• Alumni

  • Contact Us

    • 250 Mrak Hall
      One Shields Avenue
      Davis, CA 95616

      Tel: (530) 752-0650
      Fax: (530) 752-6222
    Graduate Student Spotlights

    Contributors: Deonna Anderson, Colton Knedler, Elise Nicolas

    Image: Johnathon  Anderson.

    Johnathon Anderson

    Ph.D. Student
    Genetics – Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology

    What matters to Johnathon?
    Being at the forefront of biomedical research.

    Johnathon Anderson attributes his involvement in the UC Davis Genetics Graduate Group to the extraordinary experience he had here as an undergraduate student. His peers, professors and academic environment had all culminated in his desire to pursue a doctorate in Genetics. Davis' reputation as a top research institution had also helped in shaping his decision, "UC Davis is one of the best Tier 1 research institutions in the nation, and is one of the most inviting atmospheres I've ever experienced. That's definitely a compelling combination," Anderson stated.

    Anderson, a recipient of a National Science Foundation Fellowship during his senior year, works on campus in the lab of Dr. Jan Nolta, a world-renowned expert in stem cell research who directs UC Davis' Stem Cell research program as well as the new Institute for Regenerative Cures at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif.

    Together, Nolta and Anderson work on genetically engineering adult stem cells to be used as therapy for a neurodegenerative disorder called Huntington's disease, and a type of cardiovascular disease called peripheral arterial disease. "I'd like to make a significant impact on the lives of patients battling disease, and to help push the cutting edge of research in innovative, yet practical ways," answered Anderson on why he chose the fields of stem cell research and genetic engineering.

    UC Davis has played a significant role in helping Anderson achieve these goals. "I've met some of the greatest people here and I've really been given the opportunity to ‘run with the ball’ in terms of research in just about every lab I've worked in here at UC Davis.” Networking with others is very important for Anderson, and Davis gives him the opportunity to do that. When making these connections, he stresses to build these friendships on the basis of trust, pointing out that it makes a stronger bond than just a name on a business card.

    Davis also serves as the foundation for a new research group in the works. The "Human Genetics and Genomics Initiative" will raise UC Davis’ caliber of research on human disease, in part by using this platform as a means to recruit high level human geneticists,” said Anderson, strongly endorsing the initiative.

    He will continue his research while debating whether to pursue a career in industry or academia. "Ideally I’d like to have a similar career to that of Dr. Kyriacos Athanasiou (UC Davis) or Dr. Robert Langer (MIT); straddling both industry and academia, which I anticipate will be a necessity to generate the novel therapeutics of tomorrow," said Anderson. "I love pursuing innovative research ideas, but ultimately I want to meaningfully touch the lives of people battling disease."

    Photo credit: Whitney Cary.

    Image: Scott Bennett.

    Scott Bennett

    Ph.D. Student
    Geology – Structure and Tectonics Track

    What matters to Scott?
    Understanding our Earth.

    Continental rifting – that is the subject of Ph.D. student Scott Bennett’s research. He has been studying factors that promote continents, and other land masses, to tear apart. His research site, Isla Tiburon in the northern Gulf of California, is a great place to study continental rifting because it lies between Baja California and mainland Mexico, which were attached approximately six million years ago.

    Once a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Bennett thought it would be nice to be closer to family and where he grew up in California. While his younger days were spent mostly in the southern region of the state, he has always enjoyed all parts of California, especially the spectacular and geologically active landscapes east of the Sierra Nevada.

    When he is not researching plate tectonics, Bennett still enjoys being close to where his passion lies. He rock climbs in his spare time and also takes 20-30 mile bike rides with a group of geology graduate students.

    His interest in geology stems from his camping and road trips across the western United States with his father, an anthropologist and amateur geologist. Being able to comprehend the Earth and how it works is very rewarding to Bennett. “Geology is a subject that allows you to understand how the world around you came to be and why landscapes are shaped the way they are,” he says.

    For his research efforts, Bennett was awarded money from the Geology department’s Durrell Fund, named after the late professor emeritus Cordell Durrell. He also received funding from an ExxonMobil Geoscience Grant, from the Geological Society of America, and from the Northern California Geological Survey.

    After Bennett receives his doctorate, he plans to continue working on understanding the amazing world we live in and sharing that knowledge with others.

    Learn more about Bennett’s research.

    Image: Kristina  Bezold.

    Kristina Bezold

    Ph.D. Student
    Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology

    What matters to Kristina?
    Discovering how the body works as a means to learn how to treat disease.

    “I have always been interested in physiology and medicine,” said Kristina Bezold, a doctoral candidate in the Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology Graduate Group at UC Davis. Originally planning to go to medical school, Bezold changed her mind when she discovered her real passion during her undergraduate studies. “I was drawn to discovering how the body works as a means to learn how to treat disease instead of doing the actual treatment myself.”

    Bezold’s research “focuses on understanding the regulation of cardiac muscle contraction by a muscle protein called myosin binding protein C,” she shared. “I aim to understand how the protein functions in normal hearts and in diseased hearts. Myosin binding protein C mutations are a leading cause of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which affects 1 out of 500 people worldwide.”

    Her group collaborates with various faculties on campus, including medical doctors. She attributes the strengths of her projects to the perspectives she receives from these collaborations. “It’s also made me a better researcher,” she added.

    Her projects have received support from a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate fellowship from the Department of Defense, which fully funded her second through fourth years; an American Heart Association pre-doctoral fellowship, which has funded most of her last year; and an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists fellowship. “These fellowships have provided me the freedom to explore my own research interests and develop my scientific identity,” says Bezold.

    Inspiring others around her to understand and respect the value of science is one of Bezold’s primary goals. “I hope to do this either as a teacher or as a mentor to students in a laboratory setting,” she adds. In the end, she wants to be able to help those with heart disease by contributing to therapeutic treatments.

    Bezold is looking to continue her education through a postdoc, “that would extend my basic scientific research to more translational heart research – where I can directly develop treatments for heart diseases.”

    Bezold is involved in many activities outside of the lab. She’s a member of the Linda Bair Dance Company, an avid runner, cyclist, climber and skier. Basically, she enjoys workouts that target the most important muscle of all: the heart.

    Photo: Bezold is examining a very small piece of heart tissue that she has tied between a force transducer and a motor to measure force production and rate of contraction. Photo credit: Linda Lee.

    Image: Amy Champ.

    Amy Champ

    Ph.D. Student
    Performance Studies – Feminist Theory and Research Track

    What matters to Amy?
    Partnering the hard and social sciences.

    The Performance Studies Program was the perfect match for Amy Champ, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Davis. The program, which is unique from other Performance Studies programs across the nation, emphasizes the practice aspect of research. “It is not just about book learning here,” Champ said.

    Image: Amy Champ in yoga pose at Silver Lake, Calif. Champ’s interest in yoga began the summer of 1994 after she graduated from Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. “At the time people were doing yoga,” she said. “But it wasn’t as popular then as it is now.” Her love for yoga continued to grow over the years and eventually led her to become a yoga teacher.

    Champ incorporates her designated emphasis of Women’s Studies and Religious Studies into her research of yoga in the United States.

    Her advice to future doctorate students comes in two parts. “Publish early,” Champ said. She is a blogger for the Eco-Yoga website Elephant Journal, and published in LA Yoga magazine. She hopes to publish her dissertation in a format that will be accessible to an audience that includes both academics and yoga practitioners.

    “Apply for grants as soon as possible and get your own funding,” she added. A Davis Humanities Institute grant recipient, Champ has also participated in the Dissertation Mentorship. Through this program, she was able to hire an intern to aid in her research for a quarter.

    Champ’s work has allowed her to study and research in libraries at Harvard, as well as Oxford and Cambridge in England. A Graduate Student Association travel award helped her make her way to the other side of the world. She also attended an annual Performance Studies International conference in Toronto.

    The former Sacramento State University and Sacramento City College American Government and Political Science Professor is good at giving advice. “If you don’t make fun, it won’t happen. Being in graduate school can be tough, so it's important to make sure that you take care of yourself by having fun," she said. Some activities she enjoys outside of her research include gardening, taking trips with UC Davis Outdoor Adventures and riding around Davis on her mountain bike, which she purchased as soon as she moved to town.

    Throughout her time in the yoga realm, she has found that people who do yoga have a lot of skills to offer to the social justice world. In the future, Champ would like to see more collaboration from students in the hard sciences and social sciences. She sees the two sides as complementing one another. In her current project, Champ looks at both physical and social effects of yoga practice. “I’m pretty crazy about research,” she said.

