In April 2022, six members of the University of Arizona wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) team were named winners of the 2022 ALVSCE Team Award. The Outstanding Team Award is given annually and recognizes outstanding contributions by a team in the Division of Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences, and Cooperative Extension (ALVSCE).
The WEST Center team was nominated by the project's lead, Ian Pepper, with letters of support from Amy Glicken, University Initiatives Senior Project Manager, and Liesl Folks, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost. This year’s winning team included:
Walter Betancourt: Associate Research Professor
Erika Stark: Research Technician III
Sarah Prasek: Senior Program Coordinator
Aidan Foster: Ph.D. Graduate Student
Nick Betts-Childress: Research Technician I
Hannah Riedemann: M.S. Graduate Student
The process of monitoring wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 is complex and requires a team approach as well as built-in redundancy to allow for coverage when one team member was unavailable. The WBE team has worked diligently during the past two years to smoothly coordinate tasks: sample collection, sample processing, nucleic acid extraction, analysis for SARS-CoV-2, and data management and communications. Team members worked on campus and in WEST laboratories, utilized communication channels to quickly provide results, and analyzed data to improve WBE understanding and interpretation.
The WBE team began conducting wastewater monitoring during Fall 2020, worked through the entirety of 2021 (Spring, Summer, and Fall), and continues into 2022. Monitoring has been done 6 days a week throughout this whole period and has required a tremendous physical and mental effort by all team members. In addition to award winners, contributors to campus WBE during the past two years include Jeff Bliznick, Noelle Karp, Ciera Carrillo, Cass Kelley, and other WEST Center students.
As stated by Pepper:
“Overall, the WBE Team was a large part of the reason that the University of Arizona has been able to remain open and conduct in-person classes throughout the fall of 2020 and all of 2021. This saved the University $100m and potentially saved lives. An additional beneficial outcome of the project was the training and mentoring of both graduate and undergraduate students – it was truly rewarding to see the excitement of these students who realized they were doing incredibly important work. Thus, the Team clearly contributed not only to the ALVSCE mission, but the whole University and the community in general. This has been a special team effort that is certainly worthy of the ALVSCE Outstanding Team Award.”