To access the information packet, click: GPSC-Travel-Awards-Policies-2019-2020_v1
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Recipient of the Fall 2018 Type-1 Travel Award, PhD Candidate Karen Poh, from the Department of Entomology scored full points and consistently ranked first in numerous tie-breaker rounds of evaluations. With her permission, here is her abstract and personal statement for travel to the Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America.
West Nile Virus (WNV) was first introduced in the US in 1999 and is now considered endemic with outbreaks reported annually throughout the contiguous US. Previous work focused on environmental and landscape determinants of WNV transmission intensity and human disease, but results highlight inconsistencies in patterns across the US. Texas has been the foci of large WNV epidemics and now that circulation has occurred for nearly two decades, we aim to exploit the natural spatio-temporal variation in WNV to identify factors driving these patterns. Our goal is to identify landscape and demographic predictors in Harris County, TX related to the WNV vector index (VI), which estimates the average number of WNV-infected female Culex mosquitoes collected per trap night. We analyzed Harris County’s surveillance data from 2005-2015 focusing on the primary mosquito vector, Culex quinquefasciatus Say. We extracted landscape and demographic information surrounding each mosquito trap using ArcGIS and used generalized linear mixed models to identify significant factors associated with the VI. The best-fit model was extrapolated to a map of Harris County to identify areas at greatest risk of high VI’s. The best-fit model explaining higher VI’s includes higher median income, greater elevation, more impervious surfaces, and a larger percentage of Hispanics in a given area. The resulting risk map highlights west Harris County as an area with greater VI’s. The behaviors associated with certain populations and anthropogenic effects on the landscape have broad implications on WNV circulation in Culex mosquitoes in Harris County such as their role in providing habitats for immature mosquitoes or facilitating WNV circulation between mosquitoes and avian hosts before human spillover. Our study provides one of the first modeling attempts to delineate the relationship between WNV and the landscapes in Texas in hopes of building a more efficient early warning system for WNV in Texas.
This year, a joint conference between the Entomological Society of America (ESA), Entomological Society of Canada, and the Entomological Society of British Columbia will be held on November 11-14, 2018 in Vancouver, BC, Canada with an apt theme of “Crossing Borders: Entomology in a Changing World.” The conference’s theme resonates with my motivations to return to this conference as I present my research to an international academic audience, learn from and collaborate with experts in my field, and develop my career goals at the conference.
During ESA, I will represent TAMU during the Student Competition for the President’s Prize with my research presentation. Furthermore, my presentation will update my collaborators and inform a professional audience of my research that will lead to meaningful connections with leaders around the world. I will be presenting my research in collaboration with Harris County, Texas titled “The effects of landscape and demographic factors on West Nile Virus infection in Culex quinquefasciatus Say (Diptera: Culicidae) in Harris County, Texas, 2005-2015.” My presentation will inform representatives of Harris County and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Centers of Excellence about predictive statistical models to prepare us for the battle against mosquito-borne diseases. By presenting this collaborative effort, I can show international leaders at ESA that TAMU is at the forefront of collaborative work with local and national branches of government to effect change in public health policy and improve the health of the community.
ESA provides a unique intersection of academia, industry, and governmental agencies with common goals to reduce the impacts of disease and improve public health across the globe. This international ESA meeting is an extraordinary opportunity for collaborating across multiple fields and countries to show how basic and applied sciences can shape public health policy. Presenting my results and learning about other topics presented at ESA will ultimately lead to collaborative efforts that transform basic scientific principles into practical tools involved in vector-borne disease management. Ultimately, there is no better venue to gain inspiration and establish these collaborations than ESA with the common goal to alleviate the burden of disease.
After attending last year’s conference, I look forward to revisiting and meeting new colleagues who possess unique career paths and experiences in entomology. Networking at the conference will expand my ideas on entomology careers and influence my career goals whether it is in academia, industry, or the government. Events such as the “Women in Entomology Breakfast” and the “Student and Early Career Professional Networking Event” will allow me to connect with peers and professionals alike to discuss the challenges and successes of entomology careers.
This travel grant will alleviate the financial burden associated with international travel, attending ESA, and attending another conference during the fall. Ultimately, my attendance at ESA will serve to expose my research to an international audience, establish meaningful collaborations across borders, and enhance my career prospects by interacting with a unique group of scientists, activists, and professionals.