    Learn more about Champ’s research.

    Image: George  Crocker with goats.

    George Crocker

    Ph.D. Student
    Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology

    What matters to George?
    Having a positive influence on those around him.

    George Crocker chose UC Davis for graduate school for two reasons. Firstly, it offered a master’s degree in exercise science. Secondly, "It's halfway between San Francisco and the Sierras!"

    For a student whose life revolves around endurance activity inside and outside of the lab, the location is absolutely crucial. "Outside of research, I play sports – namely endurance sports (swimming, cycling and running) as well as tennis and volleyball," said Crocker. UC Davis' location encourages this kind of lifestyle with its proximity to various terrains – from the flats of the Sacramento Valley to the mountains of Lake Tahoe.

    Crocker's love of endurance-related activities is apparent in his research. A doctoral student in the Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology Graduate Group, he works on campus in the Claire Giannini Hoffman Equine Athletic Performance Lab in the School of Veterinary Medicine, studying the effects of breathing toxic gases and acute lung injury on aerobic exercise capacity. "I study exercise and environmental physiology because doing so combines my background in biology with my passion for exercise and the outdoors."Soldiers, rescue workers and miners in fire/explosion scenarios commonly experience the combination of breathing fiery gases and acute lung injury. Crocker's study models how and why the exercise capacity of individuals working in these environments is impaired in goats, chosen as models for humans because of their similar size and aerobic capacity as humans.

    UC Davis' location isn't the only characteristic of the university that he appreciates. Crocker says, "Davis is one of the top public schools in the nation and will open doors for me in the future. The veterinary school, which is world renowned, offers me a tremendous opportunity to work around the brightest scientists in their respective fields."

    The workshops that Crocker has attended at the Internship and Career Center have presented him with even more opportunities opening his eyes to a variety of careers to which he can apply his degree towards. "These workshops have helped me understand what my strengths and interests are," said Crocker. "The Internship and Career Center is an invaluable asset for UC Davis graduate students."

    It's apparent that Crocker has a full schedule with his research and exercise; however, he makes a point to enjoy the life he lives. "Make time to take a walk through the arboretum, go pet the animals in the barns, take a few classes for fun, volunteer in the community, get involved with campus recreation and go to Picnic Day!" advises Crocker.

    These activities help Crocker relax and keep focused on his long-term goals. "Hopefully, my research will aid in protecting individuals with blast injuries in fiery environments, such as soldiers in tanks and rescue workers in 9/11-type scenarios. I want to have a positive influence on those around me.

    Check out more of Crocker's research.

    Photo: Crocker visits with goats. Credit: Ariel Crocker.

    Image: Roz Earl.

    Rosalyn Earl

    Ph.D. Student
    Education – School Organization and Educational Policy Track

    What matters to Roz?
    Never losing sight of your goal.

    Why did Rosalyn Earl choose the Education Graduate Group at UC Davis? Location, location, location! Physically, it’s close to home. Earl graduated from a high school near Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., and after receiving her B.A. from California State University, East Bay and a master's in Educational Counseling at San Jose State University, Earl made her way to UC Davis to study how policy affects the trajectory of underrepresented students into the higher education pipeline within California.

    In the field of Education, UC Davis’ location also has influential advantages. Located in close proximity to the State Capital, the UC Davis reputation can’t help but have a consequential impact on state policy and legislation.

    Being a doctoral student isn’t Earl’s only involvement on campus. She serves as the 2012 Graduate Student Assistant to the Dean of Graduate Studies and Chancellor (GSADC), a key leadership position that acts as a liaison between graduate students and campus administration.

    Earl has also supported underrepresented scholars programs. She taught in the UC Davis McNair Scholar’s summer program, and previously coordinated the UC Davis Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program. Currently, during her stint as the GSADC, she is part of the Professors for the Future program. “The program teaches advanced formal training in teaching methods and course design,” says Earl. These experiences have aided her in assisting disadvantaged youth in after school programs in Yolo County and the city of Elk Grove (both located near campus).

    Fellowships have also played an integral role in Earl’s education. “Fellowships mean a lot to me because now I know I have secured funding to help me complete and reach my ultimate goal of attaining my doctorate degree,” she said. Earl has been the recipient of the Professors for the Future Fellowship and the GSADC Dissertation Year Fellowship, both a result of her mediating role between administration and the student body.

    Earl’s advice is to never lose sight of your end goal. After graduation, she wants to become a postdoctoral scholar and to ultimately work in the professoriate of educational leadership and women’s studies. “Make a serious commitment to your education and research, you never know whom you might affect with your contributions,” she recommends.

    Photo credit: Donna Justice.

    Image: William Elliott .

    William Elliott

    Ph.D. Student

    What matters to Elliott?
    People’s relationships with their environments.

    Will Elliott grew up in a log cabin in Alaska without electricity or roads, things that many take for granted as an integral part of life.

    Elliott draws on those experiences to research how society’s perceptions of rural northern life shape our responses to real-world environmental issues. Elliott is primarily focused on the relationships between human, arts, and the environment in the northern regions of North America.

    “Literary study is one way of exploring those relationships,” says Elliott, noting that not just outsiders, but even many residents relate to the North as a “frontier” or “blank slate,” profoundly influenced by stereotypical portrayals of the North in myth and media.

    During the summer of 2012, Elliott conducted research at the University of Alaska, meeting many scholars who are developing this emerging interdisciplinary subfield.

    Elliott’s focus on the north falls within the bounds of “green studies” or eco-criticism, an area of interest whose many aspects reach out into other departments, most prominently through the Environments and Societies Mellon Initiative on the UC Davis campus. The initiative brings together scholars and students from various disciplines, including literature and film, geography, social sciences, and others to address prevalent eco-social issues. “Environment is the ultimate multi-media,” Elliott says. “You can’t just take one approach.”

    Receiving his education from these many different areas, as well as people, has helped Elliott recognize that an education comes from a variety of sources, and can’t be restricted to just one. “I approach education as a lifelong endeavor.”

    Photo: Travel writing and adventure narratives are a big part of Elliott's study. So to better understand his material, he spent two weeks in Alaska climbing a new mountaineering route in Denali National Park. Check out his beautiful photo gallery. Photo Credits: Will Elliott, Ben Meyer, Laron Thomas.

    Image: Marjannie Eloi.

    Marjannie Dionne Eloi

    Ph.D. Student

    What matters to Marjannie?
    Contributing to society.

    When Marjannie Eloi studies science – in particular the immune system – she is inspired. Eloi’s goal is to help decipher the etiology of diseases and discover what role the immune system plays in the disease.

    Eloi first visited UC Davis on STEM Preview Day. After visiting the campus and seeing the many opportunities offered, she knew UC Davis was her top choice for a graduate education. UC Davis’s rich and stimulating research environment, as well as the animal model research conducted, amazed Eloi. “I chose UC Davis to purse my Ph.D. in immunology because I was impressed by the vast research being conducted on host-pathogen interactions and autoimmune diseases,” says Eloi.

    A benefit of graduate education at UC Davis is the ample interdisciplinary research that is conducted on and off campus. “I collaborate with professors and students from various disciplines and in turn develop a well-rounded education,” says Eloi. “Working in the laboratory, I have the opportunity to study both the neurological, as well as the immunological aspects of autism, which is incredibly exciting.”

    Eloi believes that earning her doctoral degree from UC Davis gives her the opportunity to contribute to society as a scientist. Upon completion, she plans to give back to the community and mentor students to reach goals and make changes – one scientific discovery at a time.

    Image: Andrew Fowler in Iceland.

    Andrew Fowler

    Ph.D. Student
    Geology – Geochemistry Track

    What matters to Andrew?
    Hotsprings and sustainable energy.

    Iceland is becoming a new front for global energy. On the Reykjanes peninsula, located on the south-western tip of Iceland, Andrew Fowler collected samples to study hydrothermal processes that influence the water and rock deep below the ground in hot springs. A doctoral student in the geology department, Fowler’s research focuses on what the chemistry of hot springs can tell us about how to better explore for geothermal resources – an investment that Iceland expects to pay off in the near future as the demand for more sustainable sources of energy increases.

    One of the main geothermal energy projects on the peninsula is the Iceland Deep Drilling Project, in which several universities are involved in studying the energy potential of deep drilling.

    "I chose UC Davis for graduate school because of the location, and the friendly atmosphere created by the students and faculty in the geology department," said Fowler. "My interest in cutting edge geothermal research was also a factor, which Professors Robert Zierenberg and Peter Schiffman in geology department are involved in." The department is building a collaborative geothermal educational program with the University of Nevada at Reno as well as industry-leading geothermal companies to create that cutting-edge environment.

