St. Olaf senior, alumna awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded St. Olaf College student Bashir Ali ’20 a three-year Graduate Research Fellowship that will support his doctoral work in ecology, evolution, and marine biology at the University of California Santa Barbara.
St. Olaf alumna Gretchen Burke ’18, currently a first-year graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Minnesota, also received the prestigious award.
NSF Graduate Research Fellowships support the most promising graduate students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Fellows are expected to become experts in their field who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.
Past recipients of the award include numerous Nobel Prize winners, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin, and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.
NSF Graduate Research Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.
Ali, a biology major at St. Olaf with a concentration in statistics and data science, will enroll in the Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology Ph.D. program at the University of California Santa Barbara this fall.
“I am interested in environmental animal physiology, where I hope to conduct research that will cross multiple levels of biological organizations to address the biochemical and physiological mechanisms that enable marine organisms to cope with environmental stressors,” he says.
I am interested in environmental animal physiology, where I hope to conduct research that will cross multiple levels of biological organizations to address the biochemical and physiological mechanisms that enable marine organisms to cope with environmental stressors.Bashir Ali ’20
For the past year at St. Olaf, Ali has been working with Professor of Biology Anne Walter to study the biochemical adaptation of blue mussels. Their work uses enzyme kinetics to characterize the effect of hyperosmotic stress and temperature on mussels.
This work builds on Ali’s extensive research experience. In his first year at St. Olaf, he worked with Associate Professor of Biology Jean Porterfield on a project using molecular genetics to study the role of fire and bison grazing in shaping the formation of northern Great Plains prairies.
After gaining valuable lab experience he became curious about global change biology, which led him to participate in the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program (DDCSP) at the University of California Santa Cruz. Throughout the summer of 2017, he piloted ecological field projects in a variety of California ecosystems. With the help of the DDCSP, he was also able to participate in a research project at Friday Harbor Laboratories at the University of Washington in the summer of 2018, where he studied juvenile Chinook salmon near the San Juan Islands.
Last summer Ali conducted TRIO McNair-funded research at Cornell University, where he explored stress physiology of free-living tree swallows in the lab of Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Maren Vitousek. Ali’s research project studied how experimental challenges affected the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function in the swallows.
At St. Olaf, Ali is a coordinator for Science Alliance and a cohort leader for the college’s North Star STEM program. He is a TRIO McNair Scholar and also participates in the TRIO Student Support Services program at St. Olaf.
Ultimately, Ali hopes to develop a career in academia. “My goal is to become a professor so that I can simultaneously pursue my two passions for conducting research and teaching,” he says.
Burke, the other Ole who won an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, majored in chemistry at St. Olaf with a biomolecular science concentration. She then enrolled in graduate school at the University of Minnesota, where she has joined the Bowser group in the Chemistry Department.
Her general focus is on bioanalytical chemistry, and her NSF grant will support her research project in the Bowser lab developing a droplet microfluidic platform to investigate and characterize catalytic oligonucleotides.