The Department of Sciences and Mathematics is the recipient of the Mississippi University for Women’s 2022-23 Impact Initiative Award.

Dr. Heda (right) works alongside a student in the lab

The annual award is meant to recognize a unit that exemplifies the excellence that is The W through its efforts to enhance diversity, promote cultural diversity and cultivate an inclusive campus community. These efforts may be, but are not limited to teaching, service and leadership. The Department of Sciences and Mathematics received $1,000 as part of the award to sustain its initiative.

“The Department of Sciences and Mathematics is very proud of its undergraduate research initiative,” said Dr. Bonnie Oppenheimer, a professor of mathematics and chair of the department. “Dr. Ghanshyam Das Heda has been helping diverse students for years in his Cystic Fibrosis Lab. Dr. Ross Whitwam has done the same in his Yeast Prion Lab. More recently, Dr. Benjamin Onyeagucha set up his Cancer Molecular Biology Lab, Dr. Davida Crossley set up her Histoplasmosis Lab, Dr. Travis Hagey runs the Gecko Lab and Dr. Robert Sample has the Environmental Pathogens Lab.

“All of these professors are to be applauded for their efforts to encourage diverse learners to explore research opportunities in these various areas. All the professors in the Department of Sciences and Mathematics try their best to make sure all our students are comfortable in their classes and learn well.”

To enhance diversity, students from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to participate in undergraduate research in the department’s six research laboratories in Parkinson Hall.

Oppenheimer also said the Mississippi IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) has been a vital part in the initial setup of some of the department’s labs, has provided support for the requisite biologicals and chemicals for the experiments performed in the labs and has provided release time for faculty members to do their research. She said the department also has a NASA Space Grant that supports student travel to conferences so the students may present the research they have done in their lab spaces.

Heda, a professor of biology, said it is crucial for undergraduate students to gain experience with research projects. He said there are ample opportunities for undergraduate students in the department to do research and to learn from faculty members to help set them up for their graduate studies. Heda added The W’s Ina E. Gordy Honors College and the Office of Undergraduate Research (OURS) Summer Scholarship programs also have played a key role in enhancing the department’s undergraduate research atmosphere.

Dr. Nadeema Appukutti, who is a faculty member at the Universal College Lanka-Monash College in Sri Lanka, was a part of Dr Heda’s research group and worked in his Cystic Fibrosis Lab during 2012 and 2013. She said the experience she gained working in Heda’s lab helped give her the confidence to pursue her doctorate in chemistry at the University of Kent, UK.

“It has been a rewarding experience to be a part of The W community,” Appukutti wrote in her letter of recommendation. “Throughout my undergraduate education, I found lifelong friendships and mentors that support me in my life journey.”

Diptika Raut, who is a graduate student at Bradley University in Illinois and is applying for her doctorate program, also wrote a letter of recommendation for the department. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from The W in 2019, and also co-authored a publication with Dr. Heda in a peer-reviewed journal.

“The experience in Dr. Heda’s lab had a strong influence in my decision to pursue research in cell and molecular biology in graduate school,” Raut said. “I am forever grateful for having an opportunity to work under Dr. Heda at his research lab at The W.”

About The W

Located in historic Columbus, Mississippi, The W was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the United States. Today, the university is home to 2,227 students in more than 70 majors and concentrations and has educated men for 40 years. The university is nationally recognized for low student debt, diversity and social mobility which empowers students to BE BOLD.

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