    Fowler is interested in geothermal energy because it is a relatively clean and environmentally friendly energy alternative. "I have always been interested in the application of geology to improving environmental practices," said Fowler. With very little advancement in the field over the last few decades, and the new emphasis on geothermal projects in Iceland, Fowler feels that the industry is at a turning point on the island nation. "Significant advances in the technologies applied to geothermal energy exploration and development will soon become available," he said.

    The potential Fowler sees in the industry has inspired him to seek a teaching or research position in the field after the completion of his doctoral degree. "I'd love to remain involved in geothermal energy research,” he shared. The industry is on the rise, and Fowler doesn't plan on leaving it any time soon.

    During his time away from the lab, Fowler enjoys the outdoors, especially when he's hiking, camping or panning for gold.

    To learn more about Fowler's research, see this news article and research page.

    Photo: Fowler in Iceland. Credit: Robert Zierenberg.

    Image: Felipe Godinez.

    Felipe Godinez

    Ph.D. Student
    Biomedical Engineering – Imaging Track

    What matters to Felipe?
    Serving ethnic communities.

    While an undergraduate at UC Riverside, Felipe Godinez’s initial goal was to get his B.A. and move on to a full-time job. However, Godinez soon realized that a master’s degree would allow him to have a greater impact on his community and way of life. While doing research at UCR, he learned about the UC LEADS program and applied. It was through the participation of UC LEADS that his graduate career began. “UC LEADS allowed me the means to spend a summer at UC Davis do research,” says Godinez. “After that summer I knew UC Davis was the place for me. I just knew I would have a happy and cheerful graduate student experience. I also saw that the financial support was strong and stable.”

    Godinez is now pursuing a Ph.D. to better represent and serve his ethnic community. The doctorate degree will provide him with a higher degree of influence as he relays the benefits of biomedical research to underprivileged communities. The education he gains will improve his service and leadership abilities.

    “I have taken on this education goal because it is challenging, adventurous, and the outcome remains undetermined,” says Godinez. “To me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – and I have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

    Image: Kevin Griffin .

    Kevin Griffin

    Ph.D. Student
    Computer Science

    What matters to Kevin?
    Improving military resources.

    Playing video games can lead one down a path to a possibility much bigger than imagined while starring at the television screen. Kevin Griffin, a Computer Science doctoral student, says that is exactly where his interest in the field began. Putting it succinctly, Griffin says, "Guys like gadgets and stuff." Griffin's childhood pastime led to a desire to understand just how to make computers work. As an undergraduate and McNair scholar at the University of Delaware, companies began recruiting him for jobs.

    Now working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Griffin has been able to use his work as a part of his research. He plans to make networks more user-friendly and improve the visualization technology in the military. The end product will be a 3D game engine based application that will allow a non-technical person, like a commander in the military, to use only their perceptual abilities to gather situational awareness of their network.

    UC Davis has offered Griffin the chance to work with his "advisory dream team". His advisers, Dr. Kenneth Joy and Dr. Sean Peisert, are world renowned for their work in computer graphics and computer security respectively. Griffin's progress has accelerated because of his advisers. To future graduate and doctorate students he advises, "Choose your advisers wisely." Griffin says it is also important to find out what research is already taking place in your department. "It might inspire you to change what you are interested in or it could enhance your research."

    Being a student at UC Davis brings everything full circle for Griffin. "My grandmother raised me. We didn't grow up with a lot of money, but she always promoted education," he says. As a middle school student, his grandmother told him he would get a Ph.D. Since beginning at UC Davis in fall 2011, Griffin has been impressed by the caliber of students and faculty at the university. "A lot of these people have big brains and great ideas," he says. "It's great to be inspired by them, especially when you hit a brick wall."

    Griffin strives to inspire others as well. "The African American representation in the STEM disciplines has been declining over the past decade," he says. There is a lot of opportunity in the field and he wants to make sure people take advantage of them. Griffin has been mentoring high school students and exposing them to the field, in efforts to get them interested.

    Between mentoring, working at Lawrence Livermore, conducting research, and being a commission officer in the Navy as well as a husband and father, Griffin says free time is hard to come by. When he does find time, he works out, plays basketball at the lab and rides his motorcycle across town.

    Photo credit: Deanna Anderson.

    Image: LaTonya Harris.

    LaTonya Harris

    Ph.D. Student
    Psychology – Developmental Track

    What matters to Latonya?
    Researching children’s development.

    LaTonya Harris is pursuing a Ph.D. because she has always wanted to contribute to scientific knowledge and thinking in children’s development. Harris selected developmental psychology, because she has an interest in how children develop cognitively, and also in knowing how to promote positive development in children.

    As an undergraduate, Harris took a class on child development and learning, which sparked her interest in understanding how psychological principles affect learning and education. She continued her education and received a master’s degree in education, with a focus on human development and psychology.

    UC Davis was among Harris’ graduate school choices because of its strong psychology program and because the university is conducting critical research in the fields of memory and autism. Harris was also impressed that her chosen program is one of the interdepartmental graduate groups that bridge faculty, students and departments across campus – providing students a more enriching graduate experience.

    “I’ve worked hard to get into my UC Davis graduate program and meet its benchmarks, so earning a graduate degree from UC Davis will be a fantastic achievement,” says Harris. “It would provide me with an extraordinary opportunity to potentially transform knowledge, teach others, create programs and policy, and contribute to scientific thinking.”

    Image: Tu Anh Huynh.

    Tu Anh Huynh

    Ph.D. Student
    Food Science – Microbiology Track

    What matters to Tu Anh?
    Being a mentor to other graduate students.

    Tu Anh Huynh, a doctoratal candidate in the Food Science program, is studying genetic regulations in Escherichia coli (E. coli) when it lives on nitrate —an abundant compound in the environment. She is an international student from Vietnam.

    Huynh got into food science by chance. When making the decision about college after completing her high school education in Vietnam, she received a scholarship to attain her undergraduate career in Sydney, Australia. Her intended major was not available so she made the change to food science. During Huynh’s senior year of undergrad, she worked in a food microbiology lab and loved the research. “Scientists in my sub-field have a really good network, in which different labs always communicate and provide assistance to each other,” she said. At that point, there was no turning back for her and she knew she wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in the field.

    While in Sydney, Huynh spoke with her research adviser, a UC Davis alumnus, who recommended the UC Davis program. Upon researching the institution, she became impressed with what it had to offer, applied and accepted the offer to attend. “I feel deeply honored and proud to be pursuing a higher degree at UC Davis,” she said. “Here I have been working and interacting with absolutely world-class scholars.”

    Huynh appreciates the time she has spent at UC Davis. “Generally, and most importantly, I feel like I’ve learned the skills of a professional scientist.” The offering of resources on the campus is innumerable. “The UC Davis campus provides so many opportunities for research and careers, but you need a prepared mind to grab those opportunities.”

    While the opportunities are very much available, students must go out and get them. “As a graduate student, you have to be very proactive to make your progress – look for a suitable lab partner/adviser, establish your professional network, participate in community activities,” suggests Huynh.

    When outside of her adviser Valley Stewart’s lab, Huynh enjoys hiking and camping in various national parks in Northern California, as well as skiing in Tahoe during the winter.

    Huynh plans to pursue a position as a professor and researcher at a research university. She also wants to help educate those who have less access to knowledge about cutting edge science and current global issues. “Having received such a satisfying training and so much help from my department, my adviser, other faculty members, and my peers, I feel obligated to help younger students who are still finding their way in research and graduate education,” she said.

    Image: Jacob Katz.

    Jacob Katz

    Ph.D. Student

    What matters to Jacob?
    Conservation of freshwater ecosystems.

    Jacob Katz, a Ph.D. candidate in the Ecology Graduate Group, has focused on the conservation of freshwater ecosystems while studying at UC Davis. His reason for his involvement in the field, “letting my children inherit a world without salmon is unthinkable.”

    Katz’s dissertation work focuses on salmon in the Yolo bypass, a stretch of water in between Davis and Sacramento, Calif, literally in UCD’s backyard. The Nigiri Project, a large experimental project headed by Katz and his team, creates and monitors fresh water ecosystems for Chinook salmon. Nigiri, the projects namesake, is a form of sushi with a slice of fish atop a compact mound of rice. In Yolo County, the “Nigiri Project” is the name of a collaborative effort between farmers and researchers to help restore salmon populations by reintroducing them during winter to a floodplains covered with rice fields during summer.  Today only five percent of the Central Valley’s original floodplain habitat remains for the region’s salmon populations. The Nigiri Project seeks to maximize habitat benefits for salmon, while maintaining farming on the largest floodplain of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the 60,000-acre Yolo Bypass. Their primary goal is to identify what types of environments give the salmon the best chance to grow and make it to adulthood.

