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Fort Valley State students earn award for research efforts

Published: 10/28/13 2:06PM
By: booner

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Dr. Sarwan Dhir (right), professor of plant biotechnology and director of Fort Valley State University’s Center for Biotechnology, shares data with (L to R) Milton Williams, Derrick Smith and Ashley Norris, all honored as National Role Models at the 14th National Role Models Conference Sept. 27-29 in Washington, D.C.

Three Fort Valley State University plant science majors concentrating in biotechnology received the National Role Model Award at the 14th annual National Role Models Conference.  Ashley Norris, Derrick Smith and Milton Williams received honors in Washington, D.C. Sept. 27-29.

The National Role Models Conference recognizes institutions and individuals who help promote diversity and support minorities of color in science and technology fields.

Dr. Sarwan Dhir, professor of plant biotechnology and director of the FVSU Center for Biotechnology, nominated the students for the award.

“These students are high achievers with high GPA’s that have actually been involved in research, which is why they were nominated for the award,” Dhir said. The professor credits the students’ success in research with the hands-on teaching methods used in the plant science biotechnology classes at FVSU.

Ashley Norris, a senior from Warner Robins, was honored for her work with the plant moringa oliefera. The plant has properties that can be used to control high blood pressure and cholesterol.  “I have had a great experience here in the biotechnology area. It has opened my eyes to research,” Norris said.  The 21-year -old has participated in internships at FVSU and Delaware State University. She said it is an honor to be able to display her talents at other institutions.

“It was awesome,” said Derrick Smith, a senior from Macon describing how he felt about being honored at the conference. Smith’s work concentrated on gathering genetic information from plants to allow crops such as corn and sugar cane to grow on salty soil. Smith’s future plans include earning a doctorate in plant science and pursuing a career in agricultural research.

Milton Williams, a native of Conyers, earned his award for his studies involving the cells in goldfish eyes. These cells help determine light and dark contrasts. Williams’ hopes his research can be adapted to help cure human blindness. He conducted this research at the Universidad de Sao Paulo in Sao Paulo, Brazil through the Minority Health International Research Training Program.

“This is one of the best programs offered on campus because it gives you hands on experience,” Williams said. He added that a lot of graduate programs look for research and lab experience in their prospective students. Williams, a senior who has interned at Michigan State University, said he plans to simultaneously attend medical school and study in a doctorate’s degree program that concentrates on biotechnology.

Dhir said mentoring is what makes the plant science biotechnology program unique in producing top- notch students. By pairing underclassmen with upperclassmen, the students can help each other conduct effective research.

By taking part in the plant science biotechnology program, the students have opportunities to present research throughout the U.S., participate in seminars and become selected for internships from numerous colleges and universities.

For more information about the biotechnology program, contact Dhir at (478) 825- 6887 or send an e-mail to dhirs0@fvsu.edu.