Four students pursuing doctoral degrees at West Virginia University are receiving funding through the Ruby Scholars Graduate Fellowship Program. The seventh class of fellows includes Hannah Clipp, Michelle Frankot, Dylan Linville and Lakyn Sanders.
The program, established in 2011, includes a stipend of $34,000, a $2,000 travel grant and tuition waivers for each fellow to continue their research at WVU.
The requirements include pursuing degrees in the areas of energy and environmental sciences, nanotechnology and material science, biological, biotechnical and biomedical sciences, or biometrics, security, sensing, forensic sciences and related identification technologies.
“Though our Ruby Fellows are always extraordinary scholars in their fields, what impresses me about this year’s class is the breadth of their interests,” said WVU Provost Joyce McConnell. “From studies in wildlife resources to astrophysics, each of these scholars is pursuing a unique passion that will lead them toward fulfilling and meaningful careers and will truly make our world a better place.”
The program was made possible by the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust with a $5 million gift. The West Virginia Research Trust Fund matched the gift to bring funding for the program to $10 million.
“It’s great to see that the Ruby Scholars Graduate Fellowship Program is attracting 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. “This Fellowship will enable these students to commit themselves to expanding their talents and using those talents to benefit our state, country and the world. We congratulate each of them.”
Hannah Clipp is from Bel Air, Md. Earning two bachelor’s degrees in wildlife and fisheries resources and multidisciplinary studies (conservation ecology, biology, and English) from WVU and a master’s degree in wildlife ecology from the University of Delaware. She returns to earn her doctoral degree in forest resources sciences, specializing in wildlife resources.
“I want to answer novel questions and generate scientific knowledge to better inform and guide wildlife conservation and management. Specifically, my goal is to study avian responses to anthropogenic impacts, management actions, and environmental factors,” Clipp explained.
She first began environmental research in high school when she completed a nine month-long project identifying the most cost-effective way to reduce pollutant loading in streams on agricultural land. At WVU, she was involved with several independent research projects, a founding member and president of the student chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology and served as vice president of the student chapter of The Wildlife Society.
“I’m lucky that much of wildlife research is field-based. Whether walking through prairies and finding grassland songbird nests, surveying waterbirds at wetlands, or extracting a bird from a mist net, nothing can beat getting outside in nature and interacting with wildlife.”
Clipp returns to WVU because she was excited about a proposed project and to join the West Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
“The fellowship provides a unique freedom in pursuing research questions and supports travel to scientific conferences, which is essential for professional development and networking.”
After finishing her degree, she plans to pursue a career as a research wildlife biologist for a federal natural resources agency.
Michelle Frankot, a native from Tucson, Ariz., attended Point Loma Nazarene University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology. At California State University, Long Beach, she earned her master’s degree in psychological research.
“I am interested in the bidirectional relationship between the brain and behavior. I had previously been studying psychology, which focuses on behavior, but my master’s advisor, Dr. Yada Treesukosol, introduced me to behavioral neuroscience research that combined the brain and behavior,” said Frankot.
While working with Dr. Treesukosol, they studied alternate fasting, a popular dietary strategy, to understand how fasting affects behavior and the chemical signals from the stomach to the brain to make a person feel satisfied. Frankot also has research experience in traumatic brain injuries and how the injuries can lead to violent, aggressive behavior.
At WVU, she is continuing her research in traumatic brain injuries in the behavioral neuroscience graduate program.
“There are no existing solutions for brain injury, so we see a huge gap in our knowledge of the brain as well as large populations of people that need treatment. Because of this, I hope to focus on assessing potential methods for alleviating the symptoms of brain injury.”
Being a Ruby Scholar will help Frankot develop the research and teaching skills that she needs for her future career.
“I am really excited to be able to focus on research at WVU and learn the advanced techniques that are being used in the lab to study brain injury.”
After Frankot completes her Ph.D., she plans on either teaching, researching or doing both. She thanks Dr. Treesukosol for helping her discover her interests and giving her the skills to succeed at WVU.
Dylan Linville, of Mentor, Ohio, earned his bachelor’s degree in physics with minors in astronomy and mathematics from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (RHIT). At WVU, he plans on pursuing a doctoral degree in physics with a focus in astronomy/astrophysics.
“It just kind of sparks something deep in my mind, stronger than other areas of science can. There's a sense of wonder to the cosmos that enthralls and never really goes away,” said Linville.
Linville worked at an REU with the Green Bank Observatory studying star forming regions in molecular clouds. At RHIT, he spent numerous quarters doing asteroid photometry.
“I enjoy the potential for learning new things, akin to the thrill I imagine the explorers of previous eras felt. I want to contribute to the sum of human knowledge and understanding of the universe.”
Being a Ruby Fellow gives Linville the opportunity to begin researching sooner. Unsure in which area to focus on in astronomy, he plans on deciding while he is at WVU.
After finishing his degree, he plans to become a college professor, so he can share his knowledge with future generations and continue research.
Lakyn Sanders, from Clear Spring, Md., received an associate’s degree in biotechnology from Hagerstown Community College and earned her bachelor’s degree from Shepard University in biology with a minor in chemistry. She plans on earning her doctoral degree from WVU in biology.
Biology has been an interest of Sanders for a long time. She took a biotechnology class her freshman year of high school and was interested in the Human Genome Project. After, she knew she wanted to be a biologist and be involved with research.
“I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a lot of varied research. For the past 5 ½ years, I have been a contractor for the United States Geological Survey at their National Fish Health Research Laboratory,” said Sanders.
Some research projects she has worked on include Spread of Rat Lung in Florida, comparing coral populations in the Mid-Atlantic Canyons and changes in gene expression levels of fish in response to environmental stressors such as water temperature and salt levels.
“I really enjoy the hands-on aspect of working with biological samples, troubleshooting methods and generating data,” she explained.
WVU’s strong focus on research, academic quality, and small class sizes sparked Sander’s interest in WVU. Even though WVU is a larger school than the other schools she has attended, she likes that she can have ample interaction with her professors and advisors.
“Being a Ruby Scholar will allow me to focus more on my research with Dr. DiFazio to strengthen my analysis, writing, and presentation skills which are crucial to my growth and development as a researcher.”
After graduating from her program, Sanders plans to continue her career at a teaching university where she can continue researching genetics and teach students.
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 J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, named after her husband.