College Students Earn Fellowships

Three Students with Ties to the College Are NSF Graduate Research Fellows

From the May 2013 Desktop News More than 13,000 graduate students applied for the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Seven of those selected represented The University of Alabama and three of those have ties to the College of Arts and Sciences. Jennifer S. Anders, a graduate student in the Department of Biological Sciences, and Jordyn L. Johnson, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, were selected for NSF graduate research fellowships. A third fellowship was presented to Stephanie L. Parker, a 2009 UA graduate in physics from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, who is pursuing graduate studies at the University of California, San Francisco.

Anders, originally from Gainesville, Fla., earned her undergraduate degree from Nova Southeastern University. Shortly after graduating, she took a research position at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab working with Dr. Behzad Mortazavi, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and director of UA’s marine sciences program. Mortazavi encouraged her to apply for the fellowship to continue her research. She is the first graduate student at the Sea Lab to earn an NSF graduate fellowship. Anders is researching the bioavailability of groundwater derived dissolved organic nitrogen to coastal microbial and phytoplankton communities. At the Sea Lab, she works closely with the Little Lagoon Preservation Society in Gulf Shores.

Jordyn Johnson, originally from Chattanooga, Tenn., studies the regulatory mechanism of the enzyme alpha-isoproplymalate synthase in the lab of Dr. Patrick Frantom, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry. This enzyme serves as a model system for the study of allosteric regulation, where enzyme activity is regulated by the reversible binding of an effector molecule. Regulatory mechanisms such as this allow organisms to respond to changes in their environments. A deeper understanding of these regulatory mechanisms would impact the growing fields of allosteric therapeutics and allosteric biosensors. While an undergraduate student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Johnson participated in the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates program at UA where she began work on this project with Frantom.

Parker, originally from Huntsville, worked in the lab of Drs. Guy and Kim Caldwell in the Department of Biological Sciences while an undergraduate at UA. She is researching nuclear pore complexes, or NPCs, which are multiprotein channels in cells that connect the nucleus with the cytoplasm. Her research focuses on the diversity of NPCs and their role in cell differentiation and tissue physiology. Prior to her graduate work at UCSF, Parker worked for two years as a researcher at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology under Dr. Richard Myers, a leading geneticist and UA alumnus.

Awards are up to $121,500 per fellowship and come with annual stipends to be used for research-based graduate studies. Fellowships were awarded to 2,000 students, about 15 percent of those who applied. According to the NSF, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program is part of its overall strategy to develop a globally engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation’s leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation.