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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Sunflower Spotlight: Graduate student wins inaugural herpetology scholarship

Shelby DuVall
Graduate student Shania Burkhead discusses herpetology and winning the Gann Scholarship for Women in Herpetology on the Sunflower Podcast on Jan. 23.

This week in the Elliott School Studio, we sat down with Shania Burkhead, a Wichita State graduate student, to discuss winning the inaugural Gann Scholarship for Women in Herpetology. Herpetology is a branch of zoology that focuses on amphibians and reptiles. The scholarship honors any female-presenting or assigned female-at-birth student for their potential to contribute to the herpetology field. 

Below is a Q&A between The Sunflower and Burkhead. This episode of the podcast can be listened to here.

Sunflower: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your major and what you currently do at Wichita State.

Burkhead: I was raised here in Kansas, basically my entire life. I did my undergrad here at WSU, and now, I’m a grad student here. My major is just a biological sciences major, and I am currently studying herpetology. So even though my major is biology, I have more of a focus on herpetology and aquatic ecology and that sort of stuff. My thesis is kind of over salamanders, so I do work on droughts and how they affect salamander growth and development, and I do that using mesocosms out at the Ninnescah Field Station.  

SF: How did you get into the study of herpetology?  

B: I kind of fell into it as a little girl. I always thought I was going to be a marine biologist, as all little girls do, and then as I got older, I realized that I didn’t really want to leave Kansas or leave my family, and you can’t really study marine biology in Kansas. 

So I was doing my undergrad here, and we got a new professor kind of towards the end of my undergrad career. And he was an aquatic ecologist, and he worked with amphibians and reptiles quite a bit, and I took a bunch of his classes, and I really enjoyed it. And I kind of approached him at the end, and I was like, “Hey, I’m really interested in this, I’m thinking about doing grad school. What do you think?” And he was like, “Oh my gosh, yes. Come do it!” And so I just kind of went to grad school, and now I’m studying herpetology.

SF: Tell us about the Gann Scholarship for Women in Herpetology. What is that exactly?  

B: The Gann Scholarship was actually started just this last year. Eva Gann – she has been a member of the Kansas Herpetological Society for a very long time. She did her master’s on turtle research. She’s this really awesome woman in herpetology, and she just, you know, recently came into some money, and she wanted to help support other women in herpetology, kind of like her dad helped support her. And so she set up this scholarship and kind of just like gave the foundation money, and was like, “Hey, I want to support women.” And so this scholarship is something that you can nominate yourself for or you can be nominated by somebody else and my professor, Dr. (Tom) Luhring, he’s actually the one that nominated me for it. 

SF: Turtle research sounds so interesting to me. Tell us how you found out about it, if you would like.

B: Yeah. My PI (principal investigator), Dr. Luhring, he’s the one who nominated me. I don’t know what he said in the nomination letter. I’m sure it was pretty good because I got it … When I found out I won, it was at the Kansas Herpetological Society meeting. They have an annual meeting every year. It’s a big conference where people can present their research. There’s silent auctions, there’s live auctions; it’s a great time, if you’re interested in herpetology. I definitely recommend going to the annual meeting. Super fun. 

But, during the meeting, kind of like at the end of the night, we have an award ceremony, and that’s also when they do the auction. And … they had said that they were going to start announcing awards, and I really had to go to the bathroom. So I told my friend next to me, I was like, “Hey,  I’m going to run to the bathroom. Do you think I have enough time before they start announcing awards?” She’s like, “Oh yeah. Go ahead, go.” 

I go to the bathroom. There is a huge line, and so I’m sitting in the bathroom probably for about 15 minutes. And I walk out when I get done, and as I walk out, my friend (is) in the hallway, and she’s like, “Girl, you won.” and I was like, “What?” 

I kind of go in there, and as soon as I go in there, everyone kind of turns and stares at me because obviously, I had just been announced, and I wasn’t in there, and oh my gosh, it was so embarrassing. I was like, “I’m so sorry. I was in the bathroom.” And then I ran up there and accepted the award, and then everyone was laughing and clapping. … It’s something that would happen to me. 

SF: That’s a funny story. It’s wholesome, but it’s so funny too. So where are these conferences? Where are they held exactly?  

B: They’re held at different places all the time. This last year, it was at KU (University of Kansas). The year before that, it was actually in Missouri. Basically, whoever the president of KHS is at the time, they typically do it at their university because it’s typically a professor or something. But it’s held at different places every year, but it’s typically at a university.  

SF: That’s cool. So you get to explore all the different universities and all that. What were your thoughts about KU when you went up there? 

B: Yeah, I go to Lawrence quite a bit because one of my best friends lives in Lawrence. I’ve never been on campus, though, and KU was definitely an experience. Definitely different than WSU. I will say I do like WSU better. 

You can learn more about herpetology at the Kansas Herpetological Society website and at the Kansas Herp Atlas website.

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About the Contributor
Shelby DuVall
Shelby DuVall, Reporter
Shelby DuVall is a sophomore reporter, designer and photographer majoring in graphic design. This is her first year on the Sunflower staff, and at WSU. She's from Altamont, Kansas, and enjoys rollerskating and gaming. DuVall's pronouns are she/her.

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  • B

    Biolgical Sciences Dept.Jan 31, 2024 at 10:51 am

    We are so proud of you, Shania!!!