Studentís wasp study nets UW scholarship
Date: April 19, 2011
This year’s Goldwater Scholarship recipient at the University of Wyoming earned high praise from the professor who nominated her.
“Mary Centrella is simply the best undergraduate student I have mentored in 21 years teaching at UW,” said Scott Shaw, a professor in the Department of Renewable Resources in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “I can’t imagine a student who better deserves recognition with this scholarship.”
Centrella, of Jackson, is a junior with double majors in zoology and Spanish and a member of the university’s honors program. The scholarship covers tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.
“I am thrilled to have received this scholarship,” said Centrella. “I think the main reason I was awarded the Goldwater Scholarship was due to the fantastic faculty members here at UW. My teachers are always pushing me to do more and think harder.”
Centrella came to Shaw’s attention in 2009 when he was recruiting students to assist his research team — part of his National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates project — exploring the high-elevation cloud forests of Ecuador.
That fall, she asked to study in Shaw’s laboratory. Shaw suggested a research project in which she would describe and name a new species of wasp.
“Mary not only successfully completed this research project and presented an outstanding semester paper, but she worked closely with me to polish the manuscript and see it through to joint-authorship publication, with Mary as the first author,” said Shaw, who is also the curator of the UW Insect Museum. “So, before the end of her sophomore year, Ms. Centrella had completed and published her first research publication.”
The paper describes a newly discovered plant-feeding microscopic wasp — Allorhogas minimus Centrella & Shaw — and outlines its biology as a plant feeder and gall maker on Miconia trees, said Shaw.
“The research may have much broader implications, in that Miconia plants have become widespread invasive weeds over many Pacific Islands, sometimes wiping out many native plants,” said Shaw. “The discovery of a new kind of insect feeding on these plants raises the possibility that they might have future use as biological control agents for suppressing these weedy trees.”
There were 275 Goldwater Scholarships awarded nationally this year to undergraduate sophomores and juniors selected from a field of 1,095 mathematics, science and engineering students.
Centrella credited faculty members for her success.
“This university has so many resources and such great faculty members, which allows for undergrads to get an amazing experience out of their time here,” she said. “I feel so fortunate to be an undergraduate who has co-authored a paper and been named a Goldwater scholar. And these things I’ve already gained from UW in only three years here show what a quality institution this is and what wonderful faculty members are here.”