Three Biological Sciences alumni name undergraduate research fellowship in honor of emerita professor Anne McNabb
The three graduates reflect on their time as students working with their mentor: ‘It was the joy of discovering new knowledge, of gaining new insight, that led us down the path of a research career. But it was also the holistic approach of Anne’s mentoring that taught us the importance of patience and determination. The first recipient is Tiffany McCoy, a newly graduated alumna of the College of Science.
Three alumni of the Virginia Tech College of Science have established an undergraduate research fellowship grant in honor of F.M. Anne McNabb, a professor emerita of the Department of Biological Sciences.
The inaugural recipient of the fellowship was Tiffany McCoy, a Class of 2022 senior who spent the summer of 2022 and her final semester as an undergraduate student studying viruses in green algae.
McNabb worked in the college from 1970 to her retirement in 2009. In addition to her duties as researcher and teacher, she also served as assistant head for graduate studies in the department, and then as associate dean in the Virginia Tech Graduate School. Her research focused on developmental avian physiology and endocrinology and environmental endocrine disruption.
“The establishment of this fellowship is an incredible acknowledgement of how important faculty effort and one-on-one attention are to our students and their long-range career development,” said McNabb on having a fellowship named after her. “I am deeply honored by the way that this allows my efforts to ‘play forward’ for future undergraduates to understand and engage in research.”
The Anne McNabb Undergraduate Research Fellowship was established by biological sciences alumni Dr. Donald E. Spiers (BS ’70; MS ’73), Dr. Richard L. Stouffer (BS ’71), and Dr. John M. Ward (BS and MS ’71). All three men went on to prestigious careers: Spiers is an emeritus professor with the University of Missouri’s Department of Animal Sciences; Stouffer recently retired as a senior scientist and head of the Division of Reproductive Sciences at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, part of the Oregon Health Sciences University; and Ward also recently retired as an emergency room physician in Texas.
“In reflecting on Anne’s seminal role in our decisions to pursue scientific careers, plus many other vital contributions to her profession, the Department of Biological Sciences, and Virginia Tech, it is an honor to establish the Anne McNabb Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Our goal is to offer today’s students the opportunity to experience the joys of biological research and consider the value and rewards of a scientific career,” Spiers, Stouffer, and Ward said in a collective statement.
They further told stories of McNabb’s mentorship and lab teaching skills. “After exiting the elevator on the fifth floor of Derring Hall, as you turn down the hallway, you face the room in the southeast corner containing the McNabb laboratory and office of Dr. Anne McNabb. The door was typically open, as Anne was always available for advice and mentoring,” the trio said. “It was Anne who welcomed us into her research family and served as our supportive mentor, guiding our first research efforts while giving us the independence to perform our own experiments, often from simple beginnings like blowing glass capillaries and devising research apparatuses. Every day was a day of discovery.”
In return, McNabb said of Spiers, Stouffer, and Ward, “I have relished the continuing relationship with Don, Richard, and Jack and was ‘blown away’ when Don called to tell me they were initiating the fellowship. Their appreciation of all the ways they benefited from their educational experiences at Virginia Tech is a key part of why they want to ‘give back" to [our] students. … I am honored that I played a role in their learning about research and that research became an important part of their careers and something they value in society.”
A first-generation college graduate, McNabb said she encountered sexism in the STEM field early on. “Growing up on a primitive farm in central Alberta, I've always been interested in biology. As a high school student, I was told at a career night that I didn't need answers to my science and math questions because girls became nurses or teachers.” McNabb was, of course, undeterred. She earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Alberta, Canada, and a master's degree and Ph.D., from the University of California, Los Angeles. She completed post-doctoral work at Yale University.
McCoy, the fellowship’s first recipient, is also a first-generation college graduate. “I absolutely have formed a similar bond with Dr. McNabb…. She has given me very valuable advice that I will carry with me well into my future,” McCoy said. “She has also been incredibly supportive and welcoming since the beginning, and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet her during my time at Virginia Tech.”
McCoy’s summer 2022 research track was in the lab of Frank Aylward, a Luther and Alice Hamlett Faculty Fellow in the Department of Biological Sciences and an affiliated faculty member of the Academy of Integrated Science’s systems biology program. She continued to work in Aylward’s lab where she developed a method fellow researchers have been using to identify viruses that infect green algae.
“Receiving this fellowship completely changed my life,” McCoy said. “Not only was I able to gain more experience in a laboratory setting that I am able to apply to future endeavors, but I have also had the opportunity to learn so much from various professors and mentors. This experience has directly influenced my future career plans and allowed me to pursue graduate education. I am so grateful for the knowledge I have gained, and I sincerely hope this fellowship continues to be awarded to other first-generation students seeking their first opportunities in research.”
McNabb said of McCoy: “She has grown tremendously in her understanding of the importance of research and of the research process and is now moving toward future doctoral work. Dr. Aylward has been an outstanding mentor/advisor to Tiffany.”
Added Aylward, “Tiffany is an amazing scientist -- her work really took off once she started in the lab, and she has been an important part of developing some new methods that we use. … I have no doubt that she has a bright future and will make many important contributions down the road.”
Spiers, Stouffer, and Ward agree that it has been wonderful working together on this special project. Stouffer said, “It was a joy to reconnect with Anne and so inspiring to meet Tiffany at the College of Science’s Celebration of Excellence this past fall. We invite Anne’s friends, colleagues, and former students to join us in celebrating her extraordinary contributions to Virginia Tech and supporting the next generation of science leaders.”
To learn more about the Anne McNabb Undergraduate Research Fellowship, please contact Jenny Orzolek at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-231-5643, or make an immediate contribution using the university’s online giving form.