Scholarship and research are more than just the happy byproducts of the undergraduate experience for three recent award-winning WSU seniors. They are the focus of these students’ education and the passion that inspires them to continue their studies beyond their bachelor’s degrees.

Amy Huseby, Jatinder Jassal and Gunnar Skulason were awarded the first Undergraduate Awards for Excellence in Research and Scholarship from the WSU Emeritus Society. In partnership with the Office of Undergraduate Education, the society’s 120 members established the $500 awards to encourage undergraduates and their faculty mentors to strive for excellence in scholarly efforts.

Huseby epitomizes that effort and excellence. An English major at WSU Vancouver, she has completed three years of course work in 22 months with a 4.0 GPA and is scheduled to graduate in July. She works full time as a legal secretary, is married and has three sons, ages 12-16.

She has been a published poet for a decade and intends to pursue a Ph.D. in English literature. Her research and teaching interests include feminist literary criticism; gender and religious rhetoric; heresy, Gnosticism and apocryphal literature; and poetry. Her mentor is Collin Hughes, clinical assistant professor of English.

“I believe I was born to be a teacher,” she said. “I experience such joy when I’m working with students and writing.”

Jassal, who will graduate in May and pursue an advanced degree, also thrives on his work with mentor Krzysztof Czaja, assistant professor of veterinary and comparative anatomy, pharmacology and physiology.

“Working in a petroleum engineering lab for the University of Alaska, my interest in scientific research grew,” he said. “I quickly became absorbed in the work being conducted by Dr. Czaja on injury-induced neurogenesis (development of nervous tissue),” after arrival at WSU in 2004.

His work explores and explains recovery of sensation in the skin after administration of capsaisin, the active component of chili peppers, and has implications for improving the outcome for people who suffer injuries to the nervous system.

“It is difficult to lose passion for such a revolutionary field of study,” he said.

Skulason’s interests are revolutionizing his area of research, as well. His work led to development of a low-cost radio frequency amplifier for mass spectroscopy, thus providing an alternative to commercially available instruments.

Mass spectroscopy is an analytical technique for determining the elemental composition or chemical structure of a molecule or chemical compound.

His project won honorable mention in the recent WSU Libraries Research Excellence competition and will be submitted to the journal Review of Scientific Instruments. He anticipates graduating in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in physics. His mentor is Tom Dickinson, Regents professor of physics.

Skulason plans to continue his research and is working with Peter Engels, assistant professor of physics, designing diode lasers for research with ultra-cold atoms, and with Fred Gittes, clinical associate professor of physics, on a project involving unconventional electric motors.