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UVI Students Win Again at National Science Conference

Two University of the Virgin Islands students won awards at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) held in Orlando, Florida from Nov. 5-8. More than 700 universities participated in the symposium and almost 3,000 people attended.

Marine biology major Kavita Balkaran won the best oral presentation award and biology major Howard Forbes won the best poster award in the physiological sciences category. Both students are from St. Croix and attend UVI's St. Thomas campus.

Balkaran's research focused on eelgrass, a grass-like underwater plant that serves as a habitat for marine species. The title of her presentation was "Newly restored eelgrass has significantly different number of organisms compared to self-established eelgrass." Balkaran conducted the research at the Mount Desert Island Marine Biological Laboratory in Maine, where she was selected in a competitive application process to conduct research during the summer. In her first research project outside of the Virgin Islands, Balkaran and a crew of five, at times spent up to 18 hours a day gathering data. Her research has implications for the restoration of seagrasses in Maine and in the Virgin Islands. Balkaran said she was excited at the opportunity to make an oral presentation at the ABRCMS.

After developing her presentation with mentor and UVI professor Dr. Paul Jobsis, Balkaran said her preparation was simple. "I just practiced and practiced," she said. "My friends were so confident that I would win. The support was really there." Balkaran is supported by the Minority Biomedical Research Support-Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (MBRS-RISE), a program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Forbes' research was on red mud, the by-product resulting from the process of isolating alumina from bauxite. His research was titled "The influence of red mud and stabilized red mud on seed germination and plant growth." For his research he worked with mentor and UVI Professor Dr. Tom Zimmerman to plant and monitor four types of plants in various concentrations of the red mud and stabilized red mud. Forbes said that the research suggests that stabilized red mud is effective in promoting optimal plant growth. His research is very important to the community of St. Croix, which was home to an aluminum plant. Forbes said his win was "unexpected." "It took a while for it to actually set in," Forbes said.
Forbes' research is supported by the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program of the NIH.

A total of twenty-three UVI students attended the conference including two students, Andre'a Dorsey and Victoria Henry, who wrote applications and were funded by competitive travel awards from NIH funding. UVI students majoring in chemistry and psychology also made presentations.

"The students were wonderful--such a great group. They all supported each other. They brought a Virgin Islands flag to wave at the awards ceremony, just in case someone won," said Dr. Teresa Turner MARC, and MBRS-RISE program director. "During the week of Barack Obama's victory celebrations I can think of nowhere better to have been than at a conference of the best of the best future scientists," the UVI professor said.

In late October, UVI student Vanessa Malone won first prize in the field of chemistry at the Annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP) National Student Research Conference. Her research project targets a Virgin Islands sponge species which is known to produce a suite of very biologically active (anti-cancer) metabolites.

For more information call Dr. Teresa Turner at 693-1382.