Averitt Award Winners 2017

john david curlis at night with a green tree frog on his shirt collarJohn David Curlis

Animals Speak in color

Growing up, John David Curlis (’17) had a number of pets, yet frogs intrigued him the most. As a Georgia Southern graduate student, he turned his attention to the ground snake. His research focused on the evolution of multiple color patterns in this harmless snake species that mimics deadly coral snakes.

“I have always been interested in how and why animals signal to one another, including signaling between males and females, between competitors, and between prey and their predators,” he said. “I am particularly interested in the use of coloration as a means of signaling. Why would an animal be brightly colored rather than blend in with its surroundings? Why do some animals mimic the coloration of others?”

The biology major said he has sought answers to those questions since the beginning of his scientific career. “The ground snake, which I studied for my thesis research, exhibits an enormous amount of variation in color, some of which is used to deceitfully signal to predators that it is deadly,” he said. “My research on this species was prompted by a fascination with the colors of this species, as well as a desire to find an evolutionary explanation for their maintenance.”

Curlis is the recipient of the 2017 Averitt Award of Excellence in Graduate Research. The award, along with the Averitt Award of Excellence in Graduate Instruction, are the two highest honors bestowed within the Jack N. Averitt College of Graduate Studies.

“Winning the Averitt Award was obviously very exciting, but also quite surprising,” said Curlis, who graduated in December. “While I know that I work very hard on my research and do the best that I can, I have met and spent time with so many graduate students at Georgia Southern that put in hours upon hours of work and produce fascinating, meaningful research. I am beyond honored and grateful to be considered a top graduate researcher among these students.”

The new graduate is planning to enroll in a doctoral program, become a college professor and continue studying signaling among animals.


photo of Ray DelvaRay DELVA

Excellence in Teaching

“Ray Delva (’15, ’17) is exactly what we expect out of our Double Eagles,” said his faculty advisor, Professor Dustin Anderson, Ph.D. The Department of Literature and Philosophy graduate was honored with the Averitt Award for Excellence in Graduate Instruction. Delva’s tenure as a teaching assistant led to his role as a recitation leader for a pilot program in World Literature. He worked with smaller sections of 25-30 students from the larger 300-student section of the course. Professor Anderson told Georgia Southern magazine that Delva’s comments were insightful, directive, and helped the students to become both better readers and better writers.

“Ray not only moved onto teaching his own literature courses, but became an active leader in our pedagogy workshop as a guest speaker, and regularly met with other graduate students aspiring to teach their own courses,” Anderson added. “He is going to make an incredible professor one day, and he will be a model we point back to as a high point of teaching in our program. He is one of those rare students who was able to completely integrate his research into his teaching.”

Delva worked with Professor David Dudley, Ph.D., on his thesis. It focused on the ideas of African-American scholars Calvin Warren and Cornel West that appeared in works from authors like George Jackson and LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in their epistles and poems written during their time in prison.

The Master of Arts in English major graduated last May and accepted a challenging position teaching within the state prison system with Southeastern Technical College.


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