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Fourth class of Ruby Fellows named to receive graduate research funding at WVU

on Thu, 09/17/2015 - 12:33

Three students, all pursuing doctoral degrees, are the latest recipients of West Virginia University graduate school funding through the Ruby Scholars Graduate Fellows Program.

Amanda Davis, Emily Plyler and Brynnan Russ comprise the fourth class of Scholars.

Established in 2011, the fund provides tuition waivers, a $30,000 stipend and a $2,000 travel grant to each fellow, assisting them with furthering their research as graduate students and preparing them to enter science and engineering fields.

The program encourages students from across the country to not only further their studies at WVU, but to use their skills and areas of study to benefit the people of West Virginia, the United States and the world.

“Congratulations to Amanda, Emily and Brynnan on their important research pursuits,” said WVU President Gordon Gee. “We are so fortunate to have a scholarship that supports graduate work in the science and engineering fields. I want to again thank the Ruby Trust for funding such an outstanding fellowship program.”

Students are required to be pursuing graduate degrees in fields focusing on research related to energy and environmental sciences, nanotechnology and material science, biological, biotechnical and biomedical sciences, or biometrics, security, sensing, forensic sciences and related identification technologies.

The Ruby Fellows program was made possible by a $5 million gift from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust. That amount was matched by the West Virginia Research Trust Fund, bringing total funding for the program to $10 million.

“Without question, the Ruby Scholars Graduate Fellowship Program is attracting and assisting exceptionally talented graduate students to WVU from across the country,” said Stephen B. Farmer, member of the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust Board of Trustees. “We congratulate this latest class of scholars, knowing the Fellowship will enable these students to commit themselves to expanding their talents and using those talents to benefit our state, country and the world.”

Amanda Davis

Davis, from Salem, W.Va., earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in secondary education from West Virginia Wesleyan in May 2015. While at WVU, she will pursue a doctorate in nutritional biochemistry within the animal and food sciences department in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.

Davis says her long term goal is to become a competitive researcher and share knowledge as a student-centered educator. She is primarily interested in applying her research to the issue of obesity in West Virginia.

As someone who lives a very active lifestyle, Davis says she dislikes the normalcy of obesity in the state and across the country.

“I want others to be able to enjoy life without the stress of being unhealthy,” Davis said.

The opportunity to be a Ruby Fellow extends far beyond the financial award; Davis looks forward to learning and growing as a student and researcher.

“This fellowship will provide me the opportunity to receive criticism that will improve my scientific approach and better understand the components of designing an extensive research project,” Davis said. “I will improve my communication through teaching in classrooms and via seminars, which will help me to expand scientific understanding. Most importantly, this fellowship will provide the opportunity to become an independent thinker and leader in order to develop expertise in my field and communicate the importance of science to the world.”

Emily Plyler

Emily Plyler, a Guys Mills, Pa. native, graduated from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. As a Ruby Fellow, Plyler will conduct research within the biomedical sciences program with plans of pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience in WVU’s School of Medicine.

Her interest in neuroscience research developed while working in a lab at Edinboro. This opportunity came to her during her freshman year when a professor approached her after a psychology club meeting.

With her background in psychology, Plyler learned a lot about mental disorders and diseases, sparking her interest in learning what causes these abnormalities.

“I hope to unmask a piece of the puzzle and bring society one step closer to treating or curing mental illnesses,” Plyler said.

When speaking about the fellowship opportunity, Plyler said, “It’s about finding students who want to make a big contribution. Because I am lucky enough to receive this funding, I will be able to focus on becoming a researcher and potentially a mentor to others.”

Plyler also noted the benefits of a $2,000 travel stipend.

“It opens up doors for communication and shared ideas with researchers outside of Morgantown,” she said. “It allows you to share and grow.”

Brynnan Russ

As a Ruby Fellow, Brynnan Russ will conduct graduate research in pursuit of a doctoral degree in animal science with a specialization in parasite immunology in WVU’s Davis College. Russ, of Tallahassee, Fla., graduated from Mississippi State University with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.

From a young age, Russ knew that she wanted her future to involve working with animals in some aspect. Her interest evolved from the plan to be a veterinarian to the desire to continue research studies, combining both animal science and biochemistry.

“The program at WVU integrates biochemistry and animal science, and I got really excited when I found that out,” Russ said. “I talked to the department and I became interested in what they do because it’s not only about the animal, it’s about the biochemistry and biology, too.”

Russ says that her interest in research stems from her interest in answering questions that could potentially help people in their communities.

She says she is very thankful for the fellowship, which will allow her to invest all of her time in her research goals.

“Having everything basically covered will really give me the ability to focus on the research instead of worrying about having another job on the side,” Russ said.

The Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust was established by Mrs. McQuain, wife of the late J.W. Ruby. Mrs. McQuain died in 2002 at the age of 93. She was the retired president of Ruby Enterprises Inc., and was involved in philanthropic giving that benefitted not only the University, but also local organizations, for more than 20 years. One of the many donations included an $8 million gift for reconstruction of Ruby Memorial Hospital, named after her husband.

The gift establishing the Ruby Scholars Graduate Fellow Program is part of A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $1 billion fundraising effort by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2017.

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