Students Awarded Prestigious NSF Graduate Fellowships
The University of Idaho College of Graduate Studies, along with the College of Engineering, College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, the College of Natural Resources and the College of Science is pleased to announce that three graduate students and one undergraduate have been awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships (NSF GRFP) in the 2020 award cycle.
Mellisa Clemons studying microbiology, molecular biology and biochemistry; LeeAnn Hold, biological engineering; Elyce Gosselin, natural resources; and Maia Wilson, anthropology, earned the prestigious fellowship.
Graduate students Haley Thoresen, geology, and Bronte Sone, soil and land resources, earned honorable mention. Three U of I graduates, Emily Kliewer (2019), Carly Scott (2019) and Jennifer Hooper (2004 and Cornell University MS 2006) have been awarded the fellowship. Kliewer and Scott are and are pursuing doctoral degrees at Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Texas respectively.
“The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions,” the program’s website states.
“As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the GRFP has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The reputation of the GRFP follows recipients and often helps them become life-long leaders that contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching.”
“Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees (paid to the institution), opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.”
For more about the award, visit the GRFP website.
Clemons’ research features genetic models in mouse retina
Clemons’ research focuses on mitochondria as an interface between neural development and disease. The research utilizes genetic models in mouse retina, and also focuses on ultra-fine 3D neural reconstructions.
“I received enormous support and guidance from Peter Fuerst (advisor) and David Tank during our Professional Development course, along with multiple members of my committee and other faculty that I reached out to for additional feedback,” Clemons said.
A 2018 graduate of U of I, Clemons was a non-traditional student juggling marriage, parenting four children, and commuting 20 hours a week between her home in Coeur d’Alene and the Moscow campus.
This award allows allow Clemons not only more time to focus on her research, but will also provide her with more flexibility and a capacity to showcase cutting-edge research of her lab. While she continues to commute, she performs much of her research from Coeur d’Alene thanks to a satellite lab that Dr. Fuerst set up at North Idaho College and her use of the U of I’s Harbor Center for wet lab work.
Gosselin to research bats in the Galapagos Islands
Gosselin’s doctoral research will focus on bats in the Galapagos Islands.
“Despite how much (research) has been done in the Galapagos, hardly anything is known about the bats there,” she said. “We will be doing genetic research to learn about how long ago they colonized the islands and whether there are new species.
“We'll also be investigating what diseases they might carry, what species of insects they eat, what roost habitats they select for, whether their distribution changes seasonally and whether humans are negatively affecting them with the use of wind turbines or pesticides and fertilizers.”
Gosselin will work with Galapagos National Park rangers to help train locals in bat monitoring methods and establish a monitoring plan.
She was supposed to begin field work this summer, but that will be delayed due to COVID-19.
“I'm so grateful for the award, especially with all of the instability that the pandemic is causing,” she said. “Having a salary that doesn't depend on an assistantship will make it possible for me to spend more time in the field collecting data and it will make it easier to focus on my research.”
While developing her proposal, Gosselin kept something her advisors, including her U of I Advisor,Lisette Waits, have repeated to her in mind, “The NSF funds people, not projects. Tell the story of how you got where you are, why you're drawn to scientific research and why your research is important.”
Gosselin is 2018 graduate of U of I who will return for her PhD.
Hold, U of I’s lone undergraduate winner
A Navy veteran and U of I’s only undergraduate winner this cycle, Hold studies the effects of tenogenesis, the generation of tenocytes and development of tendon tissue, on the production and regulation of matrix metalloproteinases, an enzyme that degrades matrix and non-matrix proteins.
“Specifically, I am looking at the AKT cell signaling pathway and how inhibition effects the production and regulation of MMP-2, a collagenase that was proven to be upregulated in embryonic tendon formation, and could play a role in wound healing,” she said.
“For my proposal I wanted to study MMPs and their production and regulation in a 3D environment. Since tendon engineering is a small subset of tissue engineering not many PIs explore the mechanisms behind the formation and healing of tendon, winning the GRFP will allow me to explore the relationship between tenogeneisis, MMPs and the matrix environment, which is something not currently understood.”
Hold’s proposal was “Tuning Collagen Gels to Promote Stem Cell Differentiation for Tendon Tissue Engineering.” She will use the grant while pursuing a PhD at the University of Michigan in molecular and integrative physiology.
“I had a lot of help putting together a successful proposal,” she said. “I went to all the workshops provided by the College of Graduate Studies and had my advisor, Nathan Schiele, and his PhD student, Sophia Theodossiou, provide edits. My future mentor also supported the proposal by writing a letter of recommendation as well as providing final edits.”
Wilson’s work features African ancestry in Georgia
Wilson’s research is considered part of the historical archaeology discipline.
“My focus is on looking into the contested identities of misplaced ancestors showing African ancestry who were buried at Ocmulgee (Mounds National Historical Park) in Macon, Georgia,” she said.
Wilson said Ocmulgee, known for its earth mounds, Civil War trenches and one of the first Euro-Indian trading posts, are originally Mvskoke ancestral lands, one of the five federally recognized tribes in the United States.
Based on burial styles documented via the archaeological record and oral traditions from potential stakeholder descendant communities that these misplaced ancestors may be connected to, Wilson can create a more holistic investigation into the identity of these people considering they were misidentified when excavated as Mvskoke people in Mvskoke graves.
“I've learned of about four other theorized racial and ethnic groups these individuals may belong to or they belong to an entirely different potential group,” she said. “This is an investigation into the processes of racialization and ethnogenesis with a collaborative design.”
The fellowship allows Wilson to conduct essential parts of her research including access to 3D molds taken of the ancestors held at the Smithsonian and covering travel costs to the Mvskoke nation (most members reside in Oklahoma), among other benefits.
Wilson’s advisor, Katrina Eichner, offered support throughout the proposal writing process.
“Before I wrote anything, she and I did an exercise where she asked me each of the NSF GRFP prompt questions in plain terms, and I would respond,” Wilson said. “It allowed for me to personally connect to each question and find the root answer to each question so that I could later translate it into more academic writing.”
Wilson said greatest advice was Eichner telling her to write as if each page was worth $7,000.
“She reminded me to make it personal and lean into the personal politics that make the project so important to me,” Wilson said.
Eichner and Mark Warner, Wilson’s other advisor, told her to detail how the design is collaborative and those who would most directly be impacted by the findings.
Wilson shared that an important potential outcome of her research would be a “NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) claim to have these ancestors reinterred as they are currently being held by the Smithsonian (as they have been since the 1970s/1980s) who deemed them (in plain language) not Indian enough to be given back, and a potential renegotiation of the literature of NAGPRA that often misses those who have contested identity.”
Wilson plans to continue her research through the doctoral level.
For a list of previous U of I recipients for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, visit our Distinguished Awards page.
— Article by Kate Strum, College of Graduate Studies