2020-2021 Brown Graduate Fellowship Recipients Announced

By Caitlin Ware, Iowa State University Office of the Vice President for Research

Fourteen Iowa State University students have been selected to receive $140,000 in Brown Graduate Fellowship funding to support strategic university research over the next year.

Established in 2011 and administered by the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR), the annual Brown Graduate Fellowship Program is used to advance Iowa State research in science, agriculture, and space science. Each year, an internal review committee selects a group of Ph.D. or master’s degree students from across the university to receive $10,000 each in institutional funding, which can be used to enhance existing fellowships, partially fund a fellowship, or assist with recruitment of new graduate students.

This year’s award winners were selected by a committee composed of central research administrators from the colleges of liberal arts and sciences, human sciences, and agriculture and life sciences. Criteria for the 2020-2021 awards included GPA, GRE scores, and nomination letters provided by candidates’ respective director of graduate education.

“Our graduate students play a critical role in fueling the ongoing innovation that takes place at Iowa State,” said Vice President for Research Sarah Nusser. “We greatly appreciate the Valentine Hammes and Leopold Hammes Brown families for establishing this fellowship that, since 2011, has enabled us to recognize and support the scholarly achievements of some of the most exceptional graduate students on our campus.”

2020-2021 Brown Graduate Fellowship Recipients

Vaishali Todi
Degree Program: Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Maura McGrail, Associate Professor, Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology
McGrail: “Vaishali is poised to make a significant contribution to advancing our fundamental understanding of cell biology and cell division in her thesis research. She has distinguished herself among her peers in the molecular, cellular, and developmental biology program through her scholarship and demonstrated potential as an experimental scientist.”

Ryan Andrews
Degree Program: Biochemistry, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Richard Honzatko, Professor, Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology
Honzatko: “Ryan has accomplished significant research in RNA biology that involves the insightful analysis of big data, leading to discoveries relevant to human health. He has constructed a genome-wide atlas of RNA structure for humans and developed a novel algorithm that predicts functional elements in the RNA-based genomes of the Zika virus and HIV. His scientific career is off to a great start.”

Rachel Sorensen
Degree Program: Toxicology, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Aileen Keating, Associate Professor, Animal Science
Keating: “Rachel’s long-term goal is to provide toxicological expertise to developing countries, which is a huge need considering some international areas in which contamination and pollution are detrimental to human health. She has the capacity, intelligence, drive, and network to use her skill-set to improve the long-term quality of life by improving the exposure environment.”

Matthew Nowatzke
Degree Program: Crop Production and Physiology, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Emily Heaton, Associate Professor, Agronomy
Heaton: “Matt’s research interests have novel applications in the field of agriculture. Currently, as part of the new C-CHANGE initiative, he is combining public data sources on soil, weather, and production costs with a novel machine learning technique to identify consistently unprofitable areas of cropland. Once identified, if these within-field areas were changed from annual cropping systems to perennials, they would have both an economic benefit to farmers and an environmental benefit to the public.”

Sarah Jones
Degree Program: Plant Breeding, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Asheesh Singh, Associate Professor, Agronomy
Singh: “Sarah is an excellent researcher and has displayed all the signs for a very successful and long professional career in agriculture sciences. Her interest is in leveraging genomic and phenomic approaches to understand abiotic stresses plaguing soybean production across the midwest. This project is expected to generate critical information needed to simultaneously [explain] the genetic architecture of water tolerance in soybean and combine drought and flooding tolerance in a genotype using breeding approaches.”

Vojtech Gabriel
Degree Program: Immunobiology, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Randy Sacco, Affiliate Professor, Veterinary Microbiology and Preventative Medicine
Sacco: “Vojtech is extremely dedicated to advancing his career as a basic science-trained clinician-scientist and independent investigator. His focus on nutritional interventions to reduce chronic gastrointestinal inflammation in dogs as a model for human inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis will offer him unique insights into performance of patient clinical trials, basic science research, and translational medicine.”