    “The Ecology Graduate Group’s ground-breaking approach to interdisciplinary research has allowed me to focus on the interface between science and politics, which really defines the field of conservation,” said Katz. “I’m also able to access professors across the entire university.”

    Katz works with world renowned conservationist Peter Moyle in Moyle’s lab in the Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology department. The set of professional contracts Katz has acquired during his time at UC Davis will assist him in his new job as the Director of Salmon and Steelhead programs at the NGO California Trout. “In my new position, I am building a comprehensive recovery strategy for salmon populations in the California starting in the Central Valley.”

    Katz’s work has already made positive impacts on the world of conservation. “University of Nevada, Reno is using the conservation assessment tools we developed for my dissertation to assess the extinction threat facing Nevada’s freshwater fish species,” he shared.

    When Katz isn’t wading in the waters of the bypass, he’s playing with his two-year old twins, fishing, growing rice, or tending to his garden.

    Photo credit: Noah Berger.

    Image:Amandeep Kaur.

    Amandeep Kaur

    Ph.D. Student

    What matters to Amandeep?
    Seeing people around me being successful and happy.

    As a Ph.D. candidate in physics at UC Davis, Amandeep Kaur is also a proactive member of campus committees and leadership. She is the Graduate Student Assistant to the Dean and to the Chancellor for 2013 - 2014.

    Her work focuses on theoretical condensed matter physics, effects of core polarization on dielectric properties, phonons, quasi particle energies, and more. "I like physics because it's more conceptual; you can see direct applications," explains Kaur. However, she also works beyond the confines of physics, overlapping in chemistry and programming, one of her self-taught accomplishments. "When you're into your Ph.D. program, you just learn a lot of things on your own," says Kaur.

    She works with her advisors Distinguished Professor of Physics Warren Pickett and Professor of Chemistry and Physics Giulia Galli. She also has had collaborations with researchers at Brookhaven National Lab, located in New York.? Having achieved her undergraduate and master's degrees in India, one of the deciding factors in attending UC Davis was the immense diversity she found here. Part of her success thus far is attributable to the support system she has found in the people on campus. Through collaboration with mentors and peers, she has been able to build on a variety of skills. "What we do in a Ph.D. program is very entrepreneurial?.We learn to take initiative, spearhead ideas and programs. I think all of these skills are transferable to any goal," expresses Kaur.

    Her forward-thinking and drive as an autodidact presents itself in her current work and collaborations, and is equally apparent in her advocacy ambitions for equal access to education, especially for women around the globe.

    "I want to work on education policies, programs to strengthen and empower women through my own education," says Kaur. "I think my education and credentials will be very helpful."? In November 2012 Kaur spearheaded a campaign along with the members of Chancellor's Graduate and Professional Student Advisory Board (CGPSA) for international Ph.D. students to address the policy on nonresident supplemental tuition. She circulated a petition along with the other members which was well-received by UC Davis administration. In April Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter agreed to cover the cost of nonresident tuition for Ph.D. students who have advanced to candidacy.

    She is currently Chair of Chancellor's Graduate and Professional Students Advisory Board, Chair of Graduate Ally Coalition, Ex-Officio member of Graduate Student Association Executive Council, Graduate Student Representative of Graduate Council, and part of Campus Council on Community and Diversity.

    She has received support from the Guru Gobind Singh Fellowship and is the recipient of a travel award from Graduate Studies on top of the aid she receives from her current position as GSADC. She is also the recipient of the "Outstanding Graduate Student Leader Award," nominated by members of CGPSA.

    Though she enjoys salsa, freestyle, and ballroom dancing in her free time, she finds interacting with others in her leadership roles as the most rewarding kind of fun. "It's my outlet," says Kaur.

    Image: Vadim Keyser.

    Vadim Keyser

    Ph.D. Student

    What matters to Vadim?
    Engaging students.

    Image: Committee shows Keyser has passed.

    Vadim Keyser, originally from Maryland and a former conditioning coach for the UC Davis boxing team, recently completed his fifth year as a doctoral student in the Philosophy graduate program. He is finishing his dissertation in philosophy of biology, which he discovered as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, where he majored in both philosophy and biology. Currently, Keyser works as an adjunct professor at CSU, Sacramento and Cosumnes River College.

    On the verge of graduation, Keyser has been thinking about his future and considered making his current job his career. “If I could make teaching a career, I would,” he said. Keyser has also worked as a logic instructor for UC Davis School of Law's King Hall Outreach Program (KHOP), an intensive law school preparatory program for economically disadvantaged students. His experience with KHOP and teaching at UC Davis, as well as CSU, Sacramento and Cosumnes River College has helped Keyser move toward his goal of becoming a tenured track professor.

    "I strive for an authentic teaching style,” Keyser said. Describing his style of teaching as similar to that of Bill Nye the Science Guy, he wants his students to be absorbed in the experience, rather than just passively taking notes. And who wouldn’t want to take a class with Bill Nye? Like Nye, Keyser involves students in in-class experiments on the phenomena of lie detection and conformity. He has also been transformed into a zombie for a lecture on the ethics of death. Keyser believes the art in philosophy is the ability to generate perspectives and to present them with precision.

    The faculty Keyser interacted with during both his undergraduate years and his time at UC Davis have helped him do just that. He chose this university because the quality of the graduate program was great. "One of the good things about the philosophy program is that we have so much access to resources here. The location is good because we’re not isolated in our discipline. Biologists and philosophers of biology are everywhere. The trick is picking them out. Just look for clean hiking boots," he says with a smile.

    In Keyser’s research with the philosophy department faculty, he “propose(s) that measurement is a dynamic process, where we don’t just discover, reflect, or represent phenomena, but rather we stabilize phenomena.” He focuses on puzzling cases of biological measurement in the study of temperature-dependent sex determination in turtles to discuss the experimental stabilization of developmental, behavioral and physiological phenomena. Keyser said he also draws parallels to measurement in physics by discussing the history of fixed points in thermometry, the measurement problem of quantum mechanics, and the stabilization of anti-matter.

    In addition to teaching, grading papers and doing research, Keyer is also the News Editor for the Institute for Complex Adaptive Matter. He can also be found CrossFit training or hanging with his mom and cat in the Bay Area. “You should include that I'm a pretty good dancer too,” he deadpans.

    Katherine Kim

    Ph.D. Student
    Nursing Science and Health-Care Leadership

    What matters to Katherine?
    Using technology to improve health.

    Emerging and new technologies, such as cell phones, social media and data management systems, could provide solutions to complex healthcare issues. Nursing Science and Health-Care Leadership doctoral student Katherine Kim discovers how such technology can improve the quality, safety and cost-effectiveness of health care.

    For her dissertation, Kim's research focuses on the impact of mobile technology and social media on consumers' ability to manage their health and partner with their providers to do so. She is studying iN Touch, a mobile platform to track daily living for low-income, obese and depressed youth.

    With funding from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Project HealthDesign, Kim and her colleagues customized an iPhone/iPod Touch application that tracks food, exercise, mood and socialization and supports communication between the participant and a health coach. Additionally, the program includes weekly summary reports that are integrated into the providers’ electronic health records so the information is available to all providers. Kim said preliminary data show those who used the product achieved positive results including improved waist measurements and self-confidence in managing health.

    The project is one example of how Kim sees technology improving health for all.

    "The role of information and management systems in health care has changed dramatically in a short time period," Kim said. "Now, information systems are embedded in the workflow and have the potential to reach into the community and consumers' homes. The impacts include changing roles of providers, healthcare workers and consumers."

    Kim, in her second year of the Nursing Science and Health-Care Leadership Doctor of Philosophy Degree Program, said she looked for years to find a way to merge her passion to explore the solutions provided by technology with scientific research.

    "For 15 years, I’ve explored doctoral programs,” she said. "But the focus was always too narrow, too focused on one discipline or profession. I am interested in research that demonstrates the application of technology, in a broad perspective, can improve health."

    Those perspectives, she said, exist at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. In her first two years, Kim realized a number of achievements including co-founding the Interprofessional Health Informatics Student Special Interest group at UC Davis Health System, receiving a $5,000 Northern California Health Information and Management Systems Society scholarship, and authoring a number of papers and presentations.

