2017 Award Winners

Excellence in Scientific Persistence Award

Meagan Kathryn Moore, Baton Rouge Community College (Professor – Dr. Mary Miller) 

Joseph P. Caruso Award for Excellence in Mentorship

Dr. Samantha Gruenheid, McGill University

Excellence in Leadership Award

Tsu-Wei "Joy" Tseng, McGill University (Professor – Dr. Samantha Gruenheid)

Excellence in Scientific Discovery Award

Elizabeth Davis and Dr. Hans Wildschutte, Bowling Green State University

Best-in-Session Student Poster Award

Emma Hignett, McGill University (Professor – Dr. Samantha Gruenheid)

Honorable Mention:

Best Graduate Student Poster – Ethan Drury, University of East Anglia (Professor – Dr. Laura Bowater)

Scavenger Hunt Winning Team

GoMeanGreen! – University of North Texas (Professor – Dr. Roxana Hughes)

Team Member Roster: Lindsey Daniel, Shiloh Terrell, Alex Diaz

Excellence in Scientific Persistence Awardee Profile

Award Criteria

The Excellence in Scientific Persistence Award recognizes students who demonstrate exceptional endurance for research and learning goals of the Small World Initiative. The recipient devoted significant commitment and effort to SWI project goals and/or displayed noteworthy perseverance in overcoming setbacks or hurdles during the SWI experience. The recipient displayed a high degree of tenacity and stamina for the SWI project in one or more of the following ways:

  • Exceptional time commitment to the SWI course learning outcomes and/or research goals
  • Exceptional intellectual commitment to SWI research goals
  • Exceptional attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors that positively impacted the SWI classroom community
  • Exceptional constancy and commitment to SWI in spite of significant challenges or circumstances
  • Other attributes not described above that are especially deserving of recognition and exemplify persistence 

Meagan Kathryn Moore, Baton Rouge Community College (Professor – Dr. Mary Miller)

Looking at a piece of driftwood may not be beautiful to you, but Meagan believes there is beauty all around us in nature, even within a dead piece of driftwood. Finding beauty in the world around her and sharing this with others is a love of our Excellence in Scientific Persistence award winner. Meagan is in her last year of study at Baton Rouge Community College where she is earning Associate's degrees in Pre-Engineering, Biological Sciences, and Fine Arts. After she finishes her degrees, she plans to matriculate at Louisiana State University (LSU) where she will study Biomedical Engineering and Art and hopes to do research in biomimicry and neuroscience. She is currently doing research at LSU in Medical Physics under Dr. Wayne Newhauser where she is working on radiation therapy with 3D printed models. She recently learned that she will be included as a SciArt Contributor for an art exhibit in December of 2017 with possible microbial work being utilized, and in a health science gallery in 2018.

Meagan has been involved in SWI for a few years, first taking the lab from Mary Miller, then volunteering, and finally working as a Teaching Assistant. She presented a poster last year of her lab research. Although SWI was not her first experience working in a lab, Meagan is quick to give credit to the program for broadening her scope of science and teaching her that persistence in science does pay off in the end. It taught her oral and written communication skills that she would not have gained on her own and opened her eyes to a global health issue. SWI inspired her to do more citizen science outreach in hopes of making others aware of the growing problem in antibiotic resistance. She is using her scientific as well as her artistic talents to bring this issue to people's attention.

Regarding her teacher, Meagan said, "Dr. Miller was more than a teacher, she was my mentor and my friend. She pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me see my potential as a scientist." From Mary, she gained a bolstered passion for learning.

For Meagan, working in a lab is a humbling, yet enriching, experience. She feels like you don't always know what will happen in lab, but even negative answers and messing up the experiment have their own beauty and she is learning to appreciate the beauty that exists in success as well as failure.

It has been a long road for Meagan, and she has made great strides in her college career thus far. Congratulations to Meagan on being persistent in her education and learning how to appreciate the beauty in science, ".... even when things don’t go as we expected, we can still find beauty in all things."

