news-category: Undergraduate Research

Two Students from The GWU Department of Natural Sciences Awarded Grants for Research

Katie Wilson on the left performs an experiment and Marissa Dimatteo on the right testing the effectiveness of a drug testing kit used by law enforcement.
Katie Wilson, left, performs an experiment, and Marissa Dimatteo, right, tests the effectiveness of a drug testing kit used by law enforcement.

Biology Majors Marissa DiMatteo and Katie Wilson First in Department to Receive Outside Funding

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Two students from the Department of Natural Sciences at Gardner-Webb University have received grants for their research. They are the first students from the program to be awarded funding to conduct their studies. Seniors Marissa DiMatteo, of Granite Falls, N.C., and Katie Wilson, of Connelly Springs, N.C., are both majoring in biology with a biomedical sciences concentration.

Associate Professor of Paleontology and Department Chair Dr. David Campbell shared the department’s excitement for their students’ achievements and well-deserved recognition of their hard work. “Many years of work by faculty to build Gardner-Webb’s research capacity, along with recent investment in equipment for the department such as the Withrow donation, have created a setting where students can develop their skills and interest into national-level research projects,” he praised. “We look forward to more students pursuing these opportunities in the future.”

DiMatteo is double majoring in psychology and plans to attend medical school. She serves as president of the Psychology Club and the Pre-Health Society. She is a member of Sigma Zeta Honor Society, the secretary for the Tri-Beta Honor Society and a lab assistant for the natural sciences department. She received funding from Sigma Zeta National for an undergraduate research project titled “Presumptive Drug Test Kits and Compounds That Are Responsible for False Positives” that she conducted under the mentorship of Professor of Chemistry Dr. Venita Totten. This competitive grant is the first national award presented to the natural sciences department.

The donation by Marilyn Withrow purchased equipment to set up a teaching microscope with a camera and connect to a monitor. This setup allows the instructor to show students what to look for in their own microscopes.

Sigma Zeta recognizes and fosters undergraduate excellence in the natural sciences, computer science, and mathematics. Assistant Professor of Mathematics Teralea Moore is the Sigma Zeta faculty advisor, and Professor of Chemistry Dr. Stefka Eddins is the faculty liaison for Sigma Zeta undergraduate research awards.

DiMatteo also received a grant from the Gardner-Webb Undergraduate Research Scholars Program and conducted her research on campus during the first summer session. She became interested in her topic while taking Totten’s forensic chemistry class. “(Totten) suggested the research about the drug test kits,” DiMatteo related. “This research grant allowed me to conduct insightful research that showed the inaccuracies in the drug test kits that are used every day by law enforcement.”

Wilson, a chemistry minor, was selected as one of eight recipients for a North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) Undergraduate Research Program award. As part of the award, Wilson will participate in the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium that NCICU co-sponsors. Her independent research project is to distill essential oils and evaluate their effects on the microbiome, which are tiny microorganisms that live in the human body. Her GWU mentors are Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Meredith Rowe and Professor of Chemistry Dr. Ben Brooks.

Wilson said her excitement is twofold: “The award means that I can continue my research at Gardner-Webb and also train other undergraduate students who are interested in the project to keep working on it.”

Her goal is to pursue a career in biomedical research, and this grant will help her gain experience and insight into the scientific research process. Wilson elaborated, “I chose this project based on my interests, which include both microbiology and organic chemistry, and also because the project has a real-world application in the realm of biomedical research. I am grateful for this grant because it validates the hard work myself, Jared Reeder (’23), and mentors, Dr. Benjamin Brooks, Dr. Meredith Rowe, and Jacob Willis have put into this research project.”  

Wilson noted that her undergraduate research at Gardner-Webb also opened the door to other opportunities like her internship this summer in Dr. Laura Cox’s lab at the Center for Precision Medicine group at Wake Forest School of Medicine. “I am currently working on an aging study,” she related. “It has been such a good experience so far, and I can’t wait to bring back what I’ve learned to Gardner-Webb.”

Further praising the collaborative efforts of students and faculty, Professor and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Robert Prickett observed, “Undergraduate research is an amazing, important activity. Our faculty work and learn side-by-side with students daily, but with focused undergraduate research, like these two awards represent, faculty and students have a unique experience, filling in the gaps of knowledge—not just for the student but for all. We are excited for Marissa and Katie—but also excited for Drs. Totten, Rowe, and Brooks, and Gardner-Webb—to see their work recognized and encouraged in this way.”

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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