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Sixth class of Ruby Fellows chosen for graduate research funding at WVU

Five doctoral students are the latest recipients of West Virginia University graduate school funding through the Ruby Scholars Graduate Fellows Program.

Maryssa Beasley, Angella Macias, Jill Riddell, Adama Warr and Andrew Weaver make up the sixth class of Fellows.

Established in 2011, the program 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.

“Our Ruby Fellows are always extraordinary scholars in their fields. What truly excites me about this year’s class of young scientists is their thoughtful perspective on their research,” said WVU Provost Joyce McConnell. “They all know exactly why they are pursuing their chosen disciplines and are deeply passionate about what they hope to achieve, in their own careers and for the future of our world.”

Students are required to pursue 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 Scholars Graduate 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.

“Congratulations to our new fellows. Without a doubt, 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 are pleased that the Fellowship will enable these students to expand their talents to benefit our state and beyond.”

Maryssa Beasley

Maryssa Beasley, a native of North Canton, Ohio, earned her bachelor’s degree in forensic chemistry from Ohio University in May 2017. At WVU, she will pursue a doctoral degree in chemistry within the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

Beasley said she has known she wanted to pursue chemistry since she took her first chemistry course, and is inspired by her grandmother who had a passion for higher education.

“Watching my grandmother tirelessly work to gather knowledge that she could use to better the world has inspired my passion for graduate school,” she said.

The Ruby Fellows Program will help her long-term goal of becoming a professor at a university or work for the FBI’s Counterterrorism and Forensic Research Unit.

“No matter what position I end up in, I am passionate about performing analytical research to advance the techniques and applications of analytical chemistry to forensics,” said Beasley.

The opportunity to learn more and apply new information to improve and advance her field is important to her. “Acceptance into West Virginia University’s chemistry graduate program would grant me the ability, faculty, and instrumentation to create innovative research topics that would challenge my thinking and knowledge, as well as benefit society.”

For Beasley, becoming a Ruby Fellow will support her in achieving one of her dreams.

“Personally, studying at WVU is the dream. I am determined to one day make a difference in forensic chemistry, and I feel like WVU is the place for me to accomplish that.”

Angie Macias

Angie Macias, originally from Naples, Florida, received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University in plant sciences in 2015, and is currently working on her master’s in plant pathology at WVU. As a Ruby Fellow, Macias plans to earn her doctorate in WVU’s plant and soil sciences program.

After graduating from Cornell and moving to Morgantown to earn her master’s degree, Macias had her first teaching experience with two sections of biology at WVU. “Before this experience, I had considered teaching to be an important part of a career in academia, but after the semester was over, I was convinced that teaching is more than just a career. It’s a way to change perspectives, change lives, and help students grow into responsible and educated adults.”

During her master’s studies, Macias has researched the relationship between the fungal communities of tree cankers and progression of disease, focusing on an emerging disease of walnut trees called thousand cankers’ disease. Her current master’s project deals with environmental microbiology involving the Brachycybe, a certain species of millipedes. This project aims to characterize the diversity and function of fungi associated with the species.

“I consider myself fortunate to have been involved with such varied research experiences that have shaped my early career,” said Macias. “I am learning not just what it takes to be an independent researcher in my field, but also how to be a good mentor, teach, collaborate with other researchers, and communicate science with the public at large.”

With the Ruby Fellowship, Macias plans to hone in on her skills she already possesses. “Obtaining a Ph.D. while continuing to work with Dr. Kasson at WVU will allow me to further develop my scientific writing and presentation skills, in addition to the skills in my research, so that I may continue to move towards my ultimate goal of conducting meaningful research and teaching.”

Jill Riddell

Jill Riddell is from Russell, Kentucky, and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky in 2011 and her master’s from WVU in 2015, both in geology. Since then, she has been working in environmental consulting and compliance in Morgantown.

During her education at WVU, Riddell served as co-president of the WVU chapter of Sigma Gamma Epsilon, an honor society for geology and earth science students. Through this society, Riddell was able to unite graduate and undergraduate students through their common interest of geology.

With the Ruby Fellowship, Riddell says it will help her achieve her academic and professional goals and will allow her to continue her graduate education and her research at WVU.

“Specifically, it is my goal to combine laboratory and field experiments, using skills developed during my master’s research, to model the transport of contaminants in real-world karst systems,” said Riddell.

“With a Ph.D. from WVU, I will be able to continue research that not only benefits WVU and West Virginia, but also conduct research that will make a real world impact.”

Adama Warr

Adama Warr, a native of Bababe, Mauritania in Africa, received his bachelor’s degree from DeVry University in technical management in 2008 and his master’s in agricultural and resource economics this past May.

Warr moved to Columbus, Ohio, 17 years ago from Bababe, where he went to Columbus State Community College to learn English. His hopes were to one day improve his community back home, so he continued his education by attending DeVry University and getting training in management and economics.

Just before coming to WVU, Warr served as a teaching assistant at Zenith Academy in Columbus, teaching math and Arabic, while also working in the information technology industry.

Under the guidance of WVU professor Dr. Collins, Warr says he has thrived academically. “I have learned from all of the great professors in this department, especially Dr. Collins.”

Warr says that the Ruby Fellows Program will help him make a difference. “The training I have received and will receive from WVU will help me improve Mauritania and its economy that is based on agriculture, oil, gold and fishing industries. I will be able to help the population live a sustainable life,” Warr said.

“I consider WVU’s program of natural resource economics to be essential to my success,” Warr said. “My background, my passion, and my experiences will continue to be the driving factors of my focus to continue to be successful at WVU.”

Andrew Weaver

Andrew Weaver, from Midland, Michigan, earned his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in 2015 and his master’s degree from Virginia Tech this past spring studying animal science. With the Ruby Fellowship, Weaver plans to earn his doctorate degree and research parasite resistance and methods for resistance that will benefit the sheep industry.

During his undergraduate career, Weaver worked at the Michigan State Sheep Teaching and Research Farm. “I had the opportunity to work with performance seedstock flocks focusing on growth and carcass characteristics as well as utilization of an accelerated lambing program and intensive rotational grazing system,” said Weaver.

In his two years at Virginia Tech, Weaver was able to conduct research that was aimed at improving growth and market value of crossbred lambs. “Additionally, I have been involved in the Virginia Cooperative Extension program disseminating research results to producers at field days and conferences and assisting with sheep producer workshops in Virginia and North Carolina,” said Weaver.

Weaver said that the sheep industry faces many challenges as it strives to remain a competitive, domestic animal protein source for the U.S. population.

“The Ruby Fellowship will provide the resources for a focused, research oriented graduate program at WVU addressing these challenges and providing novel information to improve agricultural sustainability both in the United States and around the world. A graduate program at WVU under the Ruby Fellowship would provide me with the basic science experience to better understand the core mechanisms while also connecting the basic science to the applied research necessary to demonstrate applicability to the commercial setting,” Weaver 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 fundraising effort by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December.

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