Meyer Bohn
Degree Program: Soil Science, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Richard Cruse, Professor, Water Resources Research Institute
Cruse: “Meyer is one of the most active and promising graduate students in the field of digital soil mapping in the U.S. today. His research will result in much improved soil property maps with enhanced resolution and accuracy to support precision agroecosystems and land management research. Improving soil maps is critical for advancing Iowa State research because decades old soil maps and the soil data derived from them limit the capacity of multiple disciplines to make advances in their fields of study.”

Laura Tibbs
Degree Program: Genetics and Genomics, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Joshua Selsby, Professor, Animal Science
Selsby: “Laura’s research aims to identify the genetic basis of B vitamin content in maize through genome-wide association studies complemented by RNA-sequencing data. We expect that the scientific discoveries from her project will facilitate the selection of maize lines for improved B vitamin content, resulting in improved nutrition and health in those people who grow and eat these varieties.”

Tanner Cook
Degree Program: Plant Biology, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Gustavo MacIntosh, Professor, Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology
MacIntosh: “Tanner is, relative to his young career, already well-rounded with broad knowledge in various research areas and expertise in a range of methods and techniques in molecular biology. He is working to establish in vitro nurseries that would minimize the time needed for breeding cycles of any plant species by initiating meiosis and gamete formation in vitro, fusing selected gametes, and returning to gamete formation in short time in repeated cycles.”

Jason Chris Morris
Degree Program: Sustainable Agriculture, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Mary Wiedenhoeft, Morrill Professor, Agronomy
Wiedenhoeft: “Chris is conducting high-impact research focused on improving our understanding of two key topics: motivators and barriers to farmer adoption of soil and water conservation practices, and agricultural stakeholders’ perspectives on how to improve the environmental and economic performance of agriculture in the face of climate change. Results will inform the improvement of both of these important areas of conservation work with farmers and landowners.”

Nathaniel Kallmyer
Degree Program: Chemical Engineering, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Jean-Philippe Tessonnier, Associate Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering
Tessonnier: “Nathaniel advances academic excellence at ISU through his exceptional dedication to research, innovation, and teaching. These efforts, which are aligned with his desire to become a faculty member, have already had multifaceted impacts on his research group and our department. He has already put an exceptional amount of effort into his research, in building a national network of collaborators, in teaching Iowa State undergrads, and in developing new pre-college outreach activities.”

Alexander Toftness
Degree Program: Psychology, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Jonathan Kelly, Associate Professor, Psychology
Kelly: “Xander is well-rounded in research skills, including design, analysis, and reporting results. He has coached students through designing experiments and analyzing data and his research materials have been requested for use in the studies of other researchers, including internationally, due to their intriguing and high-quality nature. His current line of research is dedicated to examining perceptual differences in people with a type of brain damage called ‘prosopagnosia’ that makes it more difficult to discriminate certain things visually, such as human faces.”

Dohgyu Hwang
Degree Program: Materials Science and Engineering, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Ralph Napolitano, Professor, Materials Science and Engineering
Napolitano: “Dohgyu’s work exemplifies the excellence and innovation in research that we all strive for at Iowa State. Using the principles of kirigami, the Japanese art of paper cutting, he has developed ways to created advanced materials with unconventional function, including adhesives, stretchable electronics, multifunctional materials, and programmable soft matter. With potential applications in these new and emerging areas of engineered materials, his continued efforts are an integral part of fostering Iowa State leadership in this field.”

Loni Schumacher
Degree Program: Veterinary Microbiology, Ph.D.
Nominated By: Greg Phillips, Professor, Veterinary Microbiology and Preventative Medicine
Phillips: “Loni’s diagnostic service and graduate work makes a significant impact on the food production industry, which is vital to the economy of Iowa and the security of an important food commodity worldwide. Her work strategically advances Iowa State in the field of science through the potential to reduce the significant economic impact of viral diseases in pigs in the U.S. and worldwide.”