Aira Villanueva awarded prize for her love of botany

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Aira Villanueva always had a love for botany, thanks to her grandparents. Villanueva is a university student in Canada who just won the Richard Staniforth Manitoba Association of Plant Biologists Undergraduate Prize for Botany.

The prize is presented to undergraduate students with significant academic achievement in the field of botany.

Aira Villanueva is a junior at the University of Winnipeg, with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry.

When she was growing up in the Philippines, Villanueva spent a lot of time with her grandparents. Their love for all things botany was passed on to the impressionable young lady, who learned how to climb the different trees in her neighbourhood, including mango, star apple and java plumb trees.

Villanueva would join her grandmother to forage for mushrooms during the rainy seasons.

During the fall of 2019, her love for fungus was reignited when she volunteered with Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, a not-for-profit organization which treats injured and orphaned wildlife before returning them to their natural habitat.

During the 7th annual Walk for Wildlife, Villanueva saw a wide variety of fungi, many of which she saw for the first time.

“During the day, we saw at least 10 different species of  fungi,” Villanueva told the University of Winnipeg. “My fascination was out of control that I looked for courses on fungi.”

Villanueva signed up for a class being taught by the Department of Biology’s Dr. Rafael Otfinowski called Algae, Fungi and Mosses.

Taking the class inspired her to start a mycology club at the university.

She’s also part of an online community of mushroom affecionados, including the Mycology Association of Manitoba and Native Manitoba Plants.

“The people that share their findings inspires me to go out and try to and look for species too,” Villanueva told the University of Manitoba. “During summer, I found chanterelles, shaggy mane, puffballs, hedgehog mushrooms, coprinellus spp, boletes, and the famous chicken of the woods.”

Dr. Otfinowski admired her passion, and nominated her for the Richard Staniforth Manitoba Association of Plant Biologists Undergraduate Prize.

“Aira became really enthusiastic about fungi and did a lot of extra lab work,” Dr. Otfinowski told the University of Manitoba. “She always stayed behind to ask excellent questions and really shared her enthusiasm with other students. She also helps her colleagues to find fungi for their class assignments!”

SOURCE: UNIVERSITY OF WINNIPEG


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