UTA biology students receive awards for excellence

13 students recognized for distinction in academics, research, mentoring and teaching

Tuesday, May 14, 2024 • Katherine Egan Bennett : contact

Research at UT Arlington

Thirteen undergraduate and graduate students at The University of Texas at Arlington are being honored for excellence in academics, research, mentoring and/or teaching with awards. The awards are a mix of direct applications from students and others where they were nominated by faculty advisors. A committee of biology faculty then voted on the competitive awards.

“It’s so rewarding to be able to honor the next generation of biologists,” said Melissa Walsh, who chaired the selection committee of biology faculty that chose the award winners. “I’m excited to see what these students do as they continue in their research and careers.”

Chad Watkins Memorial Award: Created in honor of Chad Watkins, a UTA doctoral student in biology who died in a car accident in 2013 at age 38, this award recognizes graduate students who demonstrate a strong dedication and significant contribution to the training and professional development of undergraduate researchers. The 2024 recipients are:

  • Alison Blanton, a third-year quantitative biology doctoral student in the Ravenscraft Lab. The Chicago native finished her bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University in Dekalb and her master’s degree from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
  • Emily Van Buren, a fifth-year biology graduate student in the Mydlarz Lab. Originally from Canton, Mass., Van Buren completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee, and her master’s degree at the University of South Florida Moransi College of Medicine in Tampa.

Kretsinger Undergraduate Research Award: This one-time award is given to an outstanding undergraduate biology student. The 2024 recipient is:

  • Nathan Rather, a junior biology major from Spring, Texas, who attended Klein Collins High School. Rather was awarded a National Institutes of Health grant earlier this year for his research on cell death in the Ghose Lab.

Outstanding Graduate Research Award: This award is given each year to a graduate student who demonstrates outstanding research performance and achievement at the graduate level. The 2024 recipient is:

  • Edita Folfas, a fourth-year doctoral student studying quantitative biology in the Frishkoff Lab. The Toronto, Ontario, Canada-native received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto.

T.E. Kennerly Award: This award is given to the graduate teaching assistant who best exemplifies the devotion to teaching and concern for students exhibited by the late biology Professor Thomas Kennerly. The 2024 recipient is:

  • Madison Emery, a fourth-year biology doctoral student in the Mydlarz Lab. Emery completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Miami.

Thomas R. Hellier Jr. and Evelyn F. Hellier Biology Scholarship: Thomas Hellier, a former marine biology professor at UTA, and his wife, Evelyn, created this award to honor one student a year with high academic achievement. The 2024 recipient is:

  • Dayanara Arce, a junior biology major from North Richland Hills, who graduated from Birdville High School.

Undergraduate Research Award: This honor is awarded to an undergraduate student with the most outstanding research contribution during an academic year. The 2024 recipient is:

  • Neeka Mardani-Kamali, a biology undergraduate student working in the Rogers Lab.

Undergraduate Teaching Award: The Undergraduate Teaching Award honors a student who has shown excellence in undergraduate teaching in the classroom, curriculum development and lap preparation. The 2024 recipient is:

  • Hannah McDaniel, a senior biology major from Burleson, Texas, who graduated from Burleson High School.

William F. Pyburn Award: Named for William F. Pyburn, who spurred the creation of UTA’s acclaimed Amphibian and Reptile Diversity Research Center, this award recognizes a graduate student pursing studies in natural history. The 2024 recipient is:

  • Zachary Lange, a fourth-year biology doctoral student in the Frishkoff Lab. Originally from Sisters, Oregon, Lange received his bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and his master’s degree from John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.

William L. and Martha Hughes Award for the Study of Biology: This award was established in 1993 by William and Barbara Hughes in honor of his parents, William and Martha Hughes, who were both faculty at UT Arlington. The award is given to students who show potential for outstanding achievements and who are admitted to the UTA Department of Biology degree program. The 2024 recipients are:

  • Omar Elkassih, a junior studying microbiology. Originally from Arlington, he graduated from James Martin High School.
  • Ken Perry, a junior biology major and a graduate of Arlington High School. Perry was also named a McNair Scholar earlier this year.
  • Eric Pham is a senior microbiology major who graduated from Fossil Ridge High School in Keller, Texas. Although he was raised in Fort Worth, Pham was born in Vietnam.
  • Morad Marikh, a junior biology major from Arlington who graduated from James Martin High School.