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Special cash awards to recognize “exemplary records and uncommon contributions” by graduating seniors at The University of Texas at Austin

A graduating senior from The University of Texas at Austin who has an exemplary record and has made an “uncommon contribution” in her field of study will be recognized Sunday (April 7) with the University Co-op/George H. Mitchell Award valued at $20,000.

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AUSTIN, TexasA graduating senior from The University of Texas at Austin who has an exemplary record and has made an “uncommon contribution” in her field of study will be recognized Sunday (April 7) with the University Co-op/George H. Mitchell Award valued at $20,000.

Abigail Green, daughter of George and Kathleen Green of Austin, was selected for the award for a project on farmer ants published in Molecular Ecology magazine and for the development of an ecology course in Spanish for rural high school students she taught in the Andes Mountains.

The ant project involved a study of the DNA in fungus gardens cultivated by ant colonies of similar but different species. Green’s work focused on whether these ants always cultivate only their own garden or whether they sometimes cultivate the garden of the other species.

In a related project, Green studied ant gardens over a period of about 18 months, looking at what these ants would do following a catastrophic event that caused them to lose their garden. Green said the results provided an interesting study in behavior. In some cases they were able to share the garden of their different-species neighbors. In other cases, however, they stole the gardens and even killed the queen of the other species. There also were instances where the ants just sat there and died when they lost their gardens, she said.

“Looking at the ants as farmers, they really fascinate me,” Green said. “However insignificant they may seem to the workings of human life, I believe any amount of new knowledge we can have about the other forms of life we share this world with are important.”

Green also was selected for a project in which she taught water ecology to rural high school students in an impoverished community in the Andes Mountains of Equador. She lived with an indigenous family in a dirt house while she taught the students how to determine the ecological health of a body of water by studying aquatic insects. Green also developed an ecology course in Spanish for the students to use in continuing their studies after her departure.

The University of Texas at Austin and the University Co-op annually will sponsor the $20,000 award as well as other financial awards in amounts ranging from $2,000 to $5,000, up to a combined total of $25,000. All the winners will be recognized during a dinner celebration in Austin.

Winners of $5,000 awards this year include Jacob Mackey of Austin in the classics/philosophy category, Jeremy Liebman of Dallas in the artistic/creative category, and a shared award by a design group that includes Carolyn Moore of San Antonio, Katie Phillips of Houston, Ian Searcy of Austin and Ryan Thompson of Victoria, Texas.

Winners of $2,000 awards include Nicholas Conley in the sciences/technology category, Pattabi Seshandri of Carrolton in the sciences/technology category, Jack Tannous of Houston in the social sciences/humanities category, Natasha Self of Norman, Okla., in the social sciences/humanities category and Cory Reeves of Rockport, Texas, in the artistic/creative category.

Sheldon Ekland-Olson, executive vice president and provost at The University of Texas at Austin, said the “uncommon contribution” considered for each award is a graduating senior’s research project, literary work, musical composition, humanitarian project or similar undertaking.

“These awards are a magnificent addition to the university’s efforts to encourage, support and expand first-hand, research-based, hands-on learning opportunities for our students,” said Ekland-Olson. “This initiative, coupled with numerous existing college honors programs and the university’s newly launched efforts to connect undergraduate studies across disciplines through the Connexus Program, provide ample evidence of the unique advantages students have when attending a large comprehensive research university. We are very grateful to the Co-op board of directors, and George Mitchell in particular, for their support of this important, innovative program.”

“It’s rare in our lives that we have such a strong opportunity to give back in a way that reflects our deep seated beliefs,” said Mitchell. “I’m honored to have the awards bear my name and to recognize such outstanding achievements.”

The nine students were chosen by a committee appointed by Ekland-Olson and Vice President for Student Affairs James W. Vick. Professor Randy Diehl, chair of the selection committee, said the work produced by these undergraduates is at a level one would expect to see in faculty members at top-ranked universities.

“It makes me proud to be a faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin,” he said. “You just don’t think of undergraduates as being able to produce at this level of excellence, but they do, and it’s amazing. These are people destined for stellar careers in academia and elsewhere.”

Note to editors/producers: The George H. Mitchell-University of Texas Cooperative Society Award program will be held at 6:30 p.m. Sunday (April 7) at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, 98 San Jacinto Blvd.