August 18, 2022

Summer Science Students Earn Perkins Research Awards

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.

Participants in Mary Washington’s 2022 Summer Science Institute pose for a picture with their professors and peers. Photo credit: UMW’s Summer Science Institute.

Participants in Mary Washington’s 2022 Summer Science Institute pose for a picture with their professors and peers. Photo credit: UMW’s Summer Science Institute.

“I wanted to look at these issues from a sociological perspective, in a way that could help people,” says 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,” says 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,” says College of Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger. “This elevates SSI to a professional level.” Read more.