Five Fords Earn NSF Graduate Research Fellowships
Noah Bloch '16, Jonathan DeWitt '16, Grace Klinges '15, Lindsey Lopes '16, and Katie Ulrich '14 all received fellowships from the National Science Foundation that will support their graduate education and research.
Haverford College alumni were recently honored with awards from the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), which recognizes and supports graduate students who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math. The oldest continuous fellowship of its kind, the NSF GRFP provides a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees, as well as opportunities for international research and professional career development. These five Fords were among the 2,000 high-potential early-career scientists and engineers selected for the program from more than 12,000 applicants.
Noah Bloch '16, who majored in biology with a biochemistry concentration at Haverford, is working towards his Ph.D. at Harvard University now. For the past year, he has been working in Loren Walensky's lab at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, focusing on the regulation of cell death by the BCL-2 family of proteins.
"These proteins play fundamental roles in how cancer escapes programmed cellular suicide, or apoptosis, during the course of tumor formation and even after treatment with chemotherapy," he says. "I will use this fellowship to synthesize biologically active probes called 'stapled peptides' to interrogate a novel mechanism by which the protein BAX can become turned on and reactivate apoptosis in cancer."
Bloch's passion for biochemistry was born of the interconnected and often interdisciplinary nature of Haverford's natural science program, under the umbrella of the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center (KINSC). He was a student in Haverford's first ever "Biochemistry Superlab" course, taught by Professor Rob Fairman and Assistant Professor Lou Charkoudian, about which he and his fellow students and professors recently published in PLOS Biology.
"I think the structure of the KINSC is unique in having all of the sciences under one roof," he said. "This profoundly impacts the ease with which professors from different department collaborate. For me, the close relationship between the biology and chemistry departments shaped my development as a scientist."
Former Haverford math and computer science double major Jonathan DeWitt '16 is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Chicago, where he studies dynamics under Amie Wilkinson and Aaron Brown. It was during his time at Haverford that he decided he wanted to go into math professionally, and he credits not only his Bi-Co math professors with his interest and success in his field but also a Haverford alum.
"Bill Huber '78 organizes the math club at Haverford, Problem Solving Group,” said DeWitt. "The fun I had at the club early in college showed me that I wanted to do math. I learned from a lot from Bill and am lucky that during college so many people went out of their way for me."
Grace Klinges '15, who majored in geology at Bryn Mawr and is currently in her second year of Oregon State University's microbiology Ph.D. program, found out about her NSF fellowship after returning home from three weeks in Taiwan aboard a French research schooner called Tara. That vessel conducts research throughout the Pacific to characterize the health of coral reefs by assessing the biodiversity of reef fish, plankton, and the corals themselves, and next month Klinges will climb aboard again once Tara reaches Hawaii. That work complements her dissertation research, which is centered on an intracellular coral parasite believed to be involved in White Band Disease and stimulated by fertilizer pollution.
"I have already sequenced and assembled the genome of this novel pathogen, and with the funds from the NSF GRFP I will be studying its population dynamics in vivo via a nutrient enrichment tank experiment as part of our partnership with Dr. Erinn Muller at Mote Marine Lab in Summerland Key, Florida," she said. "I will track the abundance of the parasite over the course of the experiment and directly evaluate its effect on coral health using transcriptomics to assess expression changes in immune response genes."
Klinges, who ultimately hopes to work for the government conducting research at an agency such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, first found her calling in marine biogeochemistry via the mentorship of Associate Professor Helen White, who taught her first oceanography class and worked with her on a capstone geochemistry project, as well as through guidance from her thesis advisor, Don Barber of the Department of Geology.
"Even though the research I'm conducting now is very different from what I was working on in my undergraduate degree, the skills I developed at Haverford have made me a more independent researcher and a better graduate student," she said. "Conducting independent research and writing an undergraduate thesis prepared me for writing my dissertation, not just by making me a better writer but by teaching me to be independent and to be more bold with my scientific endeavors."
Lindsey Lopes '16 is just starting her graduate school journey this fall. The Haverford biology major and neuroscience minor will enter Rockefeller University's Graduate Program in Biosciences in September, and the NSF GRFP will fund three years of her work there.
"My thesis advisor at Haverford, Roshan Jain, has been an incredible mentor to me both during my time at Haverford and after graduating," she said. "Working in his lab senior year was instrumental to my desire to go to graduate school, and I learned a lot from him about scientific communication and writing."
Katie Ulrich '14, who double majored in biology and anthropology at Haverford, has continued to explore the intersection of the natural and social sciences in her doctoral work at Rice University's Department of Anthropology. The NSF GRFP will fund her research on petrochemical replacements made from sugarcane and other plant sources in Brazil.
"I'm interested in how petrochemicals function as an invisible ingredient in many postindustrial lives, and what it would mean socially and culturally to start replacing them with sugar-based alternatives," she said. "My project, more broadly, seeks to explore what goes into imagining a solution to climate change, what happens when technical solutions are treated as transcendental of particular contexts, and how biotechnology is expanding into increasingly wider realms of late industrial lives."
Ulrich's dissertation project is a continuation of her Haverford senior thesis work, which was based on biological research and ethnographic fieldwork she did in São Paulo, thanks to the joint support of the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship and the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center.
"I entered college planning to pursue scientific research, but it was because of the encouragement I received at Haverford to explore other modes of thinking as well that I was introduced to and became interested in sociocultural anthropology," she said. "Haverford was a supportive space for me to explore interdisciplinary possibilities, particularly how to bring my interests in biology and anthropology into productive conversation."
In addition to the five fellowship recipients, two other Haverford alums, Ellen Reinhart '15 and Grace Thiele '17, were recognized with honorable mentions from NSF GRFP.