Ag Sciences graduate students win prestigious research fellowships

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Three graduate students in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences — Phillip Martin, Ismaiel Szink and Rachel Rozum — recently received prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships. 

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program annually selects outstanding graduate students for the awards, which provide three years of funding to support participants' master's and doctoral studies. 

The awards are based on the applicants' abilities and accomplishments, as well as their potential to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise.

Martin, a doctoral student in plant pathology and environmental microbiology, is researching the epidemiology of bitter rot of apples, focusing on population genetics, fungicide resistance, epidemiology and integrated control strategies. His adviser is Kari Peter, assistant professor and research associate in tree fruit pathology.

"Phillip has an admirable drive and passion for learning. He not only maximizes his potential, but stretches it beyond the maximum to see what more he can do and learn," said Peter. 

"I believe he possesses a natural scientific ability and has an incredible future in science. Phillip is also an innate leader who is thoughtful, humble and unassuming. Combined, Phillip embodies the quality of scientist NSF would be proud to support."

Szink, a doctoral student in the intercollege graduate degree program in ecology, will use his fellowship to support research on tree roots and their exudates, which are compounds released by roots into surrounding soil. Exudates may be responsible for weathering rocks, stabilizing soil particles, mobilizing nutrients, stimulating microbial activity and even signaling between plants. 

Szink is a natural leader and highly deserving of a NSF Graduate Fellowship, noted his adviser, David Eissenstat, professor of woody plant physiology and chair of the ecology graduate program.

"Ismaiel is examining how roots and associated mycorrhizal fungi can influence weathering at the Susquehanna-Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory," Eissenstat said. "This is an exciting area of work at the interface of ecology and geology that requires a highly interdisciplinary training. In particular, little is known about root and microbial exudates under field conditions, and Ismaiel's research should add substantially to this important area."

Rozum, a doctoral candidate in the intercollege graduate degree program in ecology, will use her fellowship to support the creation of a computer model that will characterize how nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus move through ecosystems. 

This will allow farmers to determine the best management practices for their crops, while also considering the effects of their management practices in surrounding watersheds.

Armen Kemanian, associate professor of production systems and modeling, Department of Plant Science, is Rozum's adviser.  

"Rachel's work brings together information technology, hydrology and biogeochemistry to offer solutions to society," Kemanian said. "Her background is in astrophysics, which gives her an original viewpoint.

"But in her own words, applying her quantitative skills to problems in agroecology combines both hard science and the ability to positively affect society through science. She is a serious professional and independent learner."

Martin and Szink were enrolled in the NSF Graduate Fellowship Preparation course that was team taught by College of Agricultural Sciences faculty members Carolee Bull, Christina Grozinger, Shannon Monnat, David Mortensen and Rama Radhakrishna. The course will be offered again during the fall 2017 semester.

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Last Updated May 05, 2017