Along with collaborators from Bucknell University, Assistant Professor of Biology Matthew Venesky and Allegheny co-author Jordan Gaston (’16) published a research article titled “Seasonal and deil signature of Eastern Hellbender environmental DNA” in the peer Journal of Wildlife Management and Wildlife Monographs.
October 5th 2017
September 18th 2017
Quick, what do you see in your mind’s eye when you hear the word “scientist?”
For many kids, research shows, the image is of a white male in a lab coat.
It can take exposure to someone of a different color or gender to change the perception of who can be a scientist and what he — or she — can do, said Lisa Whitenack, an associate professor of biology at Allegheny College who studies sharks.
“When you turn on ‘Shark Week,’ it’s almost all male. When you look on TV and in magazines, it’s predominately men,” Whitenack said. “If you’re not seeing yourself, that can be discouraging.”
Whitenack is one of 10 female shark scientists participating in “Shark Tales: Women Making Waves,” a symposium for high school and college-age women organized by the Gills Club. An education initiative of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, the Gills Club is “dedicated to connecting girls with female scientists from around the world” and promoting women in science.
Whitenack is the only scientist representing a liberal arts college at the symposium, which runs Tuesday through Wednesday at the New England Aquarium in Boston.
“It’s a huge honor, especially being at a liberal arts college,” she said. “I’m in amazing company with other women I admire and some wonderful up-and-coming shark scientists as well. It also speaks to (what) we do at Allegheny. We’re not small science. We do real science. Some people might think you have to be at big school or a big lab to do science that gets out there and makes a difference and contributes to the field. The fact that (the Gills Club) asked me to do this reflects well on Allegheny, too.”
Whitenack will participate in an “Ask Me Anything” question-and-answer session, dissect sharks with Boston-area students, and give a short talk about weird Paleozoic sharks.
Throughout the symposium, students will get a chance to learn about shark biology, shark brains, conservation efforts and more, Whitenack said. But the biggest message is one personified by the 10 women scientists and keynote speakers, she said.
“Women are here and we’re doing this and you can too.”
The symposium will be live-streamed on the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s Facebook page. Follow #SharkTales on Twitter to participate in “Ask Me Anything” sessions and to follow symposium events.
For more information about the Gills Club and “Shark Tales: Women Making Waves,” visit www.gillsclub.org.
Photo: Allegheny College Associate Professor of Biology Lisa Whitenack touches a Tyrannosaurus Rex jaw.
August 31st 2017
Associate Professor of Biology Lisa Whitenack has recently been named an associate editor of the scientific journal Neotropical Ichthyology. This international journal publishes research articles about fishes from South America, Central America, and the southern-most parts of North America.
August 30th 2017
Biology alumnus Anthony Hessel (’12), Assistant Professor of Biology Lisa Whitenack and collaborator Bill Ryerson (St. Anslem College) have published the second part of Hessel’s undergraduate research on how salamanders jump in the journal Herpetologica. Plethodontid salamanders will drop their tails as a defense mechanism when threatened by a predator. They also jump as a means of escaping predators. Hessel, Ryerson, and Whitenack found that the salamanders can compensate for losing their tails and the shift in their center of mass, and still do a good job jumping.
May 9th 2017
Allegheny College senior Melissa Mattwig has received a prestigious Boren Award and will be a part of the African Flagship Languages Initiative (AFLI) beginning in the summer of 2017.
As a Boren Scholar, she has been selected to study Swahili in Tanzania for a year and will receive a $20,000 scholarship for her studies. Mattwig is a double major in biology and environmental science, and a double minor in French and Spanish.
“I want to study Swahili because I would like to continue to study the ecology of lakes, particularly focusing on great lakes, both in North America and Africa, and how they are expected to change as a function of climate change,” Mattwig says. “It is in the same discipline as my comp, which studied lakes from a degradation perspective. I want to continue to study lakes, but I’d like to go more in depth on climate change-related degradation.”
