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Erin Hartzell

Erin Hartzel

Erin Hartzell always knew she wanted to study and work with plants, but conducting research wasn’t always in her master plan.

Prior to transferring to WVU, the senior horticulture student spent a summer conducting research on plant-insect interactions and, now, she can’t imagine doing anything else.

At the urging of her mentor Michael Gutensohn, assistant professor of horticulture, Hartzell applied for a prestigious Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship through the American Society of Plant Biologists.

To her surprise – and Gutensohn’s – she earned one of only 15 national fellowships.

“I applied and I don’t think we thought I’d get it,” she said. “That’s just being blatantly honest. It was such a shock.”

The fellowship funds promising undergraduate students so they can conduct research in plant biology during the early part of their college careers. Recipients are awarded a $4,000 summer stipend, membership in ASPB, $700 for material and supplies, and a $575 stipend to support travel to Plant Biology 2017, the ASPB annual meeting, to be held June 24-28, 2017, in Honolulu.

When asked why she was so shocked to be named a recipient, Hartzell discussed how her goals as a student have changed over the years.

“I had a rough start in college,” she said. “My parents never thought they’d hear me say the words ‘master’s’ or ‘doctorate’ because I wasn’t at that place in my life. I didn’t think I’d get the scholarship because it’s nationally competitive. I was up against students with 4.0 grade point averages and, while my GPA is good, it’s not perfect.”

Hartzell was thankful Gutensohn pushed her to apply, and that the decision to award SURF scholarships didn’t rest exclusively on grade point average.

“I was glad they also took into account the types of research projects and an applicant’s overall goals,” she said. “I think that’s what set me apart. Although I have a good project, I don’t think very many people want to be doing what they do as much as I do. I love what I’m studying and that’s what propels me. It’s more than finding a way to make money and get a job after graduation.”

Under Gutensohn’s direction, Hartzell spent the summer conducting genetic analyses of subcellular metabolic crosstalk in the plant terpenoid biosynthetic network.

She’s looking forward to being able to share her findings with other researchers at the ASPB’s annual meeting next fall.