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Five students honored with first-ever Provost’s Award for Research Excellence


March 10, 2017

Liberty University honored the inaugural recipients of the Provost’s Award for Research Excellence (PARE) on Wednesday in the Montview Alumni Ballroom during an all-faculty meeting. The primary goal of the new awards program is to promote, support, and advance student research, scholarship, and creative endeavors at all levels and across all disciplines. Five students were awarded grants of $2,500-$4,000 to continue their research either domestically or abroad and to prepare them for advanced research scholarship.

Up to five recipients will be selected annually by a faculty panel. The program is directed by the Liberty University Fulbright Committee, which is administered through the School of Law and supervised by the Office of the Provost. Through the process of designing a research project, developing an application, and executing their research, students will improve their chances of being selected for federal, state, and local grant opportunities.

Dr. Keith Faulkner, dean of Liberty Law, joined Dr. Ronald Hawkins, Liberty’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs to introduce this year’s recipients: sophomore Blake Davis (history, with a Western legal traditions minor), senior Ruth Nair (pre-med), junior Luis Quijano (fashion design with minors in businessChinese, and chemistry), junior Caroline Roberts (biomedical sciences), and graduate student Connor Schonta (Master of Arts in History).

“We are an institution that values curiosity, and we want to encourage our students to be curious and move the barriers of research out of the way and to do some exciting, cutting-edge work,” Hawkins said. “The students we have recognized today have described creative and promising research projects, and they have demonstrated the leadership qualities needed to advance that research.”

Recipients are required to complete their projects in the summer immediately following notification of the award. They are also expected to present their project outcomes at the university’s Undergraduate or Graduate Research Symposium during Annual Research Week.

Davis will be researching the 1807 treason trial of Aaron Burr and will travel to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., as well as the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

“I want to go to law school one day, and this award is going to give me the opportunity to research in D.C. a court case that happened over 200 years ago,” Davis said. “To have that on my résumé is going to be huge for law school applications.”

Nair is studying the effects of curcumin (a plant-produced chemical) on fungal species that cause aspergillosis (an infection caused by a type of mold that usually affects the respiratory system). She wants to enter an M.D.-Ph.D. program and pursue a career in medical research. Being able to work on this project, under the supervision of Dr. Michael Price, associate professor of biology, will give her valuable experience.

“The honor is a confirmation of what I want to do; I am thankful to God for it,” she said.

Quijano will travel to Australia this summer to research extracting starch from beets, yams, and sweet potatoes as a source of carbon to make bacterial cellulose. He is blending science with fashion to find more responsible ways to make textiles.

“There is not much research being done with this because it is very new,” Quijano said. “Being on the forefront of sustainability is awesome. (The PARE) means everything. It gives me the opportunity to make an impact on the fashion industry, which is so wasteful. Being able to collaborate with different departments to elevate the research (at Liberty) is so huge.”

Roberts is studying the genetic effects of folate on mice through an ongoing nutritional study on mice at Liberty under the supervision of Dr. Gary Isaacs, associate professor of biology, and Dr. Greg Raner, professor of biochemistry. She aspires to attend medical school, and having this undergraduate research experience will help as she applies for programs.

“I am really thankful that the university has started this (PARE) so that we have an opportunity to have funding,” Roberts said. “The school is so supportive of research.”

Schonta will study the effect that the 1938 Munich Agreement had on Czechoslovakian Jews, both before and after it was signed. The grant will allow him to travel to the FDR Presidential Library in New York, the Princeton University Library in New Jersey, and the Library of Congress.

“This award is affirmation that curiosity and interest are a good thing and that (my research) is a worthwhile endeavor,” he said. “There are a lot of parallels with what I am studying and some issues we are dealing with today. (I want to) encourage people to realize that issues are complex; there are a lot of different perspectives and views involved. I want to promote patience and humility when approaching different issues.”

Edna Udobong, associate professor at Liberty Law and the Liberty University Fulbright advisor and campus liaison, coordinated the award program. This year’s faculty reviewers were: Dr. Andrea Beam, associate professor/chair of Middle Grades and Secondary Education at the School of Education; Dr. Gary Isaacs, associate professor, Department of Biology & Chemistry; David Meyer, assistant professor, Studio & Digital Arts; Dr. David Snead, professor, History Department; Dr. Lucinda Spaulding, associate professor, School of Education; and Dr. James Zabloski, assistant professor, Rawlings School of Divinity.

For more information on Liberty’s Fulbright scholarships and study grants, visit Liberty’s Fulbright page.