Joseph P. Caruso Excellence in Mentorship Awardee Profiles

Award Criteria

"I'd like to be able to show non-major students how much fun discovery-based science is and why it's important for everybody." – J. Caruso

The Joseph P. Caruso Award for Excellence in Mentorship is presented to a SWI Partner Instructor (SWIPI) who embodies a passion for teaching and mentoring undergraduate students in discovery-based science curriculum and/or mentoring other SWIPIs. The award pays tribute and remembrance to the qualities of scientist-teacher Dr. Caruso and recognizes individuals who go above and beyond the basic expectations of an advisor or mentor:

  • Exceptional commitment to teaching and personally mentoring SWI students in scientific inquiry
  • Commitment to mentoring endeavors that integrate SWI students with the broader scientific community, through presentation or publication venues, funding opportunities, facilitating professional development opportunities, etc.
  • Outstanding support for SWI Partner Instructors or new trainees
  • Exceptional leadership and service to SWI programming in support of students success; genuine concern for and commitment to SWI student and instructor success
  • Support for the establishment, achievement, and/or revision of individual or community SWI goals
  • Outstanding contributions that challenge and motivate SWI students to excel and succeed
  • Commitment to improving attitudes, retention, and persistence in STEM
  • Other contributions not described above that have made a positive impact on SWI’s mission, programming, student success, and faculty development

Dr. Samantha Gruenheid, McGill University

After being trained in 2014, Samantha (Sam) Gruenheid was the first to implement SWI in Canada. She first heard about SWI in 2013, but at that time, it was only being implemented in the US. She kept in close contact with the leadership in hopes of being trained as soon as they extended outside of the US, and she was the first! She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University.

Sam has successfully implemented SWI in large microbiology labs. Her labs consist of 120 students broken up into cubicles of 12 students each with 1 teaching assistant. During lab, Sam walks around and observes her students as they work together; oftentimes, she shares what one group has found with the other groups. When asked how she handles SWI in such large lab groups, she responded, “First, I am privileged to work with such a great group of students, and I get a lot of energy and inspiration from them. Second, when you have a passion for the subject, the students can't help but get excited as well." This infectious agent, enthusiasm, has served her well. Three of her students commented, "[Dr. Gruenheid is] one of the kindest and most hard-working professors to ever grace Canada with a commitment to teaching that is unparalleled," "her enthusiasm is contagious," and "she’s super supportive and is always looking out for new opportunities for everyone in the lab. I wouldn’t be the scientist I am today without her."

Sam credits her love for mentoring on two people who impacted her. Her Undergraduate Honors Research Thesis Adviser, Frank Tufaro, taught her that lab research could be fun and exciting. He influenced her to consider a career in research. Her current associate, Claire Trottier, an education specialist in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University, has been very supportive of research professors who wish to learn how to be better teachers. Claire has been instrumental in helping Sam gain confidence as a research professor who wants to be a better teacher. When Sam is hesitant about trying new things in curriculum design, Claire's response is always, "Let's work on this together."

When she learned that she had received this mentoring award named in honor of Joe Caruso, Sam responded, "I never had the chance to meet Joe Caruso in person, but I feel like I knew him a little bit from seeing his posts, and those of his students, on SWI’s Facebook page where his passion for teaching and his connection to his students were so clearly apparent. It is really an honor to receive this award that pays homage to him."

Excellence in Leadership Awardee Profile

Award Criteria

The Excellence in Leadership Award is presented to current or former SWI student who exemplifies leadership by making a significant positive impact on the SWI community through initiatives, interactions, and contributions to SWI’s mission. The award recognizes individuals who advanced SWI’s mission in one or more of the following areas:

  • Exceptional commitment to the greater SWI community through student-led organizations, initiatives, fundraising, or relationships
  • Spreading awareness of antibiotic resistance, including organizing activities during Antibiotic Awareness Week, contributing extensively through communications (e.g., social media, blog, print), or leading other efforts
  • Commitment to endeavors that integrate SWI’s mission into the larger campus community
  • Other contributions not described above that have made a positive impact on SWI’s mission, and/or significantly build or enhance the SWI community

Tsu-Wei "Joy" Tseng, McGill University (Professor – Dr. Samantha Gruenheid)

Microbial Crafts (MiCrafts) noun. cute little items and accessories, designed and handmade by McGill Microbiology and Immunology (MIMM) students and alumni, that represent the myriad of single-celled microorganisms.

