KILLEEN — Two Texas A&M University-Central Texas biology program seniors — both Temple College graduates — won top honors in competition at the Southwestern Branch of the Entomological Society of America in Albuquerque, N.M., last week.

Kaitlyn Clark, 19, and Brad Burden, 27, were ranked second and third place, respectively, in competition against other universities, including Texas A&M-College Station, Tarleton State University, West Texas A&M University, Oklahoma State University and New Mexico State University.

The A&M-Central Texas biology department is inarguably small. But their intellectual heft is evident, as is their unique approach to teaching.

“Our students receive individualized attention from us,” Dr. Laura Weiser Erlandson, associate professor, said. “They work directly with a scientist on real research and learn techniques that most students don’t get until graduate school.”

Dr. Linh Pham, assistant professor, agreed, saying, “We encourage them to participate in these conferences and co-author peer-reviewed publications with us, because that is what is going to elevate their careers after graduation. We just never expected them to do so well so quickly.”

Six A&M-Central Texas biology students recently competed in state and regional conferences, including The Texas Academy of Science and Pathways last fall. So far, all have won top honors.

For the most recent winners, the prospect of graduate school doesn’t seem as daunting as it once might have. They feel ready, they say, because they are ready.

Anticipating graduation in 2019, Burden is beginning to consider graduate school. Admitting his fondness of the outdoors and nature, he’s thinking entomology, wildlife studies or conservation. The first in his family to earn an undergraduate degree, Burden is looking forward to a career that combines his personal and professional interests.

Clark, who began her college career as a high school student at The Texas Bioscience Institute, graduated with a community college degree before she graduated from high school at 18 years old.

She’s considering a career as a field biology researcher and the possibility of graduate school at Angelo State University.

“There’s something special about being a part of a science program that is small, but mighty,” Clark said. “We have infinite one-to-one time with our professors who make us curious and encourage us to do more than we might have thought we could. It’s perfect.”