    "I've never had this degree of professional success before and I attribute that greatly to the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing," Kim said. "Being here, learning in this group environment fuels my enthusiasm. I am confident that I can be a part of effective change."

    With master's degrees in both public health and business administration, Kim is one of the few doctoral students at the school who is not a registered nurse. Kim teaches at San Francisco State University while also pursuing her doctorate. Prior to that position, she worked as a clinic manager. In that role, she led a team that streamlined and automated health-records technology and processes for two merging medical groups. Kim also founded her own company to automate referrals and processes at hospitals. She and her team created a product that linked primary-care physicians, clinics and hospitals.

    "Technology should not reinforce old silos. It needs to be interprofessional," Kim said. "A team from a variety of backgrounds must identify how a particular product is going to solve a problem because the end product will be utilized by a variety of users. When the technology is effective for users, then it will enhance the value and quality of health care."

    Image: Jesse Krause and Karen Word with juvenile white-crowned sparrow.

    Jesse Krause

    Ph.D. Student
    Molecular Cellular and Integrative Physiology

    What matters to Jesse?
    Gaining a better understanding of how organisms interact with their environment.

    Image:  Jesse Krause and John Wingfield.

    It’s hard to keep tabs on Jesse Krause. During the winter months, he’s doing field work in Davis. In the summer, he’s on the North Slope of Alaska. Throughout the fall, he’s somewhere outside Yosemite. And if he’s not – then he’s probably on the California coast working at the Bodega Marine Lab. Who racks up more miles during the year is debatable – Krause, or the migratory White-crowned sparrows he studies?

    A doctoral candidate in the Molecular Cellular and Integrative Physiology Graduate Group, Krause travels to these various locations to investigate how organisms use information from their environments to fine tune the timing of reproduction. “The birds we study must deal with the stress of unpredictable storms, predation and food shortages,” says Krause. “All this information from the environment must then be integrated in order to control the timing of breeding.” The North Slope of Alaska naturally has all of the stress factors above, and serves as a great environment for Krause and his team to study how migratory birds regulate stress and reproduction.

    Being able to study animals in their natural environment is why Krause chose the lab he’s in. “I was interested in John Wingfield’s environmental endocrinology lab because it marries endocrinology and field work to answer interesting questions about regulation of physiology, morphology and behavior through neuronal, neuroendocrine and hormonal regulation,” says Krause. Exploration in the field has led to collaborations with renowned scientists and institutions from around the globe. Krause collaborates primarily with five other labs, including George Bentley at the University of California Berkeley, Simone Meddle at the University of Edinburgh, Natalie Boelman at Columbia University, Laura Gough at the University of Texas Arlington, and locally with Dave Furlow at UC Davis. “I think the most important component of graduate school is learning to think both critically and outside of the box,” says Krause. “The critical input that I have received from the members of my lab and collaborating labs have helped me in doing just that.”

    In the near future, after finishing his Ph.D., Krause hopes to find a postdoctoral position or a position in industry. Whichever he does, his main goal is to inform people of how birds are going to cope with a changing environment, which is what his research in Alaska is doing now. Whether it’s through hands-on research in the field, or just by sharing his knowledge with others, Krause wants to inform people on what the evidence is for climate change, the causal factors and the potential impacts on species richness and diversity. “People need to think critically and to get their facts from a knowledgeable source,” says Krause The field of endocrinology allows us to get at physiological mechanisms that animals will use to cope with a changing environment.

    More on Krause’s research:
    Krause Profile
    The New York Times' "Scientist at Work"
    University of Alaska, Fairbanks'

    Photos Top: Doctoral students Jesse Krause and Karen Word had just finished taking stress series samples for corticosterone and body measurements on this juvenile white-crowned sparrow (zonotrichia leucophrys gambelli). The two are in Alaska and you can see the Brooks mountain range in the background. They are about 20 miles south of Toolik Lake Field station, which is run by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Credit: Jennifer Smith. Right: Jesse Krause and John Wingfield check one of their four remote sensing towers. It has a weather station and audio recording equipment that records bird songs four times a day to get an idea about species richness and activity. Credit: Jake Schas.

    Image: Timothy Kwa

    Timothy Kwa

    Ph.D. Student
    Biomedical Engineering – Cell and Molecular Systems Track

    What matters to Timothy?
    Improving healthcare through early diagnosis technology.

    What if a pinprick of blood could tell you if you had a life-threatening disease? It may seem farfetched to some – but for Timothy Kwa, it’s quickly becoming a reality. Kwa, a doctoral student in the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Group, researches how to detect tiny amounts of cell-secreted proteins from small populations of white blood cells. The research that he conducts on campus in the Revzin Lab helps in creating a technology of well-controlled microsystems for cell analysis. “This technology could be used one day to efficiently diagnose diseases and assess a person’s immune system,” says Kwa. In other words, it saves lives.

    Image: Timothy Kwa

    After completing his undergraduate study, Kwa was inspired by this idea of point-of-care diagnosis, and chose UC Davis specifically for Dr. Revzin’s lab which specializes in the technology. “In the Revzin Lab, I have the immense pleasure of working with surface chemists, chemical engineers, cell biologists, electrical engineers, and mechanical engineers,” says Kwa. “An interdisciplinary group is absolutely essential for developing novel and interesting technologies.”

    The Revzin Lab collaborates with Baylor University, Clarkson University, and the University of Notre Dame. Kwa’s research is linked specifically with Baylor, where they engineer special types of white blood cells. Kwa is on the cutting edge of biomedical research, trying to design and create point-of-care devices that will help to improve global health.

    With a T32 Molecular Imaging Training Grant, Kwa has been able to devote more time to that goal without having to teach on the side. After he completes his doctorate, Kwa is open to the idea of bringing his work into the global market. “If our technology shows even more promise, it’s possible that we may attempt to commercialize our devices and start a company,” says Kwa. “Making diagnostics affordable for those living in the developing world would revolutionize healthcare and make a step towards personalized medicine.”

    He can also envision himself staying within the realm of academics because of his passion for teaching and explaining ideas. One of Kwa’s main goals is to revolutionize K-12 science education by inspiring a curiosity in kids while they are still young. “Many kids express a curiosity in trying to understand this incredible world in which we live, and I would like to cultivate that curiosity into a passion for science”. No matter what path he decides to take, Kwa will be working to improve the lives of those around him.

    For more information on Kwa’s research, see the lab's focus and research specs.

    Photos Top: Timothy Kwa. Credit:  Volkmar Heinrich. Right: Kwa scrutinizes a photomask -- patterns drawn on a transparency -- that will be used to make devices for testing blood samples. Kwa spends many hours in the cleanroom where he uses photolithography to make these devices that could one day be used to rapidly diagnose diseases. Photo Credit: Elena Foster.

    Image: Xuan Li

    Xuan Li

    Ph.D. Student
    Biological Systems Engineering – Food Engineering Track

    What matters to Xuan?
    Finding a sustainable alternative for food processing.

    Xuan Li, a doctoral candidate in the Biological Systems Engineering Graduate Group, focuses his research on optimizing food processing to improve food quality and safety – specifically by peeling tomatoes. Studying in the food processing laboratory in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering under Dr. Zhongli Pan, Li is developing a more effective and sustainable method for peeling tomatoes. By using infrared heating technology, the tomatoes are peeled without using steam or chemicals – two methods widely used in the food processing industry today.

    Li specifically chose UC Davis because of its academic excellence and historical reputation in food and agricultural engineering research. “I want to bridge the gap between food science and real life by developing new technologies to improve our food quality and safety,” said Li. “The graduate program at UC Davis has given me various skills in conducting research and a solid network of industry connections, both which have helped me in pursuing this goal.”

    Li has spent time researching at the USDA-ARS Western Regional Research Center collaborating with various USDA researchers. He has also provided technological experience for projects between UC Davis, USDA, and food industry giant Del Monte Foods. Li understands the benefits of working with others, citing the help he has received from his peers. “Our studies require knowledge in various fields, so I also work closely with other engineers,” he shared. “Working in such an interdisciplinary group, I benefit not only by better understanding my research in a more comprehensive way, but also by figuring out new approaches in addressing challenging problems.” Li appreciates that having various perspectives not only widen his research, they also offer a higher potential for solving problems.

    Funding for Li’s research has been supported by a Boyd-Scott graduate research award from the American Society of Agriculture and Biological Engineering. He has also received support from the Jastro Shields research award and the Graduate Student Association travel award, which has enabled him to travel to national conventions where he can present his research. “I’m able to communicate with numerous world-renowned scientists and build a wide professional network,” said Li.