MiCrafts are the marketing success of this year's winner of the Excellence in Leadership Award, Tzu-Wei (Joy) Tseng. Joy is in her final year of study at McGill University where she is graduating with honors in Microbiology and Immunology. After graduation, she plans to pursue a graduate degree in public health. 

Joy's involvement in SWI began when she was elected as the Finance Vice President in the Microbiology and Immunology Student Association (MISA) at McGill and was looking for fundraising ideas for the club. A fellow student knitted a microbial plushie, and Joy thought it was cute, it made her smile, and it was connected to a global problem. She thought, "we can advocate for science using fear or using fun," and she chose to use fun. Although Joy herself doesn’t know how to knit, she organized a team of about 15 students (and even recruited Dr. Sam Gruenheid, who was a constant support and even knitted some MiCrafts) to make these crafts and raise awareness about the problem of antibiotic resistance. In November 2016 during “The Do Something About Antibiotics Challenge," the Microbial Crafts Team earned over $500 in less than two weeks, and they decided to donate the profits to SWI to help with the costs associated with training under-resourced schools.

On behalf of the MiCrafts Team, Joy delivered 16 MiCraft packages and 101 cross-stitched keychains to SWI's guests and supporters to raise broader awareness for antibiotic resistance. She also coordinated a team of MIMM students from McGill to present their SWI lab research at the 4th annual SWI Symposium. This new initiative within the MIMM department allowed McGill students to explore the many new cutting-edge scientific advancements, career opportunities, and research paths that were showcased at the 2017 ASM Microbe Conference.

As MISA's VP Finance and organizer of the MiCrafts Team, Joy learned how to be a leader and demonstrated her leadership skills. She considers searching out and channeling MIMM students’ artistic abilities for a microbiology-related cause to be her greatest accomplishment as an undergraduate. In the future, she hopes to help organize similar initiatives within MIMM and share this opportunity with all McGill science undergraduate students so they can see that their artistic talents and scientific abilities do not have to be separate pursuits.

SWI would like to recognize Joy's dedicated efforts and ability to inspire others to further our mission. We congratulate Joy on her leadership abilities in raising awareness of the pressing global issue of antibiotic resistance and doing so with these creative, educational, and timeless MiCrafts. 

Excellence in Scientific Discovery Awardee Profile

Award Criteria

The Excellence in Scientific Discovery Award honors a SWI student-faculty pair who contributes new scientific knowledge, data, or methodology to advance SWI’s scientific mission of antibiotic discovery and development. The recipient of this award showed exceptional original thinking or productivity in SWI scientific outputs, including one or more of the following:

  • Innovation of technique, methodology, or assay development
  • Optimization and adaptation of existing SWI protocols or methods, including statistical or qualitative analyses, modeling, others
  • Creative expansion of the SWI scientific agenda, including experimental design, interdisciplinary collaboration, characterization of novel bacterial isolates and/or compounds, others
  • Other scientific contributions not listed above that are especially deserving of recognition

Elizabeth Davis and Dr. Hans Wildschutte, Bowling Green State University

The Excellence in Scientific Discovery Award is shared by Dr. Hans Wildschutte, an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Bowling Green State University, and Elizabeth Davis, his Master's Graduate Student.

