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Students and faculty represent UNG at virtual international conference

UNG students Sawda Islam, Magan Free and Vivica Pressley, along with faculty member Dawn Drumtra, in front, take part in the North American Ornithological Conference in August. Faculty member Dr. Linda Purvis also participated in the conference.

Dawn Drumtra and Dr. Linda Purvis, both faculty members in biology at the University of North Georgia (UNG), were excited to hear that the seventh North American Ornithological Conference (NAOC) would be held in Puerto Rico in August 2020.

The international conference, held only once every four years, attracts 3,000 or more attendees worldwide. Becoming a presenter is competitive, and only recently have undergraduate student presentations been considered. 

Students Magan Free, Sawda Islam, and Vivica Pressley are studying an avian infectious disease, which is caused by Mycoplasma gallisepticum, with Drumtra and Purvis and began preparing for the conference in fall 2019, nine months before the meeting. All three students were notified in May their work was accepted, even as the event changed to a virtual event due to COVID-19.

Free focused on using a disease detection technique that is more cost-efficient and convenient than traditional methods. Islam reviewed the prevalence of the disease in songbirds. Pressley also documented disease infections, but she included the impact of diet on infection rates.

In an attempt to replicate an in-person conference, Drumtra and Purvis, an assistant professor, reserved a room in the Science building for the week for them to watch presentations so they could discuss what they learned.

Students gave their conference presentations individually from a faculty office.

"When our students presented, they knew they had a team rooting for them just down the hall," said Drumtra, a senior lecturer.

Even though they did not get to travel to Puerto Rico, students and faculty still enjoyed the conference, which had participants from 67 countries and all continents except Antarctica. 

"It was great to see how large numbers of people can get together and learn about other people's work," Free said. "I still wanted to share what I've worked on, and NAOC made it happen."

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