biology student explains research poster

Alykah Zahnd explains her biology research to Dr. Elizabeth Kennedy, Missouri Western’s president.

May 11, 2021–Alyka Zahnd, a sophomore wildlife conservation and management major from Savannah, Missouri, has been awarded the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Award for 2021. The ASPB-SURF program provides support for summer research to only a handful of student applicants from all over the world.

“The SURF Award is very prestigious, and extremely competitive, as students and their proposals compete for the 10-12 awards to projects selected from a pool of hundreds or even thousands of applicants from all over the world, from all institution types, including research-one institutions,” said Dr. Csengele Barta, associate professor of biology and Zahnd’s research mentor. “Historically, very few proposals get funded from predominantly undergraduate institutions like Missouri Western.”

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Alyka Zahnd

“I have found Missouri Western and the Department of Biology’s well-rounded programs to be a perfect fit for my career goals,” Zahnd said in her grant proposal. “Missouri Western, as the State of Missouri’s designated applied learning institution, places a uniquely high emphasis on hands-on, applied learning, offering students a wealth of applied learning opportunities beyond classrooms and labs. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to start student-faculty research as a freshman, encouraged and guided by Dr. Barta. Working in her lab, gaining insight into a wealth of techniques used in plant sciences, has been an invaluable career experience.”

Zahnd and Dr. Barta’s project is titled “Offense and defense strategies in plants’ chemical warfare for resources and survival: Can native “heroes” rescue other native plant species, sensitive to allelopathic inhibition, triggered by highly competitive invasive species?” The proposed project is grounded in preliminary research and data of their summer/Gold Fridays PORTAL project, preliminary data Zahnd recently presented at a variety of forums, including Missouri Western’s Multidisciplinary Research Day and PORTAL session.

The ASPB-SURF grant, in the cumulative value of $6K will provide Zahnd summer salary, support for research consumables for the lab, membership for Zahnd to the American Society of Plant Biologists and funds to cover her attendance and research presentation at the 2022 Plant Biology Meeting in Portland, Oregon, presenting the results of research conducted in 2021.

Zahnd is the second Missouri Western undergraduate research student to secure one of these prestigious grants. Rachael Prawitz received the grant in 2018

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