Driven by a shared passion for scientific discovery, four promising researchers pursuing doctoral degrees at West Virginia University are receiving funding from the Ruby Scholars Graduate Fellows Program to support their studies.
This year’s Ruby Fellows are Cameron Wilson, Ashley Martsen, Courtney Glenn and Quinn Hopen. Each student will receive a $34,000 stipend, a $2,000 travel grant and tuition waiver to allow them to continue their research at WVU.
Established in 2011 by the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust, the fellowship provides financial support that allows incoming doctoral-level scholars to dedicate themselves fully to expanding their studies and using their research to benefit the people of WVU, the nation and the world. Recipients must be pursuing a graduate degree in one of the following fields: energy and environmental sciences, biological, biotechnical and biomedical sciences, or biometrics, nanotechnology and material science, security, sensing, forensic sciences and related identification technologies.
“WVU is fortunate to have the support of the Ruby Fellows program and the exceptional students it brings to our campus,” said Maryanne Reed, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “This year’s Fellows embody the Mountaineer excellence, resiliency and curiosity we value. These scholars have already made significant strides in their own lives and are poised to be change-makers in their communities and the world.”
Buckhannon native Cameron Wilson first identified the symbiotic association between plant roots and fungi as a young single mother struggling to make ends meet. After becoming homeless, she took her son camping to teach him new skills and cope with their challenging circumstances. Those experiences in the woods resonated years later as she explored educational opportunities, leading her to ultimately pursue a doctorate in biology at WVU.
“The skills I learned in those hard times shaped me into somebody I never realized I had the ability to be,” Wilson said. “I learned resilience and how to be self-sufficient.”
After working a variety of jobs in food service, retail and child care, Wilson was referred to an adult learning program called SPOKES – Strategic Planning in Occupational Knowledge for Employment and Success. She completed the six-week course in two weeks and scored high on state tests, prompting her advisers to recommend higher education.
Wilson enrolled at West Virginia Wesleyan College where she learned about mycorrhizal associations – the plant-fungi relationship she observed in nature – and growing research on the subject. She then worked with mentor Katharine Gregg and others to expand her knowledge and gain research experience as she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in ecology and environmental sciences.
Wilson will complete her doctorate work with Craig Barrett, assistant professor in the Department of Biology. After graduation, she plans to focus her career on conservation efforts, using mycorrhizal associations to mitigate damage from human activity in the Appalachian region.
Upon completing her homeschool education, Ashley Martsen never intended to go to college; instead, she got a job as a cashier at 17. Yet, she was inspired to dream bigger by a co-worker who did her chemistry homework during slow shifts and Martsen is now chasing the stars, literally, as a doctoral student in physics at WVU.
A native of southwest Massachusetts, Martsen started her higher education at nearby Berkshire Community College where she got acquainted with a classroom and rediscovered her childhood interest in space. After completing an associate degree in liberal arts, she transferred to the Rochester Institute for Technology in New York.
While Martsen doubted herself amid early academic challenges, her unique educational path ultimately helped her complement her bachelor’s degree in physics with minors in astronomy, Italian language, math and English. She also conducted extensive undergraduate research in astrophysics, working with researchers – including a former WVU postdoctoral fellow – who highly recommended her to colleagues at WVU.
Much of Martsen’s research has focused on pulsars, spinning neutron stars that emit pulses of electromagnetic radiation.
“The more time I spend learning about pulsars, I realize that I love working with real data to understand more about what is happening at the pulsar,” Martsen said. “WVU is the ideal place for me to pursue a Ph.D. because the strong presence of pulsar, fast radio bursts and gravitational wave research will allow me to explore my passions.”
Courtney Glenn’s passion for discovery and problem-solving steered her toward chemistry as a freshman at the University of South Alabama where she gained valuable experience through undergraduate research, teaching opportunities and community outreach. Now, she is pursuing a doctorate in chemistry from WVU as she seeks to reimagine chemistry education for a new generation.
“My goal is to become a representative for a STEM minority and develop a new outlook on the applications of teaching methodologies within the chemistry community to lessen the negative stereotypes associated with STEM content,” said Glenn, who hails from Semmes, Alabama.
Glenn’s interest shifted toward education after she became a supplemental instructor for general chemistry courses and got involved with research targeting teaching methods and student outcomes. She presented research focused on chemical education at the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society where she connected with Gregory Dudley, Eberly Family Distinguished Professor and chair of WVU’s C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry.
Dudley shared plans to expand chemical education research at WVU and Glenn was drawn to research by faculty members Margaret Hilton, Jessica Hoover and Michelle Richards-Babb that aligns with her experience and ambitions.
“WVU has a progressive chemistry department in which I see myself flourishing and growing as a researcher in the field of chemical education,” Glenn said.
A native of Sutton, Quinn Hopen came to WVU as an undergraduate studying immunology. She was struck by the incredible impact tiny cells and molecules can have on overall health, often with varying results in different people, and sought to learn more.
Hopen took advantage of a variety of undergraduate research opportunities, which eventually led her to the laboratory of mentor Jennifer Franko. After earning her bachelor’s degree in immunology and medical microbiology in May 2021, Hopen was hired as a full-time research technician in Franko’s lab where much of her work has focused on sex-specific differences in immune response.
“A culmination of collaborative opportunities, the breadth of groundbreaking studies found at WVU and the strong support system I have within the Franko lab will prepare me in every way to eventually head my own academic research laboratory,” Hopen said. “The examples of community and care displayed by faculty will train me to one day be a [principal investigator] who is understanding and inclusive, and the passion for discovery at WVU will only advance my own knowledge and skills, pushing me to seek out my deepest questions and curiosities.”
The Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust established the Ruby Scholars Graduate Fellows Program in memory of its namesake. Hazel Ruby McQuain was involved in philanthropic giving to support WVU for more than 20 years before she died at the age of 93 in 2002. One of her many gifts includes an $8 million gift towards the construction of J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, which is named after her late husband.
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