am making real contributions to the plant biology and science communities through my research," Powers said. "It has proven to be extremely rewarding to take things that I have learned in the classroom at Webster and translate it into the real life work. I'm doing that in the lab and now I'll continue that work over the summer thanks to this fellowship."

For more information about the fellowship, visit http://surf.aspb.org.