USF Science Students Win ARCS Tampa Bay Scholarships

When Colorado biology student Melissa Buckley was evaluating graduate schools, she liked USF and Moffitt Cancer Center, thinking them good institutions for the research she planned to do. But equally important was Buckley’s impression of the Tampa Bay region.

"It seemed like a young, upcoming area. I liked the vibe,'' says Buckley. "I love the beach. Pass-a-Grille is my favorite.''

Heidi Toomy, fellow ARCS scholar doing coral reef research at USF’s Marine Science Program for her graduate studies, agrees.

"I fit the St. Pete lifestyle. I live two miles from downtown and I can finish an experiment and be out kayaking within 30 minutes,'' says Toomey.

Buckley and Toomy are the first award recipients of the newly established ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) chapter. They were awarded a scholarship of $15,000 each dispersed over three years. The awards are unrestricted and checks are delivered directly to ARCS scholars.

"When I was invited to apply for the scholarship, I said I wanted to attend a course at Cold Springs Laboratory in New York on Eukaryotic Gene Expression,'' says Buckley. "Thanks to the award, I was able to attend.''

Buckley performs research on ovarian cancer in the lab of Dr. Alvaro Monteiro. She is investigating ovarian cancer predisposition, trying to understand how the variants influence cancer occurrence. This research may in the future aid in cancer prevention and treatment for patients with the cancer predisposition.

Toomy used the funds to attend the Reef Resilience Conference in Ft. Lauderdale in October, and plans to use it for an Ocean Sciences Conference in Salt Lake City in 2012.

"It's so helpful to attend these conferences and network with other professors in your field that you might collaborate with,'' says Toomy.

ARCS, founded in 1958 in California, started as an organization of women philanthropists with the goal of advancing science. While the organization continues to operate as a women-run foundation, men are invited to attend meetings and to donate, and scholarships are awarded to women and men alike.

The story of the local chapter began in 2007 when Dr. Karen Holbrook, new to the University of South Florida from Washington State, started conversations about the need for a Tampa-St. Petersburg chapter.

Holbrook had participated in an ARCS chapter and was a strong advocate for the organization. By 2009, USF President Dr. Judy Genshaft and Dr. Enid Barness had written checks for $10,000 to help the chapter get started. 

A few women from the community, including Linda Seefeldt, Pat Johnson and Denise Walthers, were invited to help with the launch. At the close of the first two dinner events, one on each side of Tampa Bay, the fledgling chapter had 57 founding members. New members were asked to write a check for $150 and commit to supporting chapter initiatives.

"100 percent of member contributions goes to ARCS scholars,'' says Seefeldt. "We rely completely on the volunteer hours from our members.''

The first order of business for each new member was to begin raising money for the first scholar awards. Walthers stepped forward to organize the "Fun and Fashion Down to a Science” show held the first year at the St. Pete Vinoy and the second year at the Renassiance Hotel at Tampa’s International Plaza. The approximately $50,000 raised by these two events helped fund the awards given to Buckley and Toomy.

"This is a fabulous group of women who want to make a difference in the sciences,'' says Walther of the ARCS group.

Criteria For An ARCS Scholarship

ARCS maintains three basic requirements for award recipients. The student must be an American citizen, have at least a 3.5 GPA and be a graduate student.

"Initially we were advised to make awards to first year students to help attract the best and the brightest,'' says Seefeldt. "But USF asked us to make awards to second-year students to ensure the student is a fit with the department.''

Universities make the decision on which students receive an ARCS scholarship. However, the national university relations ARCS committee determines which programs qualify as top ranked.

"The two programs initially selected at USF were the cancer research program at Moffitt Cancer Center and the marine science program in the College of Arts and Sciences,'' says Seefeldt.

Fundraising continues to prepare for more scholarships. Seefeldt and ARCS officers will soon be touring USF with Graduate Studies Director Dr. Karen Liller to review data and decide which programs should be referred to the ARCS university relations board for review.

First Annual ARCS Scholar Awards Luncheon

Inna Fedorenko, cancer biology, and Maria Vega-Rodriguez, marine science, will receive the 2011 ARCS award at the First Annual Scholar Awards luncheon on October 28 at the InterContinental Hotel in the West Shore neighborhood of Tampa.

"We will have a private reception before the luncheon for donors with the four ARCS scholars and with special guest Dr. Judy Genshaft,'' says Seefeldt.

ARCS luncheon guests will participate in a panel discussion with Mitchel S. Hoffman, M.D., Teasley-TGH professor and director of the USF Division of Gynecologic Oncology; Santo V. Nicosia, M.D., USF professor and chairman of the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology; Dr. Akiko Tanaka, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Research Institute.

The discussion will be facilitated by Joanne "Jo''  Ranney of Seek & Speak Your Story PowerStories, Moffitt Cancer Center. Founding ARCS member Pat Johnson, who is next in line to assume the presidency of the Tampa ARCS chapter, says her focus will be on granting an ARCS award to a mathematics graduate student.

"We're getting lots of help in fundraising for the scholarships because people realize how important our work is to the community,'' says Johnson. "The more bright minds we can bring into the area the better our local economy.''

Elizabeth A. Leib is a freelance writer living in Temple Terrace with her husband, Mark, and their 10-year-old son Jeremy. In her spare time she loves to read, kayak and ride Atlas, a big beautiful Belgian draft/paint.  Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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