Graduate students advised by College of Ag Sciences faculty receive NSF awards

May 29, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two graduate students advised by faculty in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences have received prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, and three other students received honorable mentions.

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 degree studies. The fellowship is highly competitive; 12,000 students apply annually, and approximately 2,000 students receive awards.

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.

“These awards serve as a testament to our faculty’s commitment to inspiring and mentoring a new generation of scientists,” said Rama Radhakrishna, assistant dean for graduate education and professor of agricultural and extension education. “We are proud of the students’ achievements and look forward to their contributions for the advancement of science and the betterment of society.”

Following are the awardees, their fields of study, faculty advisers and projects:

NSF-GRFP Fellowship

— Caylon Yates, ecology. Advised by Terrence Bell, assistant professor of phytobiomes, Yates will use the funds to continue research on microbial survival in unfamiliar soil environments that can be modified through in-soil conditioning.

— Laura Jones, ecology. Advised by Margarita Lopez-Uribe, assistant professor of entomology and Lorenzo L. Langstroth Early Career Professor, Jones is studying how microclimate and biotic interactions influence the health of the wild pollinator, Peponapis pruinose, in agricultural landscapes.

Honorable Mention

— Jeremy Held, genetics. Advised by Tim McNellis, associate professor of plant pathology, Held is investigating how tobacco recognizes the fire-blight-causing bacterium Erwinia amylovora and initiates a defense response that hinders bacterial growth.

— Naomi Niyah, microbial biology. Advised by Jasna Kovac, assistant professor of food science and Lester Earl and Veronica Casida Career Development Professor of Food Safety, Niyah is investigating the use of genomic markers to predict the toxicity of Bacillus cereus to human cells and study their evolution using comparative genomics coupled with cell culture and microbiological phenotypic assays.

— Mary Smith, microbial biology. Advised by Kevin Hockett, assistant professor of microbial ecology and Lloyd Huck Early Career Professor, Smith’s research focuses on understanding the dynamics involved when the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae competes with members of the same species using narrow-range proteinaceous antimicrobial compounds called bacteriocins.

The recipients were students in the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship preparation course under the direction of Radhakrishna, which is held in the fall semester. Three students who took the course, but who were not advised by faculty in the College of Agricultural Sciences, also won awards. They are Cornelia Osborne, Edmundo Torres Gonzalez and Emily Howerton.

The course was started in 2016 as a special topic course with 17 students. To date, a total of 77 students have enrolled and 63 have completed the course. Of those who have completed the course, 12 received NSF fellowships, while nine received honorable mentions for a total of 21 awards.

In 2018, the College of Agricultural Sciences partnered with the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences to offer the course.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 29, 2020