Professor Recognized by Alma Mater

Dr. Martha Powell
Dr. Martha Powell

From the November 2014 edition of Desktop News | Dr. Martha Powell, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and a graduate of Western Carolina University, received the 2014 Academic Achievement Award from her alma mater during its homecoming earlier this year. Powell was nominated for the award and selected by a panel of Western Carolina alumni and professors.

“I feel very honored to receive recognition from my undergraduate institution for my professional achievement,” Powell said. “I am appreciative of the encouragement, guidance and personal attention I received from my professors at WCU. I went to WCU because I wanted to be an educator, someone who creates new knowledge and understanding of the world through observation and research and who passes knowledge onto the next generations of students through teaching. WCU prepared me well to be a teacher and researcher.”

Four WCU alumni, including Powell, received awards during WCU’s Chancellor’s Brunch during homecoming weekend. Award recipients and their guests also sat in the Chancellor’s box during the football game and were recognized on the football field at half-time.

Powell graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science education from WCU in 1969. Her research focuses on chytrid fungi, a topic she began investigating after her undergraduate advisor, Dr. James Horton, suggested she apply for a National Science Foundation undergraduate research program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She was accepted and went on to receive her doctoral degree in botany from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1974.

At UA, Powell served as chair of the Department of Biological Sciences for 10 years and continues to teach biology and mycology and lead undergraduate research. She also has directed three Howard Hughes Medical Institute undergraduate program grants totaling more than $5 million. The grants have enabled women and underrepresented minority students to conduct research and learn about careers in research. The grants also supported a college-preparatory summer program for high school students.

Powell’s research on chytrid fungi continues. Understanding chytrids and the roles they play in aquatic habitats is key to creating a sustainable planet, she said.

The Mycological Society of America recognized Powell’s contribution to fungal biology in 2006 by electing her as a fellow of the society. She was also recognized in 2011 by UA for her extensive record of teaching, research, scholarship, service and outreach with the University’s Blackmon-Moody Outstanding Professor Award.