2020 undergraduate awards and fellowships

The Department of Biochemistry is pleased to announce its 2020 undergraduate and graduate student departmental awards and fellowships. These awards and fellowships celebrate talented students in the department and are made possible by generous gifts to the department to fund graduate and undergraduate research.

“We are always honored to celebrate and support our best and brightest students. We’re especially happy to spread the good news this year in particular,” said department chair Brian Fox. “These awards highlight the hard work of these students, mentorship of their faculty advisors, the generosity of our supporters, and the tenacity of our research program to continue on even in the face of monumental challenges on many levels.”

Photos of award recipients

The awards include the Mary Shine Peterson Award, Undergraduate Summer Research Award, and Department of Biochemistry Graduate Fellowships. This year’s winners are listed below:

Mary Shine Peterson Awards: Takahiro Ishikuri, Eric Leisten, Claudia Liu, Jessica Liu, Stella Ma, Saveda Majety, Anuchit Rupanya, Jiayin Tang, Connie Wang, Mingyu Xue

Undergraduate Summer Research Awards: Alana Caldwell, Xi Chen, Gregory Francis, William Langholz, Jihua Liu, Steven Martell, Najhee Purdy, Alex Taylor, James Wang, Abigail Watson, Wanting Wei

Department of Biochemistry Graduate Fellowships: Matthew Blackburn, Brian Carrick, Dana Dahhan, Miguel Garcia, Megan Leander, Dylan Plaskon, Harriet Saunders, Peyton Spreacker, Nathan Thomas

The department also congratulates Evan Glasgow on his Louis and Elsa Thomsen Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Fellowship from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Mary Shine Peterson Awards are sponsored by the Mary Shine Peterson Scholarship in Biochemistry fund and donors to the award. These awards foster and support advanced undergraduates in biochemistry-related activities. Students may use the funds to support related academic and research endeavors.

Under normal circumstances, students often use the award to fund time performing research at another university in the United States or abroad; or to fund a trip to present their research at a scientific conference or meeting. This year’s research looks a bit different.

“Because of the current situation of COVID-19, we are working virtually,” said Anuchit Rupanya, an undergraduate researcher in the lab of Professor Tom Record. Rupanya works with his mentor, Emily Zytkiewicz, an Associate Research Specialist in the Record Lab, and a UW-Madison Biochemistry alum. “We had already done most of the experiments and are now in the phase of composing an analysis and writing a paper. I have another project going on this summer that will eventually become my senior thesis project.”

Undergraduate Summer Research Awards are supported by generous gifts to funds that support undergraduate research. This year’s awards were made possible by the following funds and their supporters: the Eric Bey and Amanda Boley Scholarship Fund, E.W. Hopkins Fund, Kimberly Clark Undergraduate Fund, Carl Krieger Memorial Fellowship Fund, Henry A. Lardy Undergraduate Research Fund, Floyd C. McIntire Biochemistry Award Fund, Telander Research Fund, and generous donors to the Department of Biochemistry’s first-ever 2019 Crowdfunding campaign.

These awards give the biochemistry majors who receive them a stipend to work in a faculty lab – usually over the summer – without having to take on a separate job to pay living expenses. This allows the students to get full-time experience working in a lab performing research.

Given limited campus on-site operations and broader restrictions worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s undergraduate awards allow students additional flexibility to pursue their research.

“This award will help me to stay at home during COVID-19 and do remote lab work which will involve working with x-ray data of protein crystals,” said Abigail Watson, an undergraduate award winner in the lab of Professor Michael Cox. “With the funding I don’t need to go get a summer job and expose myself to people. I can focus on my lab computer work without stress.”

The arrangement, whether in person under normal circumstances or remotely during a pandemic, is of mutual benefit: students help further the lab’s research, provide mentoring opportunities for its members, and the student develops the skills needed to excel in their field.

“The undergrads add energy, teaching opportunities for my senior personnel, and often just a sense of wonder,” said Cox. “Working with them is a privilege.”

Graduate student Miguel Garcia mentors undergraduates as well. “Undergraduate research is crucial not only because it is the springboard for potential researchers,” said Garcia. “It also brings fresh ideas into scientific fields allowing further innovation.”

Garcia is a student in Professor Michael Cox’s lab, and was awarded a Department of Biochemistry Graduate Fellowship this year.

Graduate student fellowships cover a student’s tuition and stipend for an academic year. They provide students flexibility in their research endeavors by not being tied to a specific grant. By freeing up funds, they also, for example, allow faculty to purchase new equipment for labs. Students who receive these fellowships are part of the Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB), the joint graduate program of the Department of Biochemistry and the Department of Biomolecular Chemistry.

“I’m thrilled to receive this graduate fellowship as recognition of my research and drive to continue striving for greater scientific achievements,” said Garcia. “I think funding graduate students through departmental fellowships makes a big impact on us individual students and I am sincerely thankful for this funding. This fellowship will allow me to continue my research on genomic maintenance machinery in bacteria.”

This year’s department graduate fellowships are sponsored by the Arthur B. Michael Fund, Sam C. Smith Graduate Fund in Biochemistry, William H. Peterson Fellowships in Biochemistry, William R. and Dorothy E. Sullivan WDGF Fund in Biochemistry, and the Steenbock Predoctoral Fellowship in Biochemistry.

Contributions of graduate students open new avenues of research for the lab in which they are critical participants, research with broad-reaching implications for the scientific community and for the quality of life worldwide.

“My work is focused on the antibiotic resistance crisis plaguing our healthcare systems,” said Peyton Spreacker, a graduate researcher in the lab of Professor Katie Henzler-Wildman.

These fellowships are critical to the development of the next generation of scientists, providing them with the opportunity to perform hands on research, hone the skills critical to their field, and grow as mentors and teachers, opportunities that they otherwise may not have been able to pursue.

“This award means I can spend this year focusing on research rather than worrying about pay,” said Spreacker. “Thank you so much to the generous donors that make these awards possible!

The department typically holds a reception to honor these students, however, gatherings of this type are currently restricted. In lieu of this tradition, photographs of students are posted above.

Congratulations to all award recipients.