    Li works mainly with fruits and vegetables after they have been grown and harvested. However, he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He rents a plot at the Experimental College Community Garden, where he grows and harvests various organic fruits and vegetables. “Besides my study on how to peel tomatoes, learning how to grow tomatoes is great fun!” said Li. He has also ventured into other fruits and vegetables such as watermelons, cucumbers, eggplants, red swiss chards, and more. It’s obvious that Li is interested in the process of food production from start to finish. “My career goal is to provide innovative solutions for improving food quality and safety to enhance the value of agricultural products,” he shared. “As a young professional, I hope that all my efforts could contribute to the sustainable future of our food and agriculture systems.”

    To read more about Li's research, visit this "Proud to be Green" article.

    Photo: Li next to the new peeling machine the Biological and Agricultural Engineering team built. The peeling machine will be used for on-site demonstration in this coming tomato season. A video about how the machine peels tomatoes was broadcast at a Sacramento expo of food processing at Sacramento, an event hosted by the California League of Food Processor (CLFP). Watch the video. Photo credit: Bei Wang.

    Image: Elisabeth Lore

    Elisabeth M. Lore

    Ph.D. Student
    Comparative Literature

    What matters to Elisabeth?
    Bringing conflicting cultures together.

    Pursuing a higher education, in order to have an impact on the global community, is important to Elisabeth M. Lore, a doctoral student in the Comparative Literature department. Lore’s ultimate goal is to become a professor in the subject area that has done so much for her growth, Comparative Literature.

    As a comparative literature student, Lore has had the opportunity to study in Paris, France. Wanting to bring a little bit of family with her, she was able to take along her pet rabbit, Sauti (pictured), who brought immeasurable joy not only to her, but to her host family as well.

    While in France, Lore got to interact with Azouz Begag, an author she is writing about in her dissertation. “Meeting Begag and having an opportunity to hear him speak gave me quite a bit of insight into his concerns and hopes for the underprivileged, immigrant community in France,” says Lore. Her participation in the University of California Education Abroad Program, which was funded with a grant from the French department, was beneficial to her studies.

    Lore is specializing in French, Caribbean and Multilingual Literatures. “My current research focuses on what I call 'Mediating Literature',” she says. “In this type of literature, the authors appear to make conscious efforts to facilitate relationships between members of two conflicting cultures that have come together through immigration.” She also likes her ability to do interdisciplinary work and the encouragement she receives from directors in her program to do so. “Many of my colleagues have included film studies, environmental studies, and second language acquisition, as well as many other disciplines in our program.”

    The flexibility that came with being a part of the Comparative Literature department at UC Davis was a major factor in Lore’s decision to attend UC Davis. Upon visiting, she met several of the professors whose interests would coincide with what she hoped to focus on in her research. “I feel privileged to be able to pursue my doctorate here at UC Davis,” she says.

    She has enjoyed studying and meeting many great professors and students on campus, as well as teaching as a Teacher’s Assistant and Associate Instructor. The benefits from her teaching experience with UC Davis students are great. “I will take a lot of memories from my time at UC Davis,” says Lore.

    Learn more about Lore’s research.

    Image: Tyler Mackey

    Tyler Mackey

    Ph.D. Student

    What matters to Tyler?
    To inspire curiosity in others.

    Image: Chiara McKenney

    Tyler Mackey has experienced cold like few others have. A doctoral student in the Geology Department, Mackey conducts most of his research under thick sheets of ice in water just above freezing temperatures – in the middle of a frozen continent. "I have had two trips down to Antarctica in the course of my graduate work, and I am currently gearing up for a third," says Mackey.

    Mackey currently works on ice-covered lakes in Antarctica researching thick accumulations of microbes that grow over lake sediment – asking questions like how they are preserved and why they look the way they do. These mats of microbes have complicated geometries that resemble fossil microbial communities preserved in rocks that are billions of years old. "My primary motivation is to use these modern settings as keys to better interpret ancient ecosystems," shared Mackey.

    Situated in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, Mackey's research consists of diving expeditions to the bottoms of near-frozen lakes. To train for these scientific dives, Mackey works with UC Davis' diving program at the Bodega Marine Lab, where he tests his equipment and enjoys experiencing the warmer Northern California coast when not in Antarctica or working on campus.

    Image: Chiara McKenney

    "UC Davis has given me the opportunity to explore the world around me in new ways and place my observations into a more significant context," says Mackey. His research is supported by the NASA Exobiology program, Geology Department Durrell funds, the National Science Foundation and Antarctica New Zealand. "I feel fortunate to be a part of this field," he says. "And I am excited by the opportunities I have had to share an appreciation for the natural world with the broader community.";

    This sense of broader community and focus on the natural world as a whole has made Mackey appreciate his collaborative work with global institutions and individuals. "My graduate work has exposed me to other researchers in diverse fields – our field team consists of researchers from around the world." Last season in Antarctica, Mackey worked with Dr. Ian Hawes from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, Dr. Anne Jungblut from the Natural History Museum of London, and Dr. Peter Doran from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    Not only does working with world renowned scientists offer him different perspectives on his own research, it also leads to an international collaboration modeled by the scientific community that Mackey thinks is a beautiful way to cross national boundaries. "Whether research-based or not, I see such shared pursuits as necessary for a mutually-invested global community," says Mackey.

    The largest lesson Mackey has learned at UC Davis is the power of this collaborative work. "I would advise those starting a graduate program to seek out a research community and individuals with whom they can share expertise and ideas," he says.

    In the future, he would like to share his expertise and ideas with other students interested in graduate research through mentoring and teaching. "I hope to give others the opportunity I've had to engage the world in new and unexpected ways," says Mackey. "We become better stewards of our natural resources when we see ourselves as part of the larger narrative of life on Earth."

    You can follow Mackey's expeditions on his blog.

    Or check him out in action on YouTube. Amazing under ice and in water videos.

    Photos: Taken in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Top left: Mackey investigates a glacial ice blocks near Lake Joyce. Credit Dawn Sumner. Bottom left: Mackey in the dive hole handing off water samples he has collected from Lake Fryxell. Credit Amber Siebenaler. Right: MacKey warms up after a dive in Lake Fryxell. Credit Amber Siebenaler.

    Image: Chiara McKenney

    Chiara McKenney

    M.S. Student
    Civil and Environmental Engineering – Structural Engineering Track

    What matters to Chiara?
    Making our world more disaster-resilient.

    Haiti is still feeling the effects of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit in January 2010. Chiara McKenney, a master's student in the Civil Engineering Department, is helping Haitian residents rebuild their housing with stronger construction materials. Her research specifically explores how to optimize the use of local materials to improve the strength of concrete made in Haiti, since low-quality concrete was a major cause of building damage and collapse during the earthquake.

    McKenney chose to study at UC Davis because of the Civil Engineering Department’s strong reputation in earthquake engineering research. “They were also very supportive of me pursuing my degree in civil engineering, despite having a liberal arts undergraduate degree,” said McKenney. “The funding opportunities available were also a major draw.” McKenney has served as a Teaching Assistant for engineering classes which has helped her with tuition costs as well as given her a stipend.

    During her time in Haiti, McKenney worked as a structural engineer intern with Build Change, a non-profit enterprise that promotes earthquake-resistant construction. McKenney was based in the middle of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city that was hit hardest by the 2010 earthquake, with the epicenter just a mere 16 miles away.

    “I became a structural engineer so that I would have the skills and mindset to work on making our world more disaster-resilient,” said McKenney. She became inspired to pursue disaster risk mitigation after seeing the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and travelling through earthquake-prone Central Asia.

    McKenney’s experience at UC Davis has instilled in her an appreciation for the interactions one encounters when in the field of study. She says it has helped her to get to know students from a wide variety of disciplines and learn things she may never otherwise have come across.

    McKenney hopes to continue making a difference in the years ahead by improving housing, buildings and the overall environment to become more earthquake-resistant; possibly by working at a structural engineering firm or being involved in public policy and community outreach.

    “During my life, I want to make some improvement to construction practices globally, and I hope that my research here at UC Davis is just one step on that road.”

    Photos: McKenney puts sulfur caps on concrete cylinders. Credit: Daret Kehlet.

    Image: Gulustan Ozturk.

    Gulustan Ozturk

    Ph.D. Student
    Food Science, Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology Program

    What matters to Gulustan?
    Food science and research.

