Liberty News

Liberty students shine at Virginia Academy of Science annual meeting

June 6, 2012 : By Drew Menard/Liberty University News Service

Three students of Liberty University’s Department of Biology and Chemistry earned first-place awards at the Virginia Academy of Science annual meeting at Norfolk State University May 23-25.

Recent graduates Rebecca Garrett, left, and Courtney McKenzie stand in front of Garrett’s poster at the Virginia Academy of Science annual meeting May 23-25. Garrett won best student poster for molecular biology and McKenzie won best student presentation in the same category.

Mike Canfarotta, right, shares his poster at the Virginia Academy of Science annual meeting May 23-25. He won best student poster for biology.

Liberty’s participants, all undergraduates, beat out other undergraduate and graduate students from across the state, including The College of William and Mary, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University and Hampden-Sydney College. Students presented their research through either presentations or poster formats.

“We are extremely proud of these students,” said Dr. David DeWitt, professor and chair of Liberty’s Department of Biology and Chemistry. “The research awards they won attest to the quality of our science programs at Liberty University and the hard work of our students and faculty. Awards like this go a long way to dispel the mistaken notion that Bible-believing Christians can’t do quality science.”

Recent graduate Courtney McKenzie won best student presentation for microbiology/molecular biology, and recent graduate Rebecca Garrett won best student poster in the same category. Their research was titled, “Global Characterization of DNA Methylation Patterns in an Alzheimer ’s Disease Model.”

Mike Canfarotta, who was a sophomore at the time of competition, won best student poster for biology. His project was titled “Mouse Colonization by Citrobacter rodentium.”

In order to qualify for the annual meeting, the students first presented their work at the VAS undergraduate meeting at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Va., in October 2011, where Liberty took home three of the five awards. In addition to earning the right to compete in the annual meeting, they also won a free one-year membership to the academy.

Garrett said participating in these meetings is a great way to network and to see research other students are working on across the state.

“It's fun to compare projects and see who has cool topics,” she said.

Canfarotta sees the meetings as a chance to represent his school.

“We are not only representing Liberty University as an institution, but we are also representing the beliefs and values that it upholds,” Canfarotta said. “I believe that our achievements are directly attributable to the hard work and dedication that our professors and research mentors have put into our education.”

Liberty’s students garnered much attention at the meeting, impressing several students and faculty from other institutions who were surprised at the quality of work coming from undergraduate students.

“(We) all received compliments throughout the day from individuals who were impressed with our project and regarded it as comparable to graduate level research,” McKenzie said.

Dr. Gary Isaacs, assistant professor of biology, said he is thankful that even though Liberty is a teaching school, it also views research as another opportunity to teach.

“Research in science cannot be separated from teaching because science jobs are research jobs. The hands-on experience that students get through doing these research projects is the best classroom they could ever be in.”

Isaacs, who was the research instructor for both Garrett and McKenzie, said Liberty has participated in VAS events throughout the years but recently has become more collectively involved, with several professors attending the recent meeting.

Dr. Andrew Fabich, assistant professor of microbiology, was Canfarotta’s research instructor. He said Liberty’s program is committed to excellence and is in no way crippled by its Christian foundation.

“Our high academic standard is even recognized by the rest of the world. We went toe-to-toe with everybody else that attended this meeting in the entire state of Virginia and won.”

McKenzie will be attending veterinary school at Virginia Tech in the fall. Garrett is currently working as a research assistant at the University of Virginia. Canfarotta is working in a summer research program at the University of Cincinnati Medical School and will continue his studies at Liberty this fall.

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