College of Arts and Sciences Students take the top three awards at 3 Minute Thesis Competition at Appalachian

Appalachian State University Cratis D. Williams Graduate School’s 2018 “3 Minute Thesis (3MT)” competition was held in October with a total of 32 campus participants with the three winners of the competition – Gita Gajjar, Arina Cotuna and Amanda Wilkinson coming from the College of Arts and Sciences. 

Gita Gajjar, Department of Biology, earned first place with her presentation titled “Role of Thor in Drosophila Pain,” alongside faculty advisor Dr. Andrew Bellemer. The second place prize was awarded to Arina Cotuna, Department of Psychology, for her thesis “Using Wikiversity to Promote the Science of Suicide Prevention: Helping Give Away Psychological Science (HGAPS),” with faculty advisor Dr. Kurt Michael. And in third place, Amanda Wilkinson, Department of Biology, received the People’s Choice award for her presentation “Snail Phylogenetics,” with faculty advisor Dr. Matt C. Estep.  

The first place recipient, Gajjar was awarded a $750 award for research or travel and an all expense paid trip to Knoxville, Tennessee in February 2019 to compete in the Southeast Regional 3MT competition at the annual Conference of Southern Graduate Schools. The second place recipient, Cotuna received a $500 award and the people’s choice award winner, Wilkinson was awarded $250, both for research or travel.

Cotuna is a second year student in the Clinical Psychology Masters Program working with Dr. Kurt Michael. She is from Winston Salem and has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Hispanic linguistics from UNC Chapel Hill. Cotuna’s clinical interests include working with kids who struggle with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Gajjar is a graduate student from Kenya, in the Department of Biology majoring in Cellular and Molecular Biology. She works with Dr. Andrew Bellemer and studies nociception in neurons causing states of chronic pain. After completing her studies, she wishes to go on to further her education by joining a Ph.D program.

Wilkinson is a graduate student in the Biology Department, working in Dr. Matt Estep’s lab to improve modern understandings of relatedness within the snail Neohelix genus. Wilkinson is from Denver, N.C. and earned her Bachelor's from Appalachian in 2017. After graduation, Wilkinson worked as a laboratory technician at Environmental Consulting Services (ECS) in Charlotte, N.C. before rejoining Appalachian this fall to begin her Master of Science. Wilkinson hopes to pursue a Ph.D focusing on phylogenetics of native U.S. land snails, revolutionizing the way we view these significant contributors to our understory community.

The 3MT is an international competition for graduate students to present their research or scholarly or creative projects in standard non-disciplinary English to a general audience (the public) in three minutes with the help of only one static PowerPoint slide. Graduate students that are in good standing are eligible to compete in this annual competition, the thesis must focus on some level of scholarly research and should be on a level that could keep a non-specialist’s attention and provide them with a comprehensive understanding. The competition is judged yearly by a panel of community, industry and alumni representatives.

To learn more about this competition visit,


About the Department of Biology
The Department of Biology is a community of teacher-scholars, with faculty representing the full breadth of biological specializations — from molecular genetics to landscape/ecosystem ecology. The department seeks to produce graduates with sound scientific knowledge, the skills to create new knowledge, and the excitement and appreciation of scientific discovery. Learn more at

About the Dr. Wiley F. Smith Department of Psychology
Appalachian’s Dr. Wiley F. Smith Department of Psychology serves 900 undergraduate majors seeking the Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, as well as 80 graduate students in the master’s degree programs in clinical psychology, experimental psychology, school psychology, and industrial-organizational psychology and human resource management. Its newly established Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) program will begin admitting students in fall 2019. Learn more at

About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, one stand-alone academic program, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. There are approximately 6,100 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian's general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at

About graduate education at Appalachian
Appalachian State University’s Cratis D. Williams School of Graduate Studies helps individuals reach the next level in their career advancement and preparedness. The graduate school offers 70 master's and certificate programs in a range of disciplines, including doctoral programs in education (Ed.D.) and psychology (Psy.D.). Classes are offered at the main campus in Boone as well as online and face-to-face at locations around northwestern North Carolina. The graduate school enrolls nearly 1,800 students. Learn more at

Nov. 13, 2018
By Andrew Scott and Ellen Gwin Burnette

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Published: Nov 13, 2018 2:22pm