    As an international doctoral student from Turkey, Gulustan Ozturk wanted to continue to gain knowledge and research. In her country, there were not many opportunities for these experiences. “The doctoral program in Food Sciences at UC Davis offers invaluable advantages including internationally esteemed faculty members, innovative and well-coordinated curriculum and possibilities for research that will surely enhance a professional career in the future,” Ozturk said.

    Currently, she has been trying to develop technology that allows her to find new kind of silver nanoparticles that have antibacterial activity for the diffrent kind of applications. As a second year student, she has just begun her research and is excited to continue.

    In addition to expanding her knowledge, since being at UC Davis, Ozturk has also learned to be more disciplined and use her time efficiently. “If you do this, you will have time to experience other activities and enjoy life,” she said. There are a lot of opportunities for fun on campus. Ozturk sings Opera in the music department, sings Turkish classical music in different traditional events and enjoys working out at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC).

    After receiving her Ph.D., Ozturk plans to become a professor in Turkey so she will be able to teach and continue to research. Her studies as an undergraduate and graduate student were related to food sciences. It is something she is passionate about.

    Ozturk’s interest in food science began when she realized the importance of eating natural food. She often juices fruits and vegetables and encourages her friends to do the same. She loves using natural products and believes we have the power to transform our own well-being. “Our health is in our hands,” Ozturk said.

    Image: Sara Petrosillo with falcon.

    Sara Petrosillo

    Ph.D. Student

    What matters to Sara?
    A sense of community.

    By organizing the Hawk Walk with the Medieval Research Consortium at the West Coast Falconry in Marysville, Calif., Sara Petrosillo, an English doctoral candidate focusing on medieval literature, created a hands-on falconry experience for herself, eight other graduate students, and a faculty member.

    It’s not every day that you learn how to cast a hawk off and call it back to the glove, especially from professional falconers. “I experienced a sensation that I recognized from descriptions in medieval falconry treatises,” said Petrosillo.

    She currently researches depictions of falconry in medieval literature and art, which has involved her in studies across various disciplines, including History, Classics, French and Art History. The range of topics that medieval studies cover helps to increase interest and enables expansion of the department. Petrosillo sees how important that is, “I now have the opportunity to work with new faculty, visiting scholars, and graduate students from other departments.”

    With growing interest in her research, Petrosillo received a travel grant from the Graduate Student Association, allowing her to present her research on a national stage at the International Congress for Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. English Department Fellowships have also supported her studies, specifically in Latin and Old French.

    However, Petrosillo doesn’t take the benefits of her graduate program and the department for granted. The sense of community and importance of mentorship that is stressed is the reason why she became involved with medieval studies in the first place. The reception she received when visiting the program left an impression, which she tries to now share with her peers. “Not only have I been the recipient of invaluable mentorship from faculty and other graduate students, I have learned to pass on these qualities to colleagues and students as well.”

    The sense of community she feels in her graduate program is very similar to the one she receives from Davis the city. “The community of Davis offers an idyllic setting for raising a family and forming friendships with other graduate students outside of my program. Having a support system during the demanding job of pursuing a doctorate is essential, and I couldn’t imagine a healthier atmosphere than Davis.”

    When thinking about life after school, whether it’s in Davis or somewhere else, she isn’t stressed. “My program takes a lot of care and time to help shape us for the next step in our careers, so I am not on my own once my research here is done.” The sense of community that the graduate program fosters goes a long way with their students.

    Photo credit: Kristen Aldebol.

    Image: Katherine Pope examining a tree.

    Katherine Pope

    Ph.D. Student
    Horticulture and Agronomy

    What matters to Katherine?
    Working together to feed the planet.

    The orchards of the Central Valley serve as Katherine Pope’s part-time office. The rest of the time, the doctoral candidate in the Horticulture and Agronomy Graduate Group can be found on campus analyzing data on how cold temperatures during the winter and warm temperatures in the spring affect tree crops during different stages of the year.

    “I assist farmers in managing their orchard by helping them better understand how climate change will impact tree crops like almonds, pistachios, and walnuts in California,” said Pope. “An orchard is a long-term investment. Due to global warming, tree crop growers especially need to be planning for a warmer future to ensure sustainability of both their individual farms and of the industry as a whole in California.”

    UC Davis is one of the top institutions for studying tree crops that grow in Mediterranean climates. “Here, I have access to resources that for many researchers are unimaginable,” says Pope. “It also makes me part of a tradition of scientists and farmers working together to feed the planet while respecting the environment.”

    Pope’s ability to research these issues has stemmed from the support of various fellowships. The Ethel O. Gardner Scholarship, Beatrice Oberly and S. Atwood McKeehan Fellowship in Horticulture and Agronomy, and the Department of Plant Sciences Graduate Student Research appointment have all helped her focus more on her research. She also notes that the support received affords her more freedom when choosing a career path. "Being able to choose which job will be more rewarding, rather than which job would pay off student debt, is life altering," says Pope.

    In the near future, Pope would like to stay in the agriculture industry, researching new ways on improving tree crops and relaying that information to local farmers. She’s entertaining the idea of either going into private agricultural consulting, working in the UC Cooperative Extension system, or running her own orchard.

    In her spare time, Pope enjoys spending time outside, whether it’s tending to her vegetable garden, playing at the dog park with her pup, swimming in the pool, or exploring the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

    Photo credit: Michael Peterson.

    Image: Amber Roegner.

    Amber Roegner

    Ph.D. / D.V.M. Student
    Pharmacology and Toxicology / School of Veterinary Medicine

    What matters to Amber?
    Facilitating cultural and scientific exchange around water resources.

    How do you make the field of toxicology accessible to those most impacted? It’s not an easy question to answer, but Amber Roegner, a doctoral candidate in the Pharmacology and Toxicology Graduate Group and a D.V.M. candidate, has dedicated her research to finding a solution.

    Roegner currently conducts her research on campus in the department of Molecular Biosciences, but has also collaborated with other institutions while abroad. She spent time in Guatemala working on a project at Lake Atitlán, which included involvement with the UC Davis Ecology Graduate Group, University of Nevada at Reno, as well as two Guatemalan universities, Landivar University and Universidad del Valle. The project focused on understanding the origin and toxicity of certain types of algae blooms in the lake.

    “I participated in lake sampling, toxin testing, and talks on public health concerns relative to lake water and native fish species, as well as on the general toxicology of harmful algae blooms,” said Roegner about her experience. “I also mentored students while getting to know all the faculty and researchers in this cultural exchange project.”

    With the support of a Fulbright Fellowship, Roegner spent nine months in Uruguay at the Universidad de la República, researching advantages of alternate, time-efficient detection methods for certain types of algae blooms. She has also been awarded an EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship, an ARCS Foundation Scholar Award, a T32 Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) Award, among others.

    The UC Davis Pharmacology and Toxicology program emphasizes global and environmental health, which is one of Roegner’s favorite aspects of the program. “I’ve also enjoyed the collaboration in research and in practice that the program has fostered,” she shared. “Toxins impact both human and animal populations alike, and often communities can feel they have little control over their exposures.” This transition from her research to practical solutions for impacted communities is the challenge. “I would like to help improve the quality of water available to the most resource-limited communities, and I hope to never give up that endeavor,” Roegner added.

    Outside of her research, Roegner enjoys trail and marathon running, swimming, dancing, painting, and eating spicy foods.

    Photo credit: Hugo Villavicencio.

    Image: Elizabeth Schultz u.

    Elizabeth Schultz

    Ph.D. Student
    Animal Behavior

    What matters to Elizabeth?
    Inspiring undergrad students to pursue research.

    Elizabeth Schultz, a doctoral candidate in the Animal Behavior Graduate Group, is a veteran when it comes to research. She was introduced to it during high school and has continued conducting research ever since. Schultz studied physiology, behavior and ecology of songbirds during her undergraduate career at Indiana University, where she worked on her own research projects and interacted with graduate students. “Working in this environment allowed me to make a very informed decision about how much I would enjoy life as a graduate student, and what sorts of subjects I’d be interested in studying,” said Schultz.

    Schultz currently studies the immune function in regards to survival and reproduction in a songbird, the red crossbill, whose name quite literally describes the crossed tips of their bills used to extract seeds from conifer cones. She splits her time between a lab on campus and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, where she collaborates with the University of Wyoming. Image: Red Crossbill.

    A National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship has enabled Schultz to collect data in the field. Grants from Sigma Xi, the American Ornithologists’ Union, the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology, and the University of Wyoming and National Park Service have also helped with her research.

    Schultz has relished her time at UC Davis. “Getting my Ph.D. at a university where research is heavily emphasized has enabled me to amass a significant number of technical and professional skills that will help me be successful in my future career path.”

