Mississippi University for Women graduate Bailey Howell recently had her honors project published in the journal “Integrative Organismal Biology.”

Bailey Howell

The article, titled “Geometric Morphometrics Reveal Shape Differences in the Toes of Urban Lizards,” was published in August and co-authored with Kristin M. Winchell and Dr. Travis Hagey, an assistant professor of biology at The W.

Howell, who is from Echola, Alabama, earned her bachelor’s degree in biology (minor in chemistry) from The W in May 2020. She is pursuing her doctorate in biological sciences at Virginia Tech.

“My time at The W truly changed my life,” said Howell, who hopes to complete her doctorate in 2024 or 2025. “I would never have majored in biology if it wasn’t for my biology instructors at the university. All throughout my undergraduate degree they supported and encouraged me. The same is true for many other professors in the Department of Science and Mathematics. Even outside of my department I had a lot of great mentors. Some of my professors helped me find a job by recommending me for tutoring and supplemental instruction. My honors committee was instrumental in helping me get a first draft of this manuscript.”

Howell’s honors project examined how the shape of a lizard’s adhesive toe pads changed between urban and forest populations of lizards in Puerto Rico. She said urban and forest environments have different types of surfaces, so the lizards have to change to keep up with the changing environments.

Howell selected the topic at the beginning of her senior year. She said she had a few options, but felt she could complete the project within a year and that it aligned with most of her interests as she moved toward graduate school. Howell said the project took about a year to complete and that writing the final version of the manuscript took at least another year.

“When I found out “Integrative Organismal Biology” had accepted the paper I was elated,” said Howell, who plans to look for a job as a postdoctoral researcher or to work as a professor at an undergraduate teaching university like The W after she completes her doctorate “The journal is a part of the larger “Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology,” and I had presented this work previously at a SICB conference. I don’t think there is a better home for this paper than IOB.”

Howell was a speech-pathology major when she started at The W. She admitted she “dreaded” having to take an introductory biology course as a freshman, but she said she grew to love biology and changed her major the following semester. Howell credits her former roommate, Hallie Cole, for giving her the courage to change directions and all of her professors at The W for helping to shape her as a student.

Hagey had Howell as a student in three of his classes at The W and he oversaw her earn independent research credit. He served as Howell’s honors project adviser and worked with her to develop it.

“It is quite unusual for an undergraduate to have completed a project that goes on to be published in a peer reviewed journal, especially with that student acting as first author on the publication,” Hagey said. “Being ‘first author’ means the student was responsible for most aspects of the project.”

Dr. Ross Whitman, a professor of biology at The W, also had Howell as a student in several classes. As The W’s campus coordinator for the Mississippi Space Grant Consortium (MSSGC), Whitwam helped secure funding for Howell’s research and the publication fee for her article. The consortium is made up of about 15 Mississippi universities and community colleges and is funded by NASA. The mission is to increase student engagement and participation in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics by funding activities consistent with that mission. 

“The point of research is to advance scientific understanding,” Whitwam said. “Publication in peer-reviewed journals is a critical part of that process. That’s why we were happy to award Bailey NASA funds for both stages of her research. 

“We all expect Bailey to have a great future. Although, even those of us who were her old professors have got to admit that is largely the result of her own work. But we hope that when she’s famous in her field she’ll occasionally give a shout out to her old stomping ground where she got her start.”

Oct. 18, 2022
Contact: Adam Minichino
(662) 329-1976

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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