College of Arts and Sciences

News from the College of Arts and Sciences

Join us in celebrating the good news from the College of Arts and Sciences. This page is devoted to departments, faculty and students who are awarded scholarships, grants, endowments and other funding; faculty and students who travel to gain experience, attend conferences and complete research; and to thank donors for supporting academic achievement, research and the future of our students.  

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The Good News!

Biology Professor Dr. Carla Hurt Dr Carla Hurt BiologyTravels to Curacao to Assist in Filming National Geographic Documentary

Dr. Carla Hurt, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology, traveled to Curacao to assist National Geographic and Disney Plus, in obtaining footage of the Alpheus armatus (pistol shrimp) for a documentary on underdogs of the biological world.

Dr. Hurt and her collaborator from Seattle University, Kristin Hultgren, worked on location in Curacao with the film team Wildstar Films (United Kingdom) in January to film the pistol shrimp underwater and in an aquarium. The pistol shrimp received its common name from the loud snapping noise they make with their large claw. Alpheus armatus live in curly cue sea anemones and protect their anemone home from predators, such as fireworms. This trip was funded by a National Science Foundation Grant.

The film group is also interested in generating a three-dimensional image of the claw to look at the snapping mechanism. Dr. Hurt and her team brought back claw samples to scan for the three-dimensional imaging and are hoping to work with the IMaker space on Tennessee Tech’s campus to obtain these scans.

Chemistry Student Claudia Claudia McDavid Chemistry StudentMcDavid Receives 2023 Student Leadership Award from the American Chemical Society

Congratulations to Claudia McDavid for receiving the 2023 Student Leadership award from the American Chemical Society (ACS)! Claudia is a junior from Kingsport, Tennessee pursuing dual degrees in Chemistry and Biology, and minors in Sociology and Honors. She is a peer mentor for the Honors program and the Secretary of the Tech chapter of the Student Members of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Claudia is one of 14 students selected by ACS to receive this award. Recipients are selected from competitive pools of students from United States and international universities based on their leadership skills and extracurricular activities. The students selected possess the skills and potential to become future leaders within the ACS professional society.

As part of her selection Claudia attended the ACS Leadership Institute in Atlanta, Georgia in January. The Leadership Institute is an invitation-only conference that allows students to attend workshops and network with other student leaders from around the world, as well as ACS leaders from local sections, technical divisions, and the ACS national board.

Retired Biology Professor, DrJordan Biology ProfDr. Ray Jordan, Received Robert Hatcher Conservation Achievement Award

Dr. Ray Jordan was selected for the Bob Hatcher Award because his career exemplified in teaching, research, and service, a lifetime commitment to the study and conservation of Tennessee’s reptiles and amphibians. His greatest contribution to the conservation of Tennessee’s herpetofauna is probably his tremendous effort to educate students and the public about reptiles and amphibians with his coursework, specimen collection, and outreach efforts. He established a legacy of excellence in herpetological education at Tennessee Tech that continues to this day and will certainly do so for decades to come.

Two Earth Sciences Students Gabi Burke and Syndney BeltranReceive Outstanding TA Awards

Please join us in congratulating Sydney Beltran and Gabi Burke on winning the National Association of Geoscience Teachers Outstanding TA Awards! This award recognizes TAs that have gone above and beyond their normal service.

Gabi and Sydney both have provided elevated instruction and great experiences for students in the earth science labs at Tennessee Tech and are very deserving of this award. So, if you see them around Kittrell Hall, please make sure to tell them congratulations.


Rural Reimagined Grants Rural Reimagined Award WinnersReceived by Four College of Arts and Sciences Faculty

The College of Arts and Sciences is pleased to announce that four of our faculty received a total of $52,771 in Rural Reimagined grants. The Center for Rural Innovation’s, Rural Reimagined Grand Challenge Faculty Grant Program aims to transform rural communities across the state through collaborations with TN Tech faculty and students.

“We are proud of the continued innovation and community involvement of the faculty in our College,” stated Dean Roberts. “These awards allow teaching staff to continue their vital research that enriches our region.”

Principal investigators include Dr. Erica Bower (Sociology and Political Science) “Uniting, Empowering, and Engaging our Upper Cumberland Community to Reduce Mental Health Issues and Substance Misuse,” Dr. Helen Hunt (English) “We Persist: A Women and Gender Studies Seminar in Livingston, Tennessee,” Dr. Ed Lisic (Chemistry) “Increasing Young Student Interest in STEM Education Through Games and Apps,” and Dr. Lauren Michel (Earth Sciences) “Establishment of the Upper Cumberland Climate History Project.”

Dr. Rajabali's Team is Creating Dr Rajabali and Teaman Ion Beam Lab 

Associate Professor Dr. Mustafa Rajabali and his team are building an ion beam laboratory at Tennessee Tech University. The lab is a unique facility in that it involves only undergraduates in every aspect of its design, development and construction. It is envisioned to be a training ground for undergraduate science and engineering majors who intend to pursue graduate studies or a career path in applied physics. The facility will, among other things, be used for work related to Dr. Rajabali’s Department of Energy Grant.

