Skip to main content

2020-2021 Eberly Scholars: Noah Spencer

In association with the ongoing generosity of the Eberly family, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board established the Eberly Scholars program in 1988. Each year, up to 25 students majoring in the arts and sciences are designated as Eberly Scholars. They are provided with scholarship support in recognition of their outstanding academic achievement. This award is the Eberly College’s most prestigious scholarship honor for undergraduate students.  Meet all of this year's Eberly Scholars.

Noah Spencer
Hometown: Morgantown, West Virginia
Major: Biology 

How did you choose your major?

I have been interested in the sciences from a relatively young age, and my biology coursework in high school sparked an interest in understanding evolutionary processes. Finding and getting involved in Dr. Rita Rio's lab solidified this trajectory.  

Noah Spencer with his research lab mates

How would you explain your major to a new WVU student? What advice would you give them?

WVU’s biology coursework centers on understanding the diversity of life across levels of organization, from instantaneous molecular and biochemical processes to biosphere-wide and history-spanning evolutionary and ecological trends. Biology majors have a diversity of career paths and specializations to choose from, and elective courses and research can help define your specific path and allow you to get the most out of your degree.   My advice to incoming biology majors is to get involved in research as early as possible. As a Research 1 university, WVU is a hotspot for research productivity in the life sciences and is committed to providing opportunities for undergraduates to get experience. Don't be afraid to take any chance you can to get in this area early on! It will be key to finding out what you want and don't want to do.

How has your major prepared you for your future career?

Between my research experience and my WVU coursework, the Department of Biology has given me the tools to critically assess and apply scientific literature and to design controlled experiments that investigate novel research questions. There has also been an emphasis on science communication that will be invaluable to my future career as a researcher and mentor in an academic setting.

Noah Spencer presents a research poster

How have you changed since your first year at WVU?

Since my first year at WVU, I have really solidified my research interests. I can now confidently explain my field and describe the questions that most interest me. As a freshman, I'd have sort of "phases" with regards to my areas of interest, but I've become a lot more specialized with experience. Outside of a research context, I have also become a lot more confident and emotionally mature with all of the opportunities I've taken on and friendships that I've forged. My hair has also gotten a lot shorter (and then longer again).  

What was your most memorable moment at WVU?

In summer 2019, I won Best Poster in Biological Sciences at the WVU Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium, which represented the conclusion of my Summer Undergraduate Research Experience at WVU. I was elated to get funding to pursue my own independent work for the first time, but to get that recognition after months of frustrating trial and error was also a really emotional moment, especially with my fellow lab members (basically my second family) there to support me.

What was the hardest (Eberly College) class that you loved? Why?

A special topics class that has gone by the names Applied Bioinformatics and Genomic Data Analysis was probably the most stressful, patience-testing and intellectually challenging course I've taken in recent memory. It also taught me some essential principles and techniques of bioinformatics, science writing, experimental design and collaboration. It was entirely application-based, and no other class has so directly equipped me with tools I would use in my own work (and probably will for years to come).  

What do you want others to know about you that’s not on your resume?

I'm a little obsessed with tea. I think it's often in a scientist’s nature to try to fall down rabbit holes like this with hobbies, so it didn't come as any surprise when I found myself amassing information about storing and brewing pu'erh tea, a traditional export of China's Yunnan province. Traditionally, the tea leaves are compressed into cakes or bricks and then aged for years with help from microbes. Between storing tea for later consumption and brewing the tea itself, there are so many parameters to optimize, which really appeals to a person like me.

Noah Spencer going backpacking

What makes you feel connected to WVU? What have been your keys to success?

At a larger university, the prospect of forming meaningful connections to your campus can be intimidating. Thankfully, WVU offers many opportunities to get involved in tight-knit communities. My research lab and the Department of Biology in general probably represent my biggest support system on campus, and collectively they have decades of experience and education for me to lean on. I've also found a home at WVU's college radio station, WWVU-FM (also known as U92 the Moose). My fellow DJs are now some of my closest friends (and my best sources of music recommendations). Finally, my job at MindFit Academic Enhancement on campus as a tutor has helped me feel an even greater connection to the student body at large by helping students just like me navigate the path to academic success. To that end, my advice is to get involved as much and early as possible and never to be afraid to reaching out to peers, faculty and staff for help.

Why would you recommend WVU to a sibling or friend?

WVU tailors to the undergraduate in so many different ways. Particularly for students in the sciences, WVU's research productivity and land-grant mission make it a perfect place to find experiential opportunities that will prepare you for a future career regardless of your background.

Do you have a favorite professor or instructor here? What makes them special?

I want to give a shout-out to my research mentor, Dr. Rita Rio, who is endlessly supportive and inspiring. She's pretty much the reason for my success at WVU. Also in the Department of Biology, Dr. Dana Huebert-Lima and Dr. Tim Driscoll have equipped me with the critical thinking skills that make me confident and proud to call myself a scientist.

What does it mean to be a Mountaineer?

This question again brings to mind WVU's status as a genuine land-grant institution. Regardless of where you come from, Mountaineers are committed to service of the community and are ultimately united for a love for their home (whether it be their first or second home) among the hills. There's something truly special about the relationship that Mountaineers have with this state, and I hope that everyone leaves WVU with an appreciation for the diverse people of West Virginia, the unique problems they face and the things that make them special. Besides being so beautiful, this Appalachian  landscape is also undeniably human.  

Describe the best thing that’s happened to you at WVU so far.

The best (and definitively most formative) experience I've had at WVU has been joining Dr. Rita Rio's lab and getting involved with research projects. My entire professional development so far and the whole shape of my education are because of that experience. I can't imagine the student I would be had I not been offered that chance to experience such exciting work firsthand.  

What was your reaction when you heard you were selected as an Eberly Scholar? How has this opportunity made a difference in your life?

After being involved in the Eberly College for so long, this recognition meant a great deal to me. I always relish the opportunity to share my experience as a WVU student  w ith others, and I so appreciate the way this honor has allowed me to do that. The financial support from this scholarship is also an incredible gift, particularly with the financial uncertainty that comes with our recent circumstances.