Grad Students Showcase their Research

Diagnostic lab technicians at work

The symposium keynote speaker was Vincent Racaniello, Higgins Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia University. Pictured with Dr. Racaniello (center front) are Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences Graduate Student Association representatives, (front row, l-r) Dr. Miranda Vieson, Jacob Kocher, Alice Houk, Meriam Saleh, (back row, l-r) Catharine Cowan, Dr. Jeffry Alexander, Lauren Sheehan, and Caitlin Cossaboom.

Forty-five graduate students at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine participated in the college’s 25th annual Research Symposium on Thursday, March 20, 2014.

Research posters were presented by 10 Virginia Tech master’s students and 32 Ph.D. students. Three students from the University of Maryland’s Department of Veterinary Sciences and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources also presented posters. Presentations on both clinical and basic science research were provided by 11 master’s students and seven Ph.D. students from the college’s Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences graduate program.

Columbia University’s Dr. Vincent Racaniello served as keynote speaker. Dr. Racaniello is the Higgins Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia’s Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Discoveries in his laboratory have revolutionized the study of animal RNA viruses. In his keynote address, he discussed his poliovirus research and the importance of communicating science to the general public.

Dr. Racaniello is a prolific science communicatator, writing a virology blog ( and producing three podcasts: "This Week in Virology," "This Week in Parasitism" and "This Week in Microbiology." His virology courses on iTunes University have engaged 120,000 students in the past two years, while nearly 50,000 students have taken his two Coursera offerings.

A panel of faculty judges selected the top student posters and presentations. At an evening awards banquet held at Blacksburg’s Holiday Inn, eight graduate students, one professor, and two staff members were recognized.

Prizes were awarded for the best oral presentations and posters in both masters and Ph.D. student categories. Awards went to:

  • Outstanding Master’s Student Posters: Dr. Sarah Holland, production management medicine resident from Madeira, Ohio, and Dr. Jessica Stahle, a radiology resident from Wellsville, Pa.
  • Outstanding Master’s Student Presentations: Dr. Noah Pavlisko, anesthesia resident from Rochester, N.Y. and Dr. Bryn Hoffman, internal medicine resident from Brentwood, Calif.
  • Outstanding Ph.D. Student Posters: Anne Nichols from Abingdon, Va. and Kaavya Giridhar from Herndon, Va.
  • Outstanding Ph.D. Student Presentations: Dr. Jeffry Alexander from Mechanicsville, Va., and Hamzeh Alqublan from Lynchburg, Va.

Two veterinary college staff members also received awards. Jonathan Hinckley, a laboratory specialist in Dr. Bernie Jortner’s lab for neurotoxicity studies, was honored with the Research & Graduate Studies Outstanding Co-Worker Recognition Award. Hinckley was acknowledged for his work in the lab’s effort to become a resource for drug safety studies. Recognized as conscientious, courteous and dedicated, he was called “an indispensable asset to the college’s research program.”

Lynn Heffron, senior laboratory specialist in the virology labs,received the Research & Graduate Studies Outstanding Contribution Award. Heffron, who works in the Corporate Research Center - Integrated Life Sciences Building, is instrumental in the college’s virology research program. She manages Dr. X.J. Meng’s lab and provides valuable assistance to four other virology labs.

Dr. John Rossmeisl, associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery, was awarded the 2014 Zoetis Award for Veterinary Research Excellence for his work. A faculty member in the college’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences and the neurology section chief at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Rossmeisl has an international reputation for his expertise in the clinical management and research of brain tumors in dogs.

“Dr. Rossmeisl’s research brings cutting-edge diagnostic and therapeutic technologies to our veterinary patients,” noted Dr. Greg Daniel, head of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. “In doing so, he is advancing both human and veterinary medical science.” In addition to his research activities, Rossmeisl teaches neurology to third- and fourth-year veterinary students and has won several teaching awards within the college.

Established in 1985 as the Pfizer Award for Research Excellence, the Zoetis award is a nationally recognized honor for a faculty member at each veterinary school in the United States. The award seeks to “foster innovative research, on which the scientific advancement of the profession depends, by recognizing outstanding research effort and productivity.”

Diagnostic lab staf

Dr. Jessica Stahle, radiology resident and M.S. candidate, talked with Dr. Michael Leib about her research on a specific type of magnetic resonance imaging, termed diffusion weighted imaging, to see if it can differentiate between metastatic and benign lymph nodes in canine patients with confirmed oral neoplasia.