Botanical Society of America recognizes two WU students

by University Communications,

Two Willamette University biology majors have received the Young Botanist Certificate of Special Achievement from the Botanical Society of America.

Erin Banks Rusby ’13 and Teresa Byrd ’13 are among 25 students nationally to be selected for the award, which recognizes outstanding graduating seniors in the plant sciences.

The award winners receive complimentary student membership to the BSA for the rest of the calendar year, and their names will be published in the Plant Science Bulletin.

Faculty advisors nominated Banks Rusby and Byrd for the award, based on academic achievements, research and educational contributions in botany — both inside and outside the classroom.

Byrd has worked closely with biology professor Susan Kephart as a teaching assistant for her research methods course, “Plant Systematics and Evolution,” and as a peer writing consultant in her College Colloquium class.

She has conducted research on the breeding systems in Oregon’s big-leaf maple tree, and she worked with professor Briana Lindh to fine tune strategies for seed germination and run a propagation greenhouse for native plants.

In 2011, Byrd was selected as a Webber Scholar, which allowed her to develop curriculum units and teach them to local elementary students. Byrd has also written grants and has been actively involved with student efforts supporting sustainable transportation — particularly through managing the Bike Shop on campus.

“To all she does, Teresa brings a superb variety of research and teaching experience, as well as people skills to her roles in working with others or leading programs,” Kephart says. “She helps instill in others a sense of the importance of our shared environment.”

Banks Rusby says she first became interested in botany during the summer of 2011, working with professors Lindh and Karen Arabas at Zena Farm and Forest on oak savannah and prairie restoration research. Her senior thesis aims to further understand the conditions that allow native plants to thrive, in order to recreate environments that allow them to survive and better compete with introduced species.

During the summer of 2012, Banks Rusby volunteered as a fire ecology research assistant with the Fire and Mountain Ecology lab at the University of Washington. When she graduates in May, she will work as an invasive/native plant intern for the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge system through the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Banks Rusby says her Willamette professors encouraged her to cultivate a questioning mind, which motivated her to pursue research positions.

“My professors over the years have challenged me to push beyond superficial understandings of the world, in order to question and truly get at why things are the way they are,” she says.

“Having developed this ability to grapple with problems and brainstorm solutions will serve me well on whatever career path I ultimately take.”

Founded in 1893, the BSA is one of the world's largest societies devoted to the study of plants and allied organisms. The nonprofit’s mission is to promote botany by providing expertise, encouraging basic plant research and fostering communication within the professional botanical community.

Since 2000, 17 Willamette students have received the Young Botanist Award.

For more information on the Young Botanist Certificate of Special Achievement and other opportunities, contact the Office of Student Academic Grants and Awards.