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Microbiology in the News

Congratulations to Microbiologists honored at the Chancellor's Honors Banquet!


The highest honor given to UT students, this distinction reminds all students that those who bear the Torch of Enlightenment shadow themselves to give light to others. Given to honor graduating seniors for academic excellence and service to the university and society at large.

    Katie PorterKatie Porter
    Katie Porter, of Bethesda, Maryland, is a microbiology major who is graduating in three years and has already been accepted to at least one medical school. She plans to serve in the US Navy Medical Corps and specialize in pediatrics. A member of UT’s rowing team, Porter recently visited Vietnam with the VOLeaders Academy, a highly selective program for the university’s student-athletes. In addition to her studies and sport, Porter is an active community volunteer. She assists the school nurse at Dogwood Elementary through the Clinic Vols program and wrote a curriculum to teach young people about healthy eating, living, and play. She also organized registration and ran volunteer orientation for Sports Fest, which drew more than 60 participants with disabilities. Porter’s influence on others is summarized by a faculty member: “I look forward to taking my own daughter to see Katie compete this spring so I can show her what a true role model looks like.”
    Cody SainCody Sain
    Cody Sain, a senior in microbiology from Medina, Tennessee, is a Haslam Scholar, Peyton Manning Scholar, and Coca-Cola Scholar. A faculty nominator wrote that while Sain’s educationally disadvantaged background had sometimes put him behind his fellow Haslam Scholars, “I have never heard Cody use this as an excuse or explanation. He merely charges on.” Sain aspires to be a physician and has been accepted to four medical schools. Outside the classroom, he has been a driving force in the Clinic Vols program, which provides health care to elementary school students, and his advocacy has helped keep the initiative alive. Within the Haslam Scholars Program, Sain has served as an orientation leader, a cohort liaison, and a member of the programming committee. He revived the mentoring program, serves as the chair of the program’s advisory council, and is working to establish an Honors and Scholars Multicultural Inclusion Council. Sain also serves on the Provost’s Student Advisory Council and was a featured speaker at the Join the Journey campaign launch.

Jimmy and Ileen Cheek Graduate Student Medal of Excellence

Awarded annually to an outstanding student currently pursuing a PhD who has completed at least four semesters of study.

    Joy BuongiornoJoy Buongiorno
    Joy Buongiorno is ready to take on any challenge—even polar bears. A doctoral candidate in microbiology, Buongiorno used a novel method that promises to solve one of the biggest problems in microbial ecology: simultaneously determining the identity and activity level of an environmental microbe in its natural environment. Her research required working 20-hour days on a remote Arctic island, a frigid place where the sun never set and polar bears were a constant threat. Still, she was always exhilarated to do her work and was never deterred by setbacks. In addition to her research, Buongiorno is committed to science education and outreach, creating novel opportunities to reach underserved populations. She organized UT’s Darwin Day and the Biogeochemistry Symposium. She also founded a local pod for 500 Women Scientists, a national group that advocates for science education and outreach, and she was recently asked to serve on a national leadership team for outreach to rural schools.

Excellence in Teaching

Bestowed by the Office of the Chancellor and the Teaching Council of the Faculty Senate to honor outstanding work in the classroom.

    Sarah LebeisSarah Lebeis
    “She draws you in and helps to break the complex concepts into simple and understandable ones.” This is an example of how students have described the Microbiology 330 class—a class of about 100 undergraduates—taught by Assistant Professor Sarah Lebeis. Despite the class’s large size, Lebeis uses active learning strategies that build critical thinking skills and help students translate their microbiology education to societal impacts. She has inspired many students, no doubt having a long-term positive impact on their careers and lives. Lebeis has also established herself as a significant force in an area of research that recently gained national attention: the microbiome. Her expertise in plant immunology allows her to develop and test hypotheses about how immune systems balance microbes and to relate her findings to human health—all while providing research opportunities to students.

Research and Creative Achievement—Professional Promise

Honors faculty members who are early in their careers for their excellence in research, scholarship, and creative achievement.

    Jill MikuckiJill Mikucki
    What lies below a half-mile of ice? Surprisingly, an interconnected lake system that supports life. That’s according to the research of Assistant Professor of Microbiology Jill Mikucki. Supported by the National Science Foundation, her work has been featured everywhere from NPR to the New York Times to Discover magazine. Mikucki leads a program that explores Antarctic microbial ecosystems, contributing to the development of tools and strategies that allow researchers, engineers, and others easier access to this difficult and complex environment—for example, advancing clean drilling technology and sample collection from pristine Antarctic ecosystems. Her studies support the research and learning of students at every level, from undergraduates to postdoctoral scholars, providing some with the unique opportunity of conducting Antarctic fieldwork.

Research and Creative Achievement

Given to senior faculty in recognition of excellence in research, scholarship, and creative achievement.

    Steve WilhelmSteve Wilhelm
    Signs near some bodies of water warn of danger on contact because of a toxin produced by blue-green algae. Steve Wilhelm, the Kenneth and Blaire Mossman Professor in the Department of Microbiology, has been a pioneer in the development of biomolecular tools that are helping scientists understand the environmental factors regulating those toxins. He’s also on a team researching giant viruses in seawater using a new technique, single virus genomics. Wilhelm’s methods are widely used, and his lab’s work has led to more than 150 peer-reviewed publications. Wilhelm—who has spent his entire academic career at UT—has received more than $17 million in grants. He is prolific in fostering the next generation of scientific change makers: he has trained close to 30 graduate students who have gone on to academia, industry, or government services, and about 80 percent of his undergraduate students have gone on to graduate school or professional programs.


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