Top research at college recognized during Phi Zeta Research Celebration

Dr. Richard Hill, left, views a poster presented by ?

Dr. Richard Hill, left, speaks with Nimra Khalid on April 13 during the Phi Zeta Research Celebration poster session.

Each year, the college acknowledges the top research being performed by D.V.M. students, graduate students, faculty, house officers and staff during our traditional Research and Phi Zeta Celebration. Awards are given in a variety of categories for presentations as well as for overall excellence among faculty and graduate students.

This year’s Phi Zeta activities took place on April 13-14, kicking off the evening of April 13 with a poster competition and reception at the IFAS Straughn Center.

On Friday, our oral “Top Dog” and “Best in Show” competitions for D.V.M. and graduate students, respectively, took place along with a guest lecture given by Dr. Sally DeNotta, an equine medicine specialist who serves as the college’s equine extension veterinarian.

DeNotta’s topic was “Three Right Turns on the Road Ahead: Lessons Learned on the Path to Clinical Research.” The award categories and winners are listed below.

Top Dog Awards
Given to a student from each veterinary class who made a research-oriented presentation that was deemed best in the class.

  • First Place: Rachel Breitenbach, Class of 2026, “The Importance of Auditory, Olfactory and Visual Cues for Insect Foraging in Owl Monkeys.” Mentored by Dr. Christy Wolovich of Florida Southern College.
  • Second Place: Hannah Quail, Class of 2025, “Phylogenomic Characterization of Ranavirus Isolated from Wild Smallmouth Bass.” Mentored by Dr. Tom Waltzek, department of infectious diseases and immunology, or IDI, and Dr. Subramaniam Kuttichantran, also of IDI.
  • Third Place: Tasha Desiderio, Class of 2024, “Phylogenetic Analysis of a Novel Atadenovirus from an Aldabra Tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) Suggests Lower Barriers to Host Jumping from Squamates to Tortoises.” Mentored by Dr. Jim Wellehan, department of comparative, diagnostic and population medicine

Best in Show Awards
Given to a graduate student from each of the college’s five academic departments whose presentation was selected as the best from that department.

  • First Place: Segundo Casaro, “Unraveling the Immune and Metabolic Changes Associated with Metritis in Dairy Cows.” Mentored by Dr. Klibs Galvão, department of large animal clinical sciences.
  • Second Place: Sarah Wahltinez, “Coelomic Fluid Changes of Common Sea Stars (Asterias rubens) to Hypoxic Environmental Conditions.” Mentored by Dr. Nicole Stacy, department of comparative, diagnostic and population medicine.
  • Third Place: Lydia Sixta, “Detection of Tumor-Associated Bacterial DNA (Microbiome) Within Canine Melanoma and Osteosarcoma.” Mentored by Dr. Rowan Milner, department of small animal clinical sciences.

Graduate Student Awards

  • Excellence in Master’s Studies: Dr. Tomas Gonzales, mentored by Dr. Rafael Bisinotto, department of large animal clinical sciences.
  • Excellence in Doctoral Studies: Sarah Wahltinez, mentored by Dr. Nicole Stacy, department of comparative, diagnostic and population medicine.
  • Excellence in Clinical Science Research: Dr. Logan Scheuermann, mentored by Dr. Daniel Lewis, department of small animal clinical sciences.
  • Excellence in Basic Science Research: Emily Griffin, mentored by Dr. John Bowden, department of physiological sciences.
  • Charles F. Simpson Memorial Scholarship Award: Steven Tillis, mentored by Dr. Robert Ossiboff, department of comparative, diagnostic and population medicine.

Faculty Awards

  • Zoetis Award for Research Excellence: Dr. David Pascual, department of infectious diseases and immunology.
  • FVMA Clinical Investigator Award: Dr. Matthew Johnson, department of small animal clinical sciences.
  • E. Cornelius Young Investigator Award: Dr. Aaron Mickle, department of physiological sciences.

Poster Competition Award Winners by Category:


  • First Place: Alexis Irvin

Postdoctoral Associates:

  • First Place: Donghee Lee
  • Second Place: XiaoXiao Lederer
  • Third Place: Courtney Valerio

DVM Students:

  • First Place: Nirali Pathak
  • Second Place: Keith Gandy
  • Third Place: Alexis Diaz


  • First Place: Cameron Seger
  • Second Place: Rachel Naghi
  • Third Place: Rachel Lee

Graduate Students/MS/Residents:

  • First Place: Maria Belen Ugarte Marin
  • Second Place: Gabriella Robilotto
  • Third Place: Tomas Gonzalez


  • First Place: Kristi Jones
  • Second Place: Jennifer Kyu
  • Third Place: Karen Scott
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