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Department Announces 2022 Student Awards to Support Research Experiences, Education

The Department of Biochemistry is pleased to announce its 2022 undergraduate and graduate student departmental awards and fellowships. The awards and fellowships celebrate 27 talented students in the department and are made possible by generous gifts to the department to fund graduate and undergraduate research.

At the awards reception held this spring, department chair Brian Fox said that the department is pleased to be able to honor talented students in this way.

“It’s always a real pleasure to recognize talented students,” said Fox. “The awards highlight the hard work of these students, the mentorship of their advisors, and the ongoing generosity of our supporters. This reception, our first in-person reception in two years, feels particularly special.”

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

  • Undergraduate Summer Research Awards: Peter Hoferle, Deep Kapadia, Elijah Kirchstein, Brad Li, Kelli Marschall, Isabel Montes de Oca, Lars Schimmelpfennig, Isabelle Stocik, Ella Torkelson, Hezouwe Walada, Natalie Zeps
  • Mary Shine Peterson Awards: James Alvin, Sarah Fahlberg, Farah Feng, Ruojia Li, MaryGrace Linsley, Ben Lusk, Lisa Nakayama, Siwei Qian, Xindi Tang
  • Department of Biochemistry Graduate Fellowships: James Corban, Haley Penkala, Maxwell Rector, Saeed Roschdi, Sarah Schmidt-Dannert, Gina Wade, Junqiao Zhu

Group photo of five Undergraduate Summer Research Award recipients
Undergraduate Summer Research Award winners (some not pictured).
From left: Lars Schimmelpfennig, Hezouwe Walada, Kelli Marschall,
Peter Hoferle, Elijah Kirchstein. Photo: Laura Vanderploeg.

The Undergraduate Summer Research Awards are supported by generous gifts to funds that support undergraduate research. This year’s awards were made possible by Dr. Arthur G. Saponara and Ms. Nijole Saponara, and by Dr. Jeffrey A. Toretsky and Ms. Elizabeth Rudin Toretsky. Biochemistry majors who receive these awards are provided a stipend to work in a faculty member’s lab over the summer, giving the students full-time experience working in a lab and performing research.

Sophomore Isabel Montes de Oca is majoring in biochemistry and obtaining a certificate in Chican@ and Latin@ studies. She received an Undergraduate Summer Research Award to support her time in the Ciucci Lab this summer. She will be investigating pathologies appearing during mid-stage Parkinson’s Disease in gastrointestinal tissues.

“If I hadn’t received this award, I would not be able to work at my lab this summer due to concerns about expenses and savings,” Montes de Oca said. “This scholarship will allow me to have both an educational and enjoyable summer — thank you!”

Group photo of eight Mary Shine Peterson Award recipients
Mary Shine Peterson Award winners (some not pictured). From left: Sarah Fahlberg, Siwei Qian,
James Alvin, Ben Lusk, Lisa Nakayama, Xindi Tang, MaryGrace Linsley, and Qianlu Farah Feng.
Photo: Laura Vanderploeg.

The 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 undergraduates in biochemistry-related activities. Many students use the award to fund time performing research at another university. Others use it to fund a trip to present their research at a scientific conference.

James Alvin, a Mary Shine Peterson Award recipient, said that he feels honored to win the award.

“I entered college with no idea of what I wanted to do and bounced between potential majors and career paths before finding biochemistry,” Alvin said. “I was fortunate to become involved with the Audhya Lab soon after declaring my biochemistry major, though I knew that many of my peers had begun biochemical research years before me. The saying goes, though, that it’s not how you start but how you finish, and this award confirms that I am on my way to finishing well.” Alvin plans to graduate in spring 2023.

Group photo of seven graduate fellowship winners
Graduate Fellowships recipients. From left: Haley Penkala,
Max Rector, James Corban, Saeed Roschdi, Junqiao Zhu,
Sarah Schmidt-Dannert, and Gina Wade. Photo: Robin Davies.

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 allow faculty to purchase new equipment for their labs, for example. Students who receive a fellowship are part of the Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB), the joint graduate program of the Department of Biochemistry and Department of Biomolecular Chemistry.

This year’s department graduate fellowships are sponsored by the William R. and Dorothy E. Sullivan Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Fellowship, the William H. Peterson Fellowship in Biochemistry, Paul H. Phillips Departmental Fellowship in Biochemistry, the Denis R.A. and Martha Washburn Wharton Fellowship, the Dr. Stephen Babcock AG Chem Fund, and the Steenbock Predoctoral Fellowship in Biochemistry.

Sarah Schmidt-Dannert, a second-year graduate student working in assistant professor Vatsan Raman’s lab, received a Steenbock Predoctoral Fellowship in Biochemistry. Her research focuses on understanding and engineering capsule-degrading bacteriophages with the ultimate goal of targeting a diverse array of pathogenic encapsulated bacteria, such as those causing cystic fibrosis, meningitis, or urinary tract infections.

“Earning this award is a great validation that I belong in this program and in graduate school,” Schmidt-Dannert said. “With this award, I’ll be able to take an internship in the next year or two to further my research experience.”

Congratulations to all the award and fellowship recipients.