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Loyola University New Orleans biology student awarded Gates Cambridge scholarship

By Loyola University on Tue, 12/05/2017 - 10:52

Prestigious international scholarship will allow Michael Pashkevich, ‘17 of Mandeville to pursue doctoral studies at Cambridge University

Loyola University New Orleans biology student Michael Pashkevich ‘17 of Mandeville, La. has won a prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which will support his doctoral work at the University of Cambridge, starting fall 2017. Only 95 people from around the world received the award this year; only 36 of 800 applicants in the U.S. won the scholarship; and Pashkevich is the sole winner in Louisiana. The win is a first for Loyola University New Orleans.

Pashkevich, an Ignatian scholar and biology senior in the University Honors program who last year won a national Goldwater Scholarship, plans to study with the Insect Ecology Group in the Museum of Zoology, University of Cambridge, where he has already been granted and accepted admission to do field work in Sumatra, Indonesia. His research will focus on the functional role of spiders in Southeast Asian oil palm plantations and the effects of riparian margin restoration on overall plantation biodiversity. (Riparian margin restoration is the restoration and/or enhancement of land immediately bordering rivers and streams for the purpose of returning it to pre-disturbed conditions.) The larger implications of the Cambridge work are to assess sustainable agricultural techniques and to determine whether spiders—due to their feeding habits—are a potential non-chemical alternative to traditionally used pesticides, Pashkevich said.

Working side by side

As an undergraduate at Loyola, Pashkevich has worked side by side with Assistant Professor of Biology Aimée K. Thomas, pursuing scholarly research on arachnids.

“Michael has spent the last three years pursing research on topics ranging from history of former First Ladies to science education and spider community ecology,” Thomas said. “True to the Loyola liberal arts and Jesuit education, he has seized opportunities to ‘educate the whole person’ and thus, will be pursuing a Ph.D. at Cambridge this fall. His intellect, infectious enthusiasm and interest in the natural world will help him represent the spirit of the award and be an excellent steward of the scholarship.”

“His intellect, infectious enthusiasm and interest in the natural world will help him represent the spirit of the award and be an excellent steward of the scholarship.”

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship program was established in October 2000 by a donation of $210 Million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Cambridge — the largest ever single donation to a UK university. Since 2001, more than 1,600 Gates Cambridge Scholars from 104 countries have hailed from more than 600 universities globally (more than 200 in the U.S.) and pursued studies in 80 academic departments and all 31 colleges at Cambridge.

According to Gates Cambridge, scholarships are awarded to outstanding applicants from countries outside the UK to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject available at the University of Cambridge. The selection criteria are: outstanding intellectual ability; leadership potential; a commitment to improving the lives of others; and a good fit between the applicant’s qualifications and aspirations and the postgraduate program at Cambridge for which they are applying.

While at Cambridge, scholars pursue a full range of subjects available at the university and are spread through its departments and colleges. Alumni have pursued further study and employment across many sectors of society and are increasingly taking on leadership roles and applying their knowledge and skills to improve the lives of others.

“In addition to outstanding academic achievement, the program places emphasis on social leadership in its selection process, as its mission is to create a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others,” said Mandy Gardner, communications officer at the University of Cambridge.


Broadening understands of invertebrate conservation

At Loyola, Pashkevich's ongoing honors thesis research has focused on assessing the effects of white-tailed deer herbivory on spider species richness and abundance in a southeast Louisiana bottomland hardwood forest.  From July-October 2015, Pashkevich samples two plots, one exposed to white-tailed deer herbivory and the other exclosed since 2006, using four collection techniques.  Pashkevich sampled monthly- at various times of day and night- to access all subsets of the present spider communities.  The aim is to broaden understands of invertebrate conservation, specially, to illustrate- through a community ecology study- that spider communities may be adversely affected when mammalian management plans are implemented.  

In Monroe Hall's new state-of-the-art science laboratories, Loyola researchers have identified more than 1,300 preserved spiders to the lowest possible taxonomic resolution, which they will use to approximate the overall spider species richness and abundance of regional spider communities.  

No other academic building on campus is as important to serving Loyola University New Orleans' Jesuit teaching mission as Monroe Hall, the university's largest and most wide-ranging academic facility.  

"As I intend to research tropical spiders for my postgraduate degrees and professional career, this project has enabled me to practice the field and laboratory skills needed to succeed as a population ecologist." said Paskevich.  "As I'm sure you can imagine, I'm thrilled about the scholarship and am so grateful for all the wonderful mentorship and support I received from the professors who assisted with my application."

"Gates Cambridge seeks holistically educated scholars who are committed to discernibly impacting the world.  In part, I applied for a Gates Cambridge Scholarship precisely because its mission aligned so well with Loyola's Jesuit values," Pashkevich said.  "I want others to realize that my Gates Cambridge Scholarship is a result of Loyola's phenomenal university vulture that pairs scholarly excellence with a a commitment to assisting the world's marginalized populations.  The culture has been ingrained in me since Day One of my Loyola experience and, due to my Jesuit education, I look forward to spending a career linking scholarship to social and environmental justice."