2022 Outstanding Scholar Award Winners

The Division of Biological Sciences congratulates the six seniors selected for this year’s Outstanding Scholar Awards in Biological Sciences.

The endowed awards are given annually to one or more outstanding seniors or juniors in the Division of Biological Sciences in recognition of their academic achievements, the quality of their independent research projects, and their extracurricular contributions to the division and to the university. The Division views all the awards as equivalent in prestige and honor.

The recipients were presented with a framed certificate and honored at the Division's annual Undergraduate Honors Reception on May 1.

"Joining a research lab my freshman year was the best decision of my college career. It has allowed me to develop as a scientist, helping me overcome any imposter syndrome. It has also connected me with so many great people that have become vital in my success. Many of the skills I learned including communicating science to the public, can be used in my future as a physician and scientist."

Zayd Al Rawi

Zayd Al Rawi was awarded the 2022 Mary Margaret McCarty Outstanding Senior in Biological Sciences Award.

Al Rawi has carried out research in the lab of Dr. Chris Lorson, a professor in the Departments of Veterinary Pathobiology & Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, for all four years of this time at MU. His research in the lab has focused on the development of gene therapy approaches for treatment of spinal muscular atrophy with respiratory distress. He is a co-author on two recently published manuscripts and recently presented his research at the virtual Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) conference, where he won an award for an Outstanding Presentation in Neurosciences. He also carried out a summer research internship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on a project looking for a genetic link for congenital diaphragmatic hernias in infants. His efforts there were recognized with another award for an outstanding research presentation. 

During his time at MU, Al Rawi has served as a peer mentor for the MARC/IMSD program and for the Pathways to Success (PAWS) pre-med program. He served as Vice President of the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students and President of the Muslim Student Organization and was co-site leader of the Mizzou Alternative Breaks service trips.  

In addition to this award, Al Rawi was also selected this year for the Mizzou 39 Award and the 2022 Award for Academic Distinction. The latter honor recognizes undergraduate students who go above and beyond expectations to contribute to the academic atmosphere at the University of Missouri.

Al Rawi will be graduating this May with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with minors in psychology and in chemistry. He is headed to medical school in the fall. 

"My biggest take-away from my undergraduate experience is that opportunities will find you if you look hard enough. I am so fortunate to have had the support of numerous mentors and advisors during my time at Mizzou. I have the enriching community in the Division of Biological Sciences and the College of Arts and Science to thank for the opportunities that I have today."

Payton Barry

Payton Barry is one of two recipients of this year’s Professor Stanley Zimmering Prize in Biology.  

Payton started carrying out research his freshman year as a participate in the MU Freshman Research in Plant Sciences program. He subsequently secured a research technician position with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Resource Assessment and Monitoring (RAM) program, where he monitored traveled across the state collecting data on water quality and flow, fish species assemblages, and habitat and ecosystem parameters. He later joined the lab of Dr. Jacob Westhoff who is associated with the MU’s School of Natural Resources and the MDC, where he worked on a project involving two endangered Missouri fishes, the Niangua Darter and Ozark Cavefish. He collected environmental DNA samples to estimate genetic diversity within the species and investigate potential speciation between populations in different aquatic bodies such as underground pools and spring-fed streams. He presented his research findings to the University of Missouri chapter of the American Fisheries Society. 

Payton has served as a peer advisor in the Division’s Undergraduate Advising Office for three years. He is active in the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, Tri-Beta Biology Honors Fraternity, and the Fisheries and Aquatic Science Society.

He is graduating this May with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and a multicultural studies certificate. He is headed to graduate school at the University of Maryland. 

"I would like to thank members of the Petris Lab for their role in my success at Mizzou. When I joined the group, I lacked direction and purpose – two things my time in the lab helped me find. Dr. Petris, Vinit, Nikita, Chiemerie, Jean, and Samuel have been exceptional mentors, but also have become close friends. I am grateful to leave Mizzou knowing that those relationships are not confined to this physical campus and am eager to see how they continue to grow in the coming years."

Dylan Calhoon

Dylan Calhoon is the other recipient of this year’s Professor Stanley Zimmering Prize in Biology.  

As a freshman, Calhoon joined the lab of Dr. Yujiang Fang in the School of Medicine, where he did bench work for projects focused on cytokine-based immunotherapies. He then joined the lab of Dr. Mick Petris in the Department of Biochemistry, where he has focused on characterizing a novel mutation that was identified in a patient presenting with symptoms related to copper deficiency. By analyzing the mutation’s molecular effects and determining its effect on copper transport, Dylan was able to contextualize its pathological effects and offer insight helping to decide the patient’s treatment. 

He has been an RA, a Peer Learning Assistant for the Honors PreMed FIG, and a Summer Welcome leader. In the latter role, he was named “Best Student Group Leader” and “Mr. Mizzou” for his knowledge of Mizzou’s history and resources. He is a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society and has served as the chapter president. His strong involvement in all things Mizzou makes it no surprise he was selected by the Mizzou Alumni Association Student Board with the Mizzou 39 Award this year.

