Graduate students showcase their work at 2016 Research Symposium

Graduate students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine had an opportunity to present their research findings and learn about other research endeavors at the college and beyond at the 27th Annual Research Symposium on Thursday, March 17.

Master’s and Ph.D. students from the veterinary college’s Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences program provided oral and poster presentations. Graduate students from the University of Maryland’s Department of Veterinary Sciences also participated in the Research Symposium.

Sandra Armstrong, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Minnesota, presented the symposium keynote on “Bordetella Iron Acquisition: Making a Living in the Host.” Armstrong conducts research on Bordetella, which can cause whopping cough in humans and several animal diseases such as kennel cough. She and her team study Bordetella biology, including mechanisms of nutrient uptake that are relevant to growth and persistence in the host environment.

Armstrong has published over 40 scientific reports, participates in grant and manuscript peer review, and is a member of the Editorial Board for the journal Infection and Immunity. She served as director of graduate studies for the Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology Ph.D. Program at the University of Minnesota and teaches bacterial physiology and metabolism to undergraduate students.

Graduate student and keynote speaker Sandra Armstrong
Keynote speaker Sandra Armstrong and graduate students gathered for a group photo after the keynote talk titled “Bordetella Iron Acquisition: Making a Living in the Host.”

A panel of faculty judges selected the top student posters and presentations. At an evening awards banquet held at the Inn at Virginia Tech, nine graduate students, two staff members, and one faculty member 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: Julia Disney, an ophthalmology resident from Olympia Fields, Illinois, and Lauren Groom, an equine surgery resident from Sydney, Australia
  • Outstanding Master’s Student Presentations: Elsa Ludwig, a large animal surgery resident from Madison, Wisconsin, and Nicholas Parkinson, a large animal medicine resident from Hatfield, England
  • Outstanding Ph.D. Student Posters: Ashwin Ramesh of Sunderland, England, Meriam Saleh of Knoxville, Tennessee, and Erica Twitchell of Hartford, Connecticut
  • Outstanding Ph.D. Student Presentations: Thomas Brickler of Boston, Massachusetts, and Miranda Vieson of Cincinnati, Ohio

Nick Dervisis, assistant professor of oncology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, was awarded the 2016 Zoetis Animal Health Award for Research Excellence. Since joining the faculty in 2012, Dervisis has helped build a successful clinical oncology service at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) that provides state-of-the-art services and opportunities for patients to participate in clinical trials. The oncology service investigates spontaneously occurring tumors in dogs with similarities to those in humans.

“In the past 3.5 years, Dr. Dervisis has led the development of a progressive oncology service that sees of the largest caseloads in the VTH,” said Greg Daniel, head of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. “The oncology service also has one of the largest number of clinical trials.”

Last summer, the oncology service achieved what Daniel described as “an important milestone and recognition of our program” when the oncology service attained membership status in the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research and Comparative Oncology Trial Consortium. In addition to leading a handful of clinical trials and securing numerous research grants, Dervisis also advises a Ph.D. student and co-advises seven other Ph.D. and master’s degree students. He also helped establish a fully accredited oncology resident program.

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.”


Two veterinary college staff members also received awards from the Office of Research and Graduate Studies at the evening banquet.

Mariah Weiss, a laboratory research specialist in the Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Diseases, was honored with the Outstanding Co-Worker Recognition Award. She was recognized for her exceptional work in Lijuan Yuan’s laboratory.

Cyndi Booth, administrative coordinator and assistant to the senior associate dean for research and graduate studies, received the Outstanding Contribution Award. Booth, who joined the veterinary college in 2005, was honored for her work to support the day-to-day operations in the Office of Research and Graduate Studies and was described by her colleagues as collegial, highly organized, and good with people.


View a photo gallery of the symposium.