    To those students who are inspired to go to graduate school, Schultz gives the advice of starting research as early as possible, in order “to determine whether or not graduate school is a good fit for you, and if so, to gain an advantage over others who might not have that research experience.” During her early research days in high school and undergraduate study, Schultz was mentored by older students, who took considerable time with her to help her find her own personal interests and goals. “I would like to do the same for others,” said Schultz, “to continue to share what I’ve learned with the incredibly talented undergraduate students I’ve been lucky enough to recruit.”

    Schultz hopes to continue her career after graduating, pursuing research that will have broader applications to conservation and global/ecological health issues. Until then, she will continue doing what she loves: running, hiking, cooking, reading, being outdoors, and researching – in the field or in the lab.

    For more information on Elizabeth Schultz’s research, visit her website.

    Photos: Schultz takes a break in Grand Teton National Park; male red crossbill being examined. Credit: Marine Drouilly and Sarah Knox.

    Image: Carol Shu.

    Carol Shu

    M.F.A. Student

    What matters to Carol?
    Designing clothing sustainably and ethically.

    Design student, Carol Shu, shows there is much more to creating a collection than just making clothes. During her first year of the Master’s of Fine Arts program, she conducted research for her collection, part of the time in India.

    Shu audited a class in the Community and Regional Development Program, which helped her prepare for India. She also did research in microfinance and alternative business structures like cooperatives. “Design is inherently interdisciplinary,” she said.

    While abroad, Shu interned for ten weeks with two non-governmental organizations. A Graduate Student Association Travel Award helped Shu make her way across the world. She also received the UC Davis Humanities Research Award  and the Consortium for Women and Research Award, which was used to hire Indian artisans to embroider her garments.

    Once she arrived back in the states, Shu began designing her collection. She works with two textiles artisans back in India for her block printed and traditional Indian tie-dyed fabrics.

    As a 2007 UC Davis underclass graduate, Shu returned to the campus after taking a couple years to work in the sustainable fashion industry. As an undergraduate, she started off studying psychology but decided to go into design after taking a class in the department. “I just loved it,” Shu said. She knew she wanted to do more research for designing clothing sustainably and ethically and felt UC Davis was the best choice to make this happen. It was the only program she applied to because most art schools do not have an emphasis on research. Adding to her decision, the UC Davis Design Department is very interested and supportive of efforts to be sustainable.

    Another way in which Shu has expressed her love for all things sustainable is by starting the Aggie Re-Store, located in the Memorial Union. With the help of another graduate student and Faculty Adviser Ann Savegeau, who Shu says is amazing, she opened the store to re-sell gently used items that have been donated.

    See Soulcraft Clothing: Linking Indian Handcrafts with Sustainable Design, her final work of her Master’s career, at the Design MFA Graduation Exhibit between May 21 and June 8, 2012 in the Design Museum in Cruess Hall.

    Image: Michael Steinman.

    Michael Steinman

    Ph.D. Student
    Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology

    What matters to Michael?
    Improving human health and well being through research.

    Michael Steinman, a doctoral student in the Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology Graduate Group, studies social phobias – specifically depression. “Studies show that women are twice as likely as men to report suffering from depression,” stated Steinman. Steinman’s research aims to identify sex differences in neurobiology that might explain this discrepancy.

    Steinman works on-campus in the UC Davis Department of Psychology, but has collaborated with global institutions like the Max Planck Institute in Germany. “My group is very interdisciplinary and includes faculty and labs that cover most areas of physiology,” said Steinman. He sees this as very beneficial to his education and research because it provides access to various different perspectives and techniques.

    As an undergraduate at UC Davis, Steinman’s interests led him to study Avian Sciences, where he focused on biology and physiology. He continued his stay at UC Davis for a master’s degree in endocrinology, examining how the brain uses chemical signals to communicate with the body. “That’s when I found out I enjoyed research and wanted to pursue a Ph.D.,” said Steinman. “My master’s adviser was part of the Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology Graduate Group, and suggested the program to me because of the solid background in physiology it provides and the excellence of faculty.”

    Steinman’s research has been funded in part by a three-year Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) from the National Institute of Mental health. The funding enabled Steinman to focus on his dissertation and attend international conferences on his field of study.

    Steinman has been in Davis as a student since 2000. “UC Davis’ research environment is extremely friendly and collaborative,” he shared. “I hope that wherever I go in the future, I will be able to work closely with others and continue to exchange assistance and ideas much like I’m able to do here.”

    The primary goal of Steinman’s is to improve human health and well being through research. He also enjoys working with undergraduates, who assist him in his work. “I work regularly with a number of undergraduates in my laboratory,” he said. “When they want to go to graduate school, and build on what they have learned in the lab, I find it very exciting!”

    More information on Steinman’s research can be found on the group’s website.

    Photo credit: Sarah A. Laredo.

    Image: Natalie Strobacho.

    Natalie Strobach

    Ph.D. Student
    Comparative Literature

    What matters to Natalie?
    Impacting her community through teaching and mentoring.

    Working with various departments on research can be very enriching. Comparative literature is entirely interdisciplinary, according to Natalie Strobach. “I have had advisers from the French Department, the German Department, and the Art History Department,” she said. “I also completed a designated emphasis in Critical Theory, which draws on an interdisciplinary faculty.”

    The University of California, Davis seemed like it would offer a good experience for Strobach. “I loved the combination UC Davis offered, even among other Comparative Literature programs, of rigor and exploration,” she said.

    Strobach thinks students will get out what they put in. UC Davis offers a lot of opportunities, but students must go out and get them. “Every aspect of my doctoral career has been delightful – exhausting, no doubt, but delightful nonetheless – because of this unique program that offers both structure and also the opportunity to work with other departments and foster unique interests.” Strobach said students should realize the importance of the course their department has set out for them, while simultaneously working to personalize and capitalize on that experience. “Make it your own,” she advises.

    The daughter of a German immigrant, Strobach has “some inexplicable mad love for French” and plans to impact her community through teaching and mentoring, as well as through her research – which has already started by giving back to a program that helped her as an undergraduate student. “When I arrived at Davis, I immediately contacted the McNair Scholars Program staff to see if I could volunteer,” she said. McNair is a federal program for low-income, first-generation, underrepresented students. “Fortunately, they were looking for a Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) to mentor students throughout the three quarters and the summer in preparation for the GRE and graduate school applications.” She has been teaching students in the program for four years alongside her duties as an instructor for the Comparative Literature and French departments. She continues to be thoroughly impressed with the support our diverse student body receives from that program, the Office of Graduate Studies, and the Federal McNair Scholars Program.

    Strobach has also had the pleasure of teaching for the UC Davis Law School’s King Hall Outreach Program, which is a program similar to McNair, but focused on pre-law students. “It is yet another amazing body of students who fortunately have the support needed to capitalize on their undergraduate education,” she said. “Additionally, I am currently volunteering with the Graduate Academic Achievement and Advocacy Program where I have the opportunity to work one-on-one with undergraduate scholars who don’t have the support of a particular program and would like to benefit from mentorship.”

    The experiences that Strobach has been able to take advantage of have been preparation for her future. “This is perfect because it both builds up my experience for one day being a professor, and it also helps me to develop my research by sharing texts I love and am working on with my undergraduate students.”

    Outside of the office and classroom, you can find the Chicago implant on the quad with her dogs, Coco and Fleur, or doing something touristy. “I have to fit some tourism in whenever I can!” Strobach was also just awarded the Provost’s Dissertation Fellowship for 2012-2013, so she will have a busy year of writing ahead.

    Image: Conor Taff.

    Conor Taff

    Ph.D. Student
    Animal Behavior

    What matters to Conor?
    Inspiring college students to enjoy research through hands-on experience.

    Conor Taff's fascination with sexual selection and the evolution of mating signals of wild birds began while an undergraduate at Skidmore College. Since then, he has returned to upstate New York as a doctorate candidate to conduct fieldwork three months out of the year. For the other nine months, he can be found in the lab of Gail Patricelli on the UC Davis campus.

    A doctoral candidate in the Animal Behavior Graduate Group, Taff collaborates with other graduate groups at Davis, as well as with programs from other institutions, including Skidmore College, Bucknell University, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, and Arcadia University. "Getting different perspectives on your own work can be really illuminating," shared Taff. "In a few cases, this type of interaction has suggested a new line of inquiry for my own work and changed the direction of my project."

    Image: Taff searching with binoculars. Image: Male Common Yellowthroat  Warbler.

    Taff got his own perspective of UC Davis before he even applied to graduate school. He served as Associate Professