Late student’s legacy helps Miami undergrads achieve their research goals

A bonobo squats on a log. The primate rests its hands and one foot on a wood post in front of its body. Green foliage is visible in the background.

Miami University junior Jordan Martin, recipient of a 2015 award from the Rebecca Jeanne Andrew Memorial Award program, studies bonobos like the one pictured here.

This June, Miami University junior Jordan Martin will present his personality research on bonobos at the American Society of Primatologists’ annual meeting. He studied the endangered great apes at the Cincinnati Zoo last year.

The 21-year-old student will continue his research at the Columbus Zoo this summer, thanks to a $5,700 award from the Rebecca Jeanne Andrew Memorial Award program. He was awarded $2,500 last year.

This April marks the 20th anniversary of the fund that Rebecca’s family, friends and classmates established through the Miami University Foundation in her memory.

She and another student, Christopher Eggerton, 21, died on Nov. 19, 1995, in the French Alps after a group of students on a break from studies at Miami’s Luxembourg campus became stranded on a ski slope during a storm.

Rebecca, a junior majoring in anthropology, wanted to make a career in primatology, the scientific study of primates.

The awards are made on or near her April 14 birthday every year. And every year for the past 20 years, her parents, Jeff and Melanie Andrew, have made the drive from their home in Bath, in northeast Ohio, to Miami’s Oxford campus for the presentation.

“It’s always bittersweet,” Jeff Andrew said.

“It’s also very warm and rewarding,” Melanie Andrew added. “It feels good to both of us to see these students do such wonderful things with the award that they are presented. We love hearing about their projects.”

On Tuesday — what would have been Rebecca’s 40th birthday — they gathered again in Upham Hall to celebrate what Linda Marchant, professor of anthropology and director of the university honors program, called “a tremendous legacy.”

Forty five “Rebecca awards” totaling $64,391 have supported undergraduate students interested in primatology or biological anthropology conduct research. A three-member faculty committee and Rebecca’s parents review the proposals. Awards have sent recipients to study primates in England, Ecuador, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, Madagascar, Thailand, Nepal, Costa Rica and multiple sites in the United States.

Ten recipients have gone on to earn their doctorate degrees, Marchant noted.

Mark Allen Peterson, chair of anthropology and professor of anthropology and international studies, said the Rebecca Jeanne Andrew Memorial Award program’s impact is noteworthy.

“This program has had significant impact on a large number of students with anthropology, biology or zoology degrees whose successful research projects, funded by the award, have gotten them into prestigious graduate schools,” Peterson said. “Many professional primatologists now working at universities, zoos and research centers got their start at Miami through this award.”

Martin — a psychology and biology double major with minors in anthropology and neuroscience — plans to pursue graduate studies in psychology or evolutionary anthropology after he graduates from Miami in 2016. He would like to continue studying the social and personality psychology of humans and bonobos.

“The award has allowed me to achieve more than I ever thought possible as an undergraduate student,” Martin said. “During the course of my research, I have fallen in love with bonobos and plan to dedicate my life to ensuring their biological success as an endangered species as well as their psychological well-being in captivity.”

Rebecca Andrew had a similar passion for primates.

Marchant fondly remembers her as bright, ambitious and funny, with boundless energy, a love of nature and a deep commitment to conservation. “She was everything you look for in a student,” she said.

A picture of Rebecca, a gift from her parents, still hangs in Marchant’s research laboratory, along with another one of Rebecca with her friend Melanie Peterson, who joined Jennifer Weghorst as being the first “Rebecca award” recipients in 1996.

The pictures are there to honor her memory but also to put a face to Rebecca for students who will never know her but quickly become familiar with her lasting legacy through the program that may one day help them achieve research goals of their own.

Written by Margo Kissell, Miami University News & Communications. Originally appeared as a “Top Story” on Miami University’s News and Events website.

Bonobo photo by Natataek at English Wikivoyage via Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s