Rodrigo Mercader Wins February’s “Student Life Achieving Excellence Award”

Mercader studied speciation in butterflies for his PhD. He worked with increasingly hybridized species. 

Steven Dennis

The Student Life Achieving Excellence Award is a monthly award given by Student Life celebrating a faculty or staff member.

“We give it out once a month, September through May, we don’t give it out in the summer months,” said Jackie Askren, executive assistant to the vice president of Student Life. “It is an award that we give that recognizes a faculty or staff member who demonstrates excellence in working with our students or student groups or organizations.”

 All Washburn faculty and staff members are eligible so long as they fit the criteria and have not won the award in the last five years. Any member of the community may nominate a faculty or staff member either by submitting a form online or to the Student Life office in Morgan Hall.

“We have some criteria,” said Askren. “We ask how the person that you are nominating helps educate the students, how that person helps engage the, whether on campus or the Topeka community, and then how that person has enriched their experience here at Washburn, whether that be leadership skills, classroom or community work.”

Mercader is an associate professor of the department of biology, focusing primarily on the organismal level and above like entomology.

“My primary areas of teaching are organismal, and ecology and evolution,” said Mercader.

In addition to teaching in lecture and lab classes, Mercader performs research.

“I study plant and insect interactions,” said Mercader. “So, I am primarily interested in how herbivores… evolved with plants, how those interactions evolved and also [I] look quite a bit at management implications of those interactions, particularly with looking at invasive species. So, I look at how to try to control invasive species and what their management needs, conservation… or city or agriculture.”

Mercader finds these interaction between organisms and species both pivotal to nature and fascinating to study.

“So, basically that is what drove me to biology: understanding how species interact,” said Mercader. “It kind of starts out with looking at a community, then you notice a community is just made of multiple interactions between creatures. So, to understand how a community is put together, how communities differ, you need to understand their interactions.”

Interactions not only brought Mercader to the field of biology, but also to a career in teaching.  

“Enjoying student interactions is what got me into teaching,” said Mercader. “When you start talking to students, you get completely different versions of how the world works. It is very exciting… It is not one directional at all; you get this really cool dynamic with your students.”

In addition to receiving the Student Life Achieving Excellence Award, Mercader is now eligible for the Muriel D. Clarke Award, which is given out toward the end of each academic year.

“Out of the recipients each month, we have an overall winner.”

Nominations for the “Student Life Achieving Excellence award” are taken at all times of the year and are accepted for all Washburn staff and faculty.

Any member of the community can nominate an outstanding staff or faculty member by either submitting a form online found in the achieving excellence announcement emails or in-person to the Student Life office in Morgan Hall.