Two Students Chosen for Competitive Undergraduate Research Program

Blake Sproles '14 and Grant Waldrop '14 are conducting microbiological research this summer at Virginia Tech.

Ferrum, Va. (June 26, 2013) – This summer Ferrum College students Blake Sproles ’14 and Grant Waldrop ’14 are participating in the 2013 Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Virginia Tech. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program entitled “Microbiology in the Post Genomic Era” began June 3 and will run through Aug. 9.

The NSF’s REU program allows research universities to provide summer research opportunities for undergraduates. As biology majors, both Sproles and Waldrop gained independent research experience working with Associate Professor of Molecular Biology Dr. Michaela Gazdik, the College’s Biology Program Coordinator.

“The REU program is a highly competitive national program and I am very proud of both Grant and Blake for being accepted. This is a great opportunity for them to expand on the research skills they have learned in my lab and make some valuable contacts in the field,” said Dr. Gazdik.

Waldrop is working with Tech’s Dr. Joe Falkinham to characterize newly identified methylobacteria, as well as their effects of biofilm formation of non-tuberculosis disease Mycobacterium. “The REU Microbiology program at Virginia Tech has offered me the chance to experience significant research at a larger institution, that has further fueled my dream to one day be on the doctoral degree holding side of this experience,” said Waldrop.

Working with Tech’s Dr. Ann Stevens for his REU experience, Sproles is performing microbiological experiments with the plant pathogenic bacteria Pantoea stewartii, which is responsible for Stewart's wilt, a common plant disease that results in the wilting and blighting of sweet corn. “We have targeted and are experimenting with specific genes that play a role in the bacterial infection, “ explained Sproles. "I am very excited to be a part of the Virginia Tech Microbiology REU program. Not only have I gained a once in a life time hands-on laboratory experience, but I am also becoming prepared for my future career.”

“We value undergraduate research at Ferrum and strive to provide meaningful opportunities for students interested in research with our faculty.  Blake and Grant have taken full advantage of the resources our faculty have to offer in developing beginning research experience,” said Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Gail L. Summer.

While participating in the REU program, Sproles and Waldrop will receive room and board along with a $5,000 stipend. In addition to their independent research projects, they will attend seminars and lectures by scientists in the field as well as career training sessions.