FVSU STEM Conference Enhances Students’ Science Skills

Staff Report From Middle Georgia CEO

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

Several Fort Valley State University students are now more equipped for future science careers after attending the Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in Washington D.C.

Twenty-eight students recently attended the conference, along with four faculty members, Dr. Sarwan Dhir (plant biotechnology), Dr. Kaneatra Simmons (biology), professor Seema Dhir (biology) and Dr. M. Naghedolfeizi (math and computer science). The National Science Foundation (NSF) Scholarships in STEM (S-STEM) Program and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP) Targeted Infusion Project (TIP) provided the funding. Among the group were Tori McGuire, senior plant science-biotechnology major, and Jahmelia Atkinson, senior computer science major.

New to the national spotlight, Atkinson gave a poster presentation on continuous authentication of smartphone users based on their touchscreen interaction. She conducted this cybersecurity research for 10 weeks during summer 2019 at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, as an intern. She won second place in the Computer Sciences and Information Management category, receiving $200 and a certificate.

“I am glad that I can bring more awareness to this part of cybersecurity. Through this research, I explained how to protect your smartphone in a unique way, which no one has studied before. I received great reactions and offers for graduate school,” Atkinson said. Grateful for placing second, she added that she did not expect to win an award because of the immense competition.

Furthermore, McGuire gained valuable information from attending the workshops at the conference. She learned about fellowships, financial wellness, tips on networking and applying to graduate and doctorate programs.

“I enjoy going to conferences,” McGuire said. “There is a lot of professional building, and the workshops are hands on.”

Afforded many opportunities such as this, she is also looking forward to participating in a 10-week summer internship with Cornell University’s Boyce Thompson Institute through the Plant Genome Research Program.

Atkinson and McGuire also had the opportunity to hear from FVSU plant science-biotechnology alumna Dr. Safira Sutton, who is a former NSF HBCU-UP scholar. She recently graduated from the University of Georgia in Athens with her doctorate in plant pathology.

“It was great to see that Fort Valley State is producing these wonderful scholars,” Atkinson said. “It made me really proud to be a Wildcat.”

This experience has encouraged her and McGuire to further their education after graduation. Atkinson aspires to work in cybersecurity, and McGuire aspires to be a scientist. Both seniors encourage students to seek opportunities to attend conferences. “These conferences are very helpful. Just apply for them,” McGuire said.

Atkinson also advises students to pursue internships. “Get yourself out there. You can meet people who could be beneficial to your growth,” she said.

In addition to attending the conference, FVSU students and faculty visited Congressman Sanford Bishop and Senator David Perdue, as well as toured Capitol Hill. McGuire and Atkinson appreciated the opportunity to share a room and conversation with these dignitaries.

Majoring in agriculture and science, the FVSU seniors agreed that these two areas are broad fields.

“Agriculture and STEM are needed for everything,” McGuire emphasized. As the population continues to grow, she said STEM and agriculture play a vital role in the research process.

“The world is evolving. Without agriculture, you cannot eat, and STEM is in high demand,” Atkinson added, noting biotechnology is essential. “That is where you save lives. It gives you a sense of purpose.”

Objectives of the annual ERN Conference in STEM are to help undergraduate and graduate students to enhance their science communication skills and to understand how to prepare for science careers in a global workforce.