Patrick Jackson, national fellowships advisor in the Allegheny Gateway, encouraged and assisted Mattwig in applying for the scholarship. “I think that Melissa’s particular strength was the coherency of her proposal — she’s got a long-term vision for studying freshwater ecology, and since much of the world’s fresh water is to be found in the East African Great Lakes, it makes a ton of sense for her to learn to speak Swahili,” Jackson says.
Once she completes the program, Mattwig intends to go to graduate school and would like to become a professor. She also will work for the federal government for at least one year as part of the Boren Award requirements. “Ideally, I will still be working with government entities that collaborate with East African scientists and communities around the African Great Lakes,” Mattwig says.
“If there’s a water catastrophe in East Africa, it will affect the stability of the entire region, which would undoubtedly have knock-on effects related to U.S. interests — military, commercial and political. If she can manage to get a handle on the language, she will be an important asset not just to the scientific community, but to the State Department as well,” says Jackson.
The Boren Awards and Scholarships were created by David L. Boren, who was the principal author of the legislation for the National Security Education Program (NSEP) that funds the program. The award is meant to increase the number of experts in underrepresented countries, whose needs and perspectives need to be more fully understood. Administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE), 194 scholarships were awarded this year to undergraduate students, and 114 to graduate students, and among them they will live in 44 countries and study 36 languages.
As one of the experts-in-training, Mattwig will begin her studies at the University of Florida, participating in the AFLI Domestic Intensive Summer Program, hosted by the Center for African Studies and the Department of Languages, Literatures and Culture. The eight-week course will have classes during the week, as well as two extra sessions with host families.
“I’m looking forward to chatting with people,” Mattwig says. “I’m going to be meeting others with life experiences and ideas completely different from mine, and I look forward to listening to those stories from all sorts of different people. I anticipate experiencing difficulty in transitioning to a different culture, but I’m more excited about everything I am going to learn and experience more than anything.”
In the fall, Mattwig will leave to study in Arusha, Tanzania, at the MS Training Center for Development Cooperation. The program has been developing extensive training in Swahili studies for 40 years, offering courses for scholars of all levels of expertise. Once the semester is over, Mattwig has chosen to extend her studies for another semester. She will spend the spring semester continuing in the Boren program, but will supplement the courses with an internship in an environmental organization nearby.
Mattwig will attend Allegheny’s 2017 Commencement ceremony on May 13 but will remain matriculated until the completion of the Boren Scholar program, officially graduating in May 2018.
February 1st 2017
Mark Kirk ’11, Scott Wissinger, Brandon Goeller ’10, and Leslie Rieck ’09 of the Biology and Environmental Science Departments recently published an article titled “Covarying Impacts of Land Use and Non-native Brown Trout on Fish Communities in Small Streams” in the journal Freshwater Biology. The paper is based on research conducted through senior projects funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Federation. Kirk (lead author) is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in fisheries at the University of Wyoming, Goeller is pursuing a Ph.D. in aquatic ecology at the University of Canterbury, NZ, and Rieck is completing her Ph.D. in fisheries at Ohio State University.
December 8th 2016
What are people reading and hearing about the Zika virus?
How are their behaviors changing as a result?
Those are the questions three Allegheny College professors are asking as part of an interdisciplinary effort here to better understand the global consequences of Zika, a virus at the center of an international public health emergency.
The answers could have profound social and economic ripple effects and change the way society talks about sexually transmitted infections, including Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that can also be spread through sex.
Vesta Silva’s work began this summer.
Silva, an associate professor of communication arts, and student Rachael Robertson ’17 analyzed an archive of American media coverage of Zika, looking for common themes. The stories, they found, focused on personal, not governmental or public, responsibility: Wear long sleeves. Use bug spray. When sexual transmission was part of the message, the message was limited to “Don’t get pregnant,” said Silva, who also teaches in the interdisciplinary Global Health Studies program.
Government officials weren’t talking about what federal, state and local agencies could do beyond insecticide spraying (visual, but not very effective, Silva said) or long-term research and vaccine development. Nor were they discussing direct actions communities could take now with the help of the government or nonprofit agencies, like installing window screens and air conditioning and cleaning up neighborhoods, Silva said.