Calhoon will be graduating this May with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and a minor in mathematics. He is headed to graduate school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. 

"I would like to thank Dr. Laura Schulz and my lab members for their persistent support my past four years at Mizzou. This lab has become a trustworthy and supportive second family to me. I’m thankful that we take time for the little things, such as helping each other problem solve experiments and give suggestions, all while supporting and celebrating each other’s achievements, big and small. My success at Mizzou is because Dr. Schulz and this research lab have helped shape me into a more inquisitive student, passionate researcher, and understanding person."

Juliann Leak

Juliann Leak is the recipient of the 2022 Clarence Clinton Crouch Outstanding Scholar in Biological Sciences Award.

Leak has been carrying out research in the lab of Dr. Laura Schulz in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health for the past four years. She has been involved in a project that uses stem cells to understand how the specialized cells of the placenta form early in pregnancy. Her research demonstrated that a protein that was previously known to be part of the cellular skeleton in the heart also plays a critical role in formation of placental cells; without this protein, the developing placenta cells don't make enough of a hormone needed to maintain pregnancy. She presented her findings at the Greenwald Symposium on Reproduction and Perinatal Research and at the Society for Study of Reproduction national meeting. She has received support for her research from the Discovery Fellows program, the Cherng Summer Scholars program, and A&S Undergraduate Research Mentorship Program. 

Leak participated in the Chancellor’s Leadership Class as a freshman and then returned as a teaching assistant her sophomore year. She used the leadership skills she gained from this experience as the education chair for her sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma. 

Her other honors include selection as one of ODK’s Distinguished 14 Freshman Awards and this year's Senior year Hesburgh Award for academic achievement. She is also a recipient of one of last year’s Outstanding Scholar in Biological Sciences Awards.

Leak will be graduating this May with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and psychological sciences with a minor in Spanish. She is headed to medical school in the fall. 

"I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to two my two mentors, Dr. Tom Phillips and Dr. Jacqueline Limberg. Dr. Phillips has inspired me with his love of biology and aided me tremendously in my pursuits to attend medical school. In my research, Dr. Limberg has facilitated both my professional and personal growth as a scientist and human being. I credit Dr. Limberg for my motivation and success in the world of scientific research."

Eric Lis

Eric Lis is one of two recipients of the John I. Hardy Outstanding Scholar in Biological Sciences Award.

Lis has been doing research in the lab of Dr. Jaqueline Limberg in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology since his sophomore year. In the lab, he has investigated a novel role for small organs located in the neck (the carotid bodies) in the development and progression of human type 2 diabetes. His research has shown that these organs are hyper-active in individuals with type 2 diabetes, and he is currently exploring whether "turning off" the activity of these organs could improve blood sugar levels in adults with this disease. He presented findings from his research at MU’s Cardiovascular Research Day, where he received the Outstanding Poster Presentation Award two years in a row. He also presented his results at the national Experimental Biology Conference, where he was selected for the American Physiology Society’s Barbara A. Horwitz and John M. Horowitz Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award. 

Lis has been involved in the College Mentors of Kids program for the past four years, including serving as the organization’s vice president of engagement. He also has been on the leadership team for TEDxMU and the PreMed Scholars organization. 

Last year, he was one of the three juniors selected for the Outstanding Scholar Award in Biological Sciences and one of only ten juniors inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. 

Lis will be graduating this May with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and psychological sciences and a minor in Spanish. He will be headed to medical school next year.

"One of my favorite Mizzou memories is going to dinner at Nobel laureate Dr. George Smith’s house during my sophomore year. Associate Dean Nicole Monnier 'purchased' an evening with Dr. Smith and donated it to students! All the undergraduates in Dr. Brown’s lab were able to invite friends and enjoy a home cooked meal with Dr. Smith.”

Delanie Vinzant

Delanie Vinzant is the other recipient of the John I. Hardy Outstanding Scholar Award in Biological Sciences.

Vinzant, a Stamps Scholar, carried out research in the lab of Dr. Pamela Brown throughout her entire undergraduate career. Her project in the Brown lab involves the role of two accessory proteins in the cell division of a bacterial plant pathogen, Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Her most recent work has highlighted a previously unknown link between a protein involved in the regulation of cell division and a cell stress response. She has been selected to present her research at the Gordon Research Plant and Microbial Cytoskeleton Conference this summer and is currently preparing a manuscript for publication.

She has supported her fellow students as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador, an Honors College Ambassador, a member of the College of Arts and Sciences Student Council, and a treasurer of the Mizzou American Society for Microbiology Student Chapter. She spent two summers mentoring first-generation and low-income students as a student assistant for the TRiO Upward Bound program at Northwest Missouri State University.

Vinzant was inducted into the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society as well as into Omicron Delta Epsilon, which is the international economics honor society. She was one of three juniors selected for an Outstanding Scholar Award in Biological Sciences last year, and one of 39 seniors selected for the the Mizzou 39 Award this year.

Vinzant will graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and economics and a minor in sociology. Her long-term career goal is to work in public health and policy and work on global health initiatives.