As temperatures soared near triple digits last Wednesday, the weather formed a compelling case for Ava Spencer’s research on how extreme heat impacts Fredericksburg’s most marginalized communities.
“I wanted to look at these issues from a sociological perspective, in a way that could help people,” said Ava, a rising senior majoring in environmental science at the University of Mary Washington.
She was one of a pair of students who took home the top prizes at UMW’s Summer Science Institute (SSI), which engages undergraduates in an intense 10-week research experience with professors and peers. At a public symposium held in the Hurley Convergence Center’s Digital Auditorium, she and physics major Kevin Leong were chosen by a panel of faculty judges to each receive a scholarship award through the John C. and Jerri Barden Perkins ’61 College of Arts and Sciences Student Research Endowment. The funds will help the students continue their projects through the upcoming school year.
Second place winners were Curtis Kasiski for his research on determining the dietary diversity of bumblebees, and Orianne Mbuyi Mujinga Kazadi for her work identifying fungal strains that can destroy invasive spotted lanternflies.
“I hope this award inspires them to open their minds to possibilities in life,” said Dr. Jerri Barden Perkins, who watched the presentations via Zoom. She was amazed at the variety and relevance of topics, she says, from fighting antibiotic resistance with phage therapy to using sockets to create video games. “The liberal arts and sciences education students find at Mary Washington broadens their perspectives and prepares them for the real world.”
Dr. Perkins earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Mary Washington and a M.D. from the Medical College of Virginia. She went on to conduct her own trailblazing research into rheumatoid arthritis and approved one of the first FDA drug therapies to combat AIDS. Her endowment, one of several she established at UMW, is in honor of her late husband, Cal, who practiced internal medicine.
“The Perkins scholarship award will allow us to recognize UMW students demonstrating exemplary performance,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger. “This elevates SSI to a professional level.”
Kevin, a rising senior, received the “Best Poster” award for his creation of a solar-powered cell phone charging station for homeless people. Working with Assistant Professor of Physics Desmond Villalba, he used a 3-D printer, and created and programmed circuits, to assemble a functioning prototype he hopes can be replicated in Fredericksburg.
“I feel so honored to have won the Perkins award,” said Kevin, adding that SSI has inspired him to pursue a career or further education in research. “The entire experience has been fantastic.”
Ava, who won the “Best Presentation” award, collaborated with Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Pamela Grothe ’06 and a team of volunteers to map temperatures across Fredericksburg.
They discovered that some neighborhoods historically zoned for African Americans were up to five degrees warmer than others due to lack of tree canopy and green spaces. “Research like this has been performed in larger cities, but not smaller communities like ours,” Ava said.
Receiving the Perkins award, she said, will help her continue the research through the fall semester. She hopes her findings will eventually aid local officials with the city’s climate action plan. “It’s a great feeling to be recognized for a project you’ve poured your time, energy and love into.”
For information on endowing scholarships at the University of Mary Washington, please contact the Office of University Advancement at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-654-1024.
– Article written by Assistant Director of Advancement Communications Jill Graziano Laiacona ’04