“It’s not that there’s no role for the individual, but when you’re simply telling the story of individual responsibility and the government is responsible for vaccines only, we lose all sorts of possibilities for slowing the spread of Zika,” she said.
And just as important, what people read, hear and understand about the virus could influence their decisions and behavior.
As Silva was scouring newspapers and websites, Becky Dawson ’00 and Amelia Darrouzet-Nardi, both Allegheny assistant professors of global health studies, were surveying more than 2,000 women of childbearing age who live in states bordering Mexico or in states along the Gulf Coast, the areas in the U.S. most vulnerable to Zika infection.
A short questionnaire asked women about their behaviors and their future plans, whether they were sexually active and whether they planned to have children, among other questions. It also asked what form of birth control they used, if any, and which forms of birth control should be encouraged and used in light of Zika.
Dawson and Darrouzet-Nardi have just started to analyze the results, but answers suggest misconceptions about the virus and how it is spread.
“Our initial findings suggest that among the women who have heard about Zika, fewer than 15 percent are changing their sexual behaviors as a result of the outbreak,” Dawson said. “The number of women who are unaware that Zika can be spread between monogamous partners is staggering. We are also seeing that the majority of women believe that they know how to prevent spread of the disease by avoiding mosquito bites. The level of concern for the disease is lower than we anticipated.”
That could be because public health campaigns have largely focused on mosquito bite prevention. There has been relatively much less education around sexual transmission, and that’s especially problematic when it comes to Zika, Dawson and Darrouzet-Nardi said.
Infection during pregnancy can cause birth defects, including microcephaly, which could have major economic effects on a family.
“Having it happen to you would be so life-changing,” Darrouzet-Nardi said.
It’s also important to talk about sexual transmission because people typically think of sexually transmitted infections as something they’re vulnerable to only if they or their partners are not monogamous, Darrouzet-Nardi said. That’s not the case with Zika. A woman or a man in a monogamous relationship who has been infected through a mosquito bite could pass the virus on to his or her partner.
“Monogamy isn’t protection,” she said.
That’s a game-changer, potentially upending how everyone ought to be talking about sexually transmitted infections and safe sexual practices in the future, Dawson said.
“Now we can pass an infection with enormous consequences between monogamous partners,” she said. “It’s going to revolutionize the way we talk about sex.”
If women do start making family planning decisions based on Zika, the effects on demographics and the economy could be long term and far reaching, Darrouzet-Nardi said.
“Whether and how women attempt to plan pregnancies around various risks is still an empirical question, and the answer is essential for improving global maternal health, birth outcomes, and women’s empowerment. Regular monitoring of family planning decisions and outcomes is essential for understanding the patterns that emerge with respect to infectious diseases or other health threats,” she said.
An interdisciplinary approach to Zika is crucial, Silva said.
“Zika is not a problem that can only be addressed by science, social science or humanities alone,” Silva said. “If we don’t bring all of those perspectives to bear, we’re missing key elements of controlling this outbreak or future outbreaks.”
December 1st 2016
Matthew Zaborowski ’17 and Assistant Professor of Global Health Studies and Biology Becky Dawson ’00 , presented a poster entitled “Investigating the Root Cause: Oral Health Emergency Department Admissions” at the National Association of County and City Health Officials Annual Meeting in July. Zaborowski’s poster was one of two completed by a student to be accepted into this year’s conference.
November 29th 2016
Leah Krainz ’18 presented a poster titled “Musca domestica Transmits Viable Haemophilus ducreyi” at the Allegheny Branch of the American Society for Microbiology annual meeting. Her coauthors on the poster were Jordan Gaston ’16 and Associate Professor of Biology Tricia Humphreys.
November 29th 2016
Professor of Biology, Neuroscience, and Global Health Studies Lee Coates recently served as a facilitator for a Council on Undergraduate Research workshop on “Beginning a Research Program in the Natural Sciences” held in Washington, D.C. Coates also presented a talk titled “10 Habits of Highly Effective Researchers.”