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Westminster College Biology and Molecular Biology Majors Participated, Placed at District Convention

Posted on Monday, April 22, 2013

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. - Four students from the Westminster College Department of Biology presented their research at the Tri-Beta district convention March 23 at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

Dr. Veronica Porterfield, visiting assistant professor of biology, and Dr. Kathy Robertson, associate professor of biology, accompanied the students to the conference.

Beta Beta Beta, also known as Tri-Beta, is a national biology honor society.  The district conventions provide undergraduate students an opportunity to present their work in an environment that promotes undergraduate research and enhances the exchange of ideas within the biological sciences.

Posters and oral presentations were reviewed by faculty, providing useful feedback on the research as well as the presentation.  Students had the opportunity to earn first, second or third prize or honorable mention. 

Mellanie Perello, a senior biology major, earned second prize for her oral presentation titled "The Ecological Effects of Silver Nanoparticles in a Freshwater Tritrophic System." Her research was advised by Dr. Ann Throckmorton, professor of biology.

Perello is a daughter of Michael and Maria Perello of Poland, Ohio, and a graduate of Ohio Distance and Electronic Learrning Academy.

Senior biology major Briana Valentino earned second prize for her poster presentation titled "Identification of IL-1β Production in the Brain Following Restraint Stress Using Fisher 344 Rats." Her research was advised by Porterfield.

Valentino is a daughter of Lisa Valentino and Michael Valentino, Canton, Ohio, and a graduate of Glenoak High School.

Senior biology major Colin Feeney earned third prize for his poster titled "Ecological Effects of Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Drilling on Raptor Populations in southwest Pennsylvania." His research was advised by Dr. Kerri Cornell Duerr, assistant professor of biology.

Feeney is a son of Donald and Debra Feeney of Waterford and a graduate of Fort Le Boeuf High School.

Senior biology major Ryan Nicklas presented his poster titled "The Effect of Host Identity on Sex Ratios within the Model Parasitoid Nasonia vitripennis." His research was advised by Throckmorton.

Nicklas is a son of Steven and Julie Nicklas of Evans City and a graduate of Seneca Valley High School.

Contact Porterfield at (724) 946-7784 ( or Robertson (724) 946-7213 ( for additional information. 

Much of the research done by these students was supported by undergraduate research grants from Westminster's Drinko Center for Experiential Learning.

The Drinko Center for Experiential Learning was created to enrich undergraduate education at Westminster through advancing world-class teaching as well as by participating in collaborations that address community and regional needs including strengthening K-12 education.  The Undergraduate Research Initiative provides funding for students to conduct research and to present their research at regional and national conferences.  Visit for more information about the Drinko Center and its programs.

(l-r) Mellanie Perello, Ryan Nicklas, Briana Valentino, and Colin Feeney.