By utilizing his grant, and teaching students how to get information and direction from departments across campus, Rajabali and his team have saved countless dollars and gained valuable hands-on experience. Examples of this team’s projects are impressive in both scope and cost savings. They have acquired the components from Oak Ridge National Lab’s Ion Beam Facility, designed the system to plug into a normal 20-amp circuit and use a high-power laser to produce an ion beam, developed plans to construct a Ti:Saph laser, built high-voltage safety and laser-safety interlocks, assembled a power generator, and rejuvenated three turbo-vacuum pumps.

Tech’s new ion-beam lab will incorporate many fields in physics and engineering and, eventually, the facility will support a multitude of projects such as laser spectroscopy of fast-ions, hyperfine structure studies for nuclear and atomic physics, molecular spectroscopy, trace element analysis, and detector and sensor characterization and development. The facility will support the interests of the faculty and students at Tennessee Tech while providing an advanced educational experience in physics and engineering for undergraduates.

The ingenuity and resourcefulness of Dr. Rajabali’s team has not only resulted in huge cost savings (costs incurred so far have been funded by grants), it has provided unique experiences for undergraduate students in acquiring knowledge, collaborating with other departments and facilities on campus, and in learning how to repair or build their own equipment. Invaluable lessons learned while building the facility.

Earth Sciences wins 43rd GeoConclave2022Annual GeoConclave 

Tennessee Tech Earth Sciences students won Tennessee’s 43rd annual GeoConclave. Tennessee Tech students also placed first in the Rock Bowl!

The event took place this past weekend at Harrison Bay State Park near Chattanooga. Tennessee Tech students competed against students from Middle Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee-Knoxville and University of Tennessee-Martin. In the 43 years of GeoConclave, Tennessee Tech University students have won 20 times!

Additional congratulations go to the following students: Gabi Burke, 2nd place in Mineral ID; Kaiah Whited, 1st place in Rock ID; E Vigil, 2nd place in Fossil ID; Sydney Beltran, 1st place in Geologic Maps; Ben Lane, 1st place in Hydrogeologic Maps; and Gabi Burke, Kaiah Whited and E Vigil whose team placed 1st in the Rock Bowl! Wow! What a great showing!!! (Not sure who won the hammer toss, but it looks like fun!)

PS – Traditionally, Dr. Wayne Leimer (Professor Emeritus) would purchase a twelve-pack of Mr. Pibb for GeoConclave and the students would share it and take a picture if they won. If they did not win, they had to return the 12-pack to Dr. Leimer. This tradition continues today!

Biology Department - Trip to Guam Guam Trip

Dr. Carla Hurt's biology lab visited Guam this past summer to collect Alpheus snapping shrimp for her National Science Foundation funded biodiversity study. Two students accompanies her, Kati Torrance (NSF post-bacc) and Anchita Sanan (Master of Science, Biology Tennessee Tech). They met up with long-time collaborator, Kristin Hultgren from Seattle University and collected approximately 200 Alpheus from reefs, mangroves, and intertidal zones. The net step will be identifying all of the species.

Alumni Spotlight - Rachel Baker, Rachel Baker Congressional AwardB.S. Chemistry - Congressional Award Winner

Congratulations to alumna Rachel Baker Richards (B.S. Chemistry)! She has been awarded The Congressional Award for 2022! Established into law in 1979, the Congressional Award was created to honor, encourage, and inspire America’s youth. To earn The Congressional Award, participants set and achieve challenging goals in four program areas including Community/Voluntary Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness and Expedition/Exploration. Students (aged 14-24) must complete the requirements in all four programs to earn the awards. Rachel’s accomplishments are many!

Community Voluntary Service: Rachel completed over 400 hours voluntary service by partnering with UT-TSU Extension and Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee to help address community wellbeing through food insecurity and education support.

Personal Development: Rachel fulfilled over 200 hours of personal development by serving the Tennessee Tech community as a student worker and tutor.
Physical Fitness: Rachel achieved over 200 hours of activities focusing on physical fitness while still a student at Tennessee Tech.

Expedition/Exploration: Rachel organized and took a trip through the Ozark area of Missouri to learn about the history of the region for which she also earned a STEM Star Award. Rachel also planned a trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to learn about its history and culture. Due to the COVID pandemic, Rachel creatively utilized remote resources provided by museums and historical sites to gain a similar experience. After earning the Award, she was able to complete this trip!

Congratulations, Rachel, from all of us at Tennessee Tech University! You are our hero!

