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UWF biology students earn top honors at annual biomedical research conference

Two students from the University of West Florida Department of Biology won awards for research poster presentations for their respective categories at the 2017 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.

The annual national conference, which is coordinated by the UWF Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering student engagement team, gathers more than 4,000 undergraduate, post-baccalaureate and graduate students, as well as biomedical sciences professionals from underrepresented populations. Out of 2,000 presentations this year, 303 awards were given.

“These awards reflect the hard work and dedication of these two students well beyond what earns them their degrees,” said Dr. Phil Darby, professor and chair of biology. “Their awards are also emblematic of the dedication of our faculty to provide extraordinary opportunities for our students. These experiences expose students to biology research, of course, but equally important is the professional development and confidence gained only through experience.”

Courtney Swain, a senior biomedical sciences major, won the top award in cell biology for her presentation highlighting her current findings on the role of atypical antipsychotics in a condition known as drug-induced neutropenia, which involves having a low concentration of the major white blood cell neutrophil in the bloodstream and can lead to a weakened immune system. Her research, conducted under the guidance of Dr. Peter Cavnar, assistant professor in the biology department, studies possible pathways that drugs are impacting neutrophils. Swain is part of the Maximizing Access to Research Careers, or MARC, Scholars Program funded by the University’s National Institutes of Health grant totaling more than $960,000.Courtney Swain ABRCMS poster Edited

“I am grateful and honored to have received this award,” Swain said. “Knowing that representatives of the conference truly enjoyed my project and my presentation skills has given me more confidence in pursuing my future academic and career goals in medicine.”

May Zaw, a junior biomedical sciences major, earned the presentation award in the microbiology category for her current research on the effects of probiotic supplements on the gut microbiota in the common fruit fly, under the guidance of Dr. Hui-Min Chung, associate professor and associate chair for the biology department.

“Being one of the few out of hundreds of presenters in my discipline to be selected for this award really bolstered this feeling of confidence and significance in the work I am doing at UWF,” Zaw said. “It’s also a reminder that no matter where you come from, hard work and dedication will always pay off.”

Both Swain and Zaw are involved in the UWF Kugelman Honors Program, which challenges and supports the highest-achieving and most creative undergraduate students at UWF.

To learn more about the Kugelman Honors Program, visit

For more information about the UWF Department of Biology, visit