Hans first began teaching SWI in 2015 after being introduced to it by Dr. Kristen Butela, one of the Small World Initiative’s Pilot Partners. His intent was to isolate bacterial strains that produce antimicrobial agents in hopes of identifying the genes that make those molecules. By using transposon insertional mutagenesis, he devised a way of inactivating genes involved in the production of secondary metabolites. With the help of undergraduate students in the SWI lab, they screened thousands of isolates and were finally successful in identifying one isolate in which a biosynthetic gene cluster had been turned off. Their hard work paid off with the first SWI scientific paper published with a research perspective. This paper, "Antibiotic discovery throughout the Small World Initiative: A molecular strategy to identify biosynthetic gene clusters involved in antagonistic activity," was published in January 2017 in Microbiology Open with Elizabeth as first author and a list of 21 undergraduate student authors. Hans and Elizabeth have also offered to share their protocols with SWI’s research community in hopes that others will further characterize their own soil isolates by elucidating the biosynthetic gene clusters that lead to antibiotic synthesis.

Elizabeth knew nothing about the Small World Initiative until she was asked to be a teaching assistant for Hans in his microbiology lab. It has since been a great experience for her working with students in the lab, and she commented, "The undergraduates were excited to work in the lab, even when they had negative results, they were still enthusiastic about the lab." She wished that she could go back to her undergraduate days at Siena Heights University and take a lab like SWI that encourages students to collaborate in studying a problem that extends far beyond the college campus. Elizabeth said, "I am grateful to have been a part of the Small World Initiative program and am excited that we are looking to find new drugs that will feed into the antibiotic pipeline. Each of us plays our part in the overall program." Her Master's thesis includes looking at P. aeruginosa samples taken from the lung of a cystic fibrosis patient with the goal of finding antimicrobial compounds in the soil to combat this strain.

We all are grateful for the research findings of Hans and Elizabeth and their willingness to share their protocols. Because of their collaborative efforts, the research aspect of this program will continue to grow as new antibiotics are isolated and characterized.

Best-in-Session Student Poster Award

Award Criteria

The Best-in-Session Student Poster Award is presented to SWI students who exhibit exceptional scientific communication skills during the annual SWI Symposium at ASM Microbe. The recipient will have demonstrated outstanding achievement presenting scientific work with confidence, eloquence, and ownership. Judges to the poster session will select the recipient based on mastery of:

  • Scientific argumentation – Claims were clearly presented and supported by high quality data. Presentation of data was clear, thorough, and logical and used excellent visual representations. 
  • Project ownership – The significance of research findings was clearly explained and connected to original SWI research purpose. Follow up experiments, improvements to research, and future directions were masterfully articulated. Terminology was used eloquently and professionally, and led lively and engaged discussion about research project. Demonstrated command of the subject matter, and answered questions thoroughly and confidently.
  • Visual appeal – poster components were clearly organized and easy to follow. Text is concise, background unobtrusive, white space was well utilized; fonts and use of color were well balanced. Photographs/tables/graphs and/or models improved understanding, and enhanced visual appeal. 

Emma Hignett, McGill University (Professor – Dr. Samantha Gruenheid)

Emma was awarded the Best-in-Session Student Poster Award for her poster entitled, “Detailed Phenotyping and Genomic Analyses of Antibiotic-Producing Soil Microbes Generated from the Small World Initiative at McGill University.” This, however, was not her first award from the Small World Initiative. She was recognized with an Honorable Mention for some of the memes she submitted for the SWI Meme contest last year. Emma enrolled in Dr. Samantha (Sam) Gruenheid's microbiology lab as a sophomore at McGill University. It was such a positive experience for her that she decided to continue in research. Sam chose her to be a summer honors student in her research lab where she validated some of the student data from the SWI lab. Since this first lab experience, she has been hired as a teaching assistant in the lab and won a mentoring award from McGill for her work in helping students. She is now completing her Honors Thesis in Sam's lab in collaboration with Lyle Whyte of the McGill Arctic Research Station (MARS) as they attempt to identify microbes in arctic soil. She knows that her love of science today was directly influenced by her first lab experience in SWI. This research has exposed her to new avenues of scientific research and opened the door to endless possibilities.

When asked, "What one word would you use to describe the impact that SWI had on your life?", Emma used the word, Approachable. She said, "What I mean to say is that SWI has made science more approachable to me. It has opened a gateway to a career in science that I wasn't sure was possible. I can see myself doing real science and addressing global health problems." She has been accepted to present her SWI research at 2 other conferences in 2017, and she plans to graduate from McGill with a major in Microbiology and Immunology and then continue on to medical school.

Poster Title – Detailed Phenotyping and Genomic Analyses of Antibiotic-Producing Soil Microbes Generated from the Small World Initiative at McGill University

Poster Abstract – Fueled by the overuse of antibiotics and the increasing danger of ESKAPE pathogens, antibiotic resistance is an impending public health crisis. However, little is being done to develop novel antibiotics. The Small World Initiative (SWI) is a multi-institutional, collaborative program that aims to solve this problem by looking for novel antibiotics from soil microbes. At McGill University, the first Canadian institution to participate in the SWI, 347 students have cultured and isolated soil microbes from the greater Montreal area and the McGill Arctic Research Station. In the past three years, over 7,000 cultures have been isolated and over 500 have shown antibiotic activity. More than 300 of the antibiotic-producing isolates were further characterized through microbiological, molecular, and biochemical methods. In the summer of 2016, 13 isolates were prioritized for detailed characterization based on their antibiotic activity and presumptive identity from 16S rRNA sequencing results. Further characterization of these isolates included organic extractions, full-genome analyses, and comprehensive antibiotic activity screens.

Honorable Mention – Ethan Drury, University of East Anglia (Professor – Dr. Laura Bowater)

Poster Title – Citizen Science and Antibiotic Discovery

Poster Abstract – Background: Bacteria, including pathogenic bacteria, are developing antibiotic resistance, allowing them to survive therapeutic levels of an antibiotic that would have killed them. As global antibiotic use increases, the incidence of antibiotic resistance increases also. It is clear that more resources are required to tackle the growing threat associated with the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. We identified two avenues to tackle the future of antibiotic resistance: firstly, to preserve the current antibiotics that we have available through engagement with significant stakeholders including the public; and, secondly, by contributing to the drug discovery pipeline. The recent discovery of Teixobactin, a novel antibiotic, suggests that the soil may contain undiscovered bacteria and potentially be a source of novel antibiotics. To achieve these aims, we have developed a citizen science project design to allow us to merge education and science research.

Methods: Members of the public, present in two U.K forests, collected 305 soil samples that were screened by growing on LB agar and looking for zones of microbial inhibition. 233 antibiotic producing bacteria were identified. These were tested against Gram negative and Gram positive indicator strains. 62 of the 233 colonies showed some inhibitory action against at least one of four indicator strains. 11 colonies inhibited Gram negative Salmonella typhimurium, 6 colonies inhibited both Gram positive Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus epidermis. These 17 colonies were sent for 16S rDNA sequencing. Two of these colonies seem to inhibit Salmonella typhimurium DT104, a virulent pathogen for humans and animals with resistance to ampicillin, chloramphenicol, streptomycin, sulfonamides, and tetracycline. As well as screening the soil samples, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 23 of the participants. The interviews aimed to understand public perceptions of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance in order to identify key themes to be used to influence future campaigns and future behaviour regarding responsible use of antibiotics. We are currently conducting discourse analysis of the interviews, samples of which will be available by the time of the conference. We aim to identify potential behavioural changes through the analysis of medium term participant engagement through analysis of social media interactions and long term participant engagement through analysis of journals produced by participants. We conjecture that engaging the public in the antibiotic discovery pipeline whilst understanding public perceptions of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance will, in turn, encourage behaviour which will preserve the current antibiotics and encourage interest in the discovery of novel antibiotics. Combined, these will help in the process of tackling the emerging threat of antibiotic resistance.