Biology Student Wins Second Place at GARD Conference

Xavier JacksonXavier Jackson, a Wildlife and Fisheries Science major, won second place for his poster presentation at the Global Amphibian and Reptile Disease (GARD) Conference in Knoxville, TN. The goal of GARD 2022, according to the conference website, was “to bring together scientists from across the globe to discuss various amphibian and reptile diseases, organize facilitated discussions on…host-pathogen systems, and identify disease management strategies that can be used to ensure the conservation of herpetofauna species for generations to come.” Xavier’s presentation focused on a student-led surveillance project for the salamander-eating fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, which he and other Tennessee Tech students conducted in Fall 2021 with Aubree Hill, Ph.D. The international GARD conference was co-sponsored by the Center for the Management, Utilization and Protection of Water Resources (Water Center) at TTU, The University of Tennessee, The National Science Foundation, The U.S. Geological Survey, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and many other organizations around the world.

Dr. Bradley Cohen's Students Present at Ducks Unlimited National Convention

Cohen studentsTwo graduate students in Dr. Brad Cohen's lab - Cory Highway and Nicholas Masto - were invited to present at the Ducks Unlimited National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, July 15, 2022. Nick and Cory gave updates to the Conservation Planning Committee about their ongoing waterfowl research. Dr. Cohen's lab is conducting research to examine how mallard behavior and survival are affected by hunting pressure and food availability in west Tennessee. The information his lab gathers is being used to help inform conservation efforts for waterfowl up and down the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and elsewhere.

Senior Chemistry Major Receives Award from Tennessee Environmental Show of the South

Chance MorrisChance Morris, a senior chemistry major with minors  in biology and environmental studies, recently received the Student Scholarship Program Award from the Tennessee Environmental Network Show of the South (TENSOS) at their conference earlier this summer. TENSOS is a meeting for environmental professionals in the Southeast to meet and work together on tackling large environmental problems. Chance participated in a three round competition where he first submitted an abstract over his research project and was then invited to submit a poster over his work in the second round. He was one of the finalists to be invited to the third round of the competition to present his poster in person and give a short presentation at the TENSOS conference. Chance received one of two scholarships awarded at the meeting, and was the only undergraduate recipient. Chance conducts environmental chemistry research with Dr. Amanda Carroll working to remediate heavy metal contaminants from water sources. Congratulations Chance! 

Goldwater Scholarship Awarded to Chemistry Student

Braden CopelandBrayden C. Copeland, a sophomore student pursing degrees in Chemistry and Biology, with a minor in Honors, is one of the 417 outstanding college sophomore and junior students selected nationwide to receive the 2022 Goldwater Scholarship (up to $7,500, for up to 2 years). Brayden’s award comes 23 years after the scholarship was last awarded to a Tech student in 1999.

Brayden is conducting research in the Chemistry Department with Dr. O. Andreea Cojocaru, His research focuses on converting solid-state drugs into new dual functional liquid state drugs that would address issues faced by solid-state drugs such as polymorphism, limited efficacy and bioavailability while allowing for the development of new drug delivery strategies. Brayden has presented his research at National and Regional meetings and he is an author on a manuscript that was recently accepted for publication. Brayden’s goal is to become a practicing clinical physician and researcher.

Rebecca Firth Receives Kurt Eisen Excellence in Liberal Arts Award

Rebecca FirthRebecca Firth, a senior pursuing a major in Chemistry and a minor in Astronomy, is the recipient of the 2022 Kurt Eisen Excellence in Liberal Arts Award. This is the highest student award given by the Tennessee Tech College of Arts and Sciences. Rebecca is recognized for her chemistry research and service to the American Chemistry Society though various leadership and outreach roles. 

Rebecca joined Dr. Gichuhi’s research team as a sophomore. She has presented research on negative ion photoelectron spectroscopy of deprotonated benzonitrile at the regional and state levels. Working with Dr. Gichuhi, Rebecca is planning to submit her Benzonitrile work to the American Chemistry Society’s Journal of Chemical Information and Modelling. 

According to Dr. Gichuhi, “this level of research productivity by an undergraduate student, especially in the area of physical chemistry, is not only extraordinary, but a clear indication of how intelligent, dedicated and talented Rebecca is.”

Earth Science Presents at the Geological Society of America Conference

Earth Science GSA 22Nine students and two faculty members from the department of Earth Science attended the 2022 Geological Society of America Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, April 7-9. Two students, Billy Clanton and Sydney Beltran, received URECA! Travel grants to attend the conference. Other students raised funds through the GeoClub to fund their travel.

Billy Clanton presented his senior thesis research on the Fort Payne Formation, a rock unit that outcrops near Celina, TN. Billy will attend graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi this fall. Sydney Beltran presented her senior thesis research on alluvial fans and deltas in Norway. These features are Earth-based analogs for similar structures on Mars. Sydney received a Creative Inquiry Summer Experience award to continue her research this summer.

Dr. Bhattacharya presented results from his postdoctoral research on the Indus Basin which record evidence of a tectonic collision between the Indian and Asian plates. He will return to TTU as an Assistant Professor in Earth Sciences this fall.

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