Assistantship Leads to Science Fellowship

Tiffany Becker ‘12 was one of only 13 students from undergraduate institutions to receive an Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the American Society of Microbiology.

When Tiffany Becker ’12 came to Susquehanna, she worried she wouldn’t perform as well academically as she did in high school. “It’s not that I have to be the best at everything, but I wanted to make my family, my former teachers and myself proud,” says the biology major from Nanticoke, Pa. But Becker doesn’t need to worry about that anymore.

She was one of only 13 students from undergraduate institutions—and 40 students total—to receive an Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) this year. Recipients are judged on their academic and research success, as well as their career goals pertinent to microbiology.

ASM supported Becker in her research, titled Characterization of Thermophilic Actinomycetes Present in Soils Overlaying the Centralia, Pa., Mine Fire. Centralia’s mine fire has been burning for decades, endangering the area and causing the town’s abandonment. Guided by Tammy Tobin, professor of biology, Becker attempted to find new bacteria species from Centralia’s soil that might be suitable for medicinal or industrial bioproducts.

Fellowship winners completed 10 weeks of summer research. For Becker, that meant continuing, in the new science building, the work she began during the 2009–10 academic year. Her work included culturing bacterial cells and extracting DNA from Centralia soil. The fellowship entitled Becker to a stipend, ASM student membership and, if her abstract is approved for presentation, an expense-paid trip to ASM’s 111th annual meeting in New Orleans this May.

Becker attributes her achievement to the university assistantship she began with Tobin as a freshman. The assistantship program is a selective scholarship that provides first-year students with the opportunity to work professionally with faculty and staff mentors throughout their four years at Susquehanna.

“Many biology students do not begin research until their junior or senior years,” Becker says. “The assistantship has allowed me to do research since my first week at SU. I think that having two years of research experience as a sophomore made me stand out [to the fellowship committee].”

Becker’s fellowship not only provided her with the opportunity to “gain valuable data” for her research, but also brought recognition for her hard work. “Being recognized for my achievements reaffirms that I’m doing a good job,” she says.

Tobin says the achievement also “speaks volumes about the importance of Susquehanna University’s emphasis on undergraduate scholarship. The university provides a variety of opportunities for students to pursue independent projects and then to present them at conferences nationwide,” Tobin says. “It is through programs like these that our students get the training that prepares them for all of their postgraduate plans, from jobs to graduate and professional schools. And that makes them competitive applicants for grants such as the ASM fellowship.”

Contributing writers to the People & Places section are Charlotte Lotz '12 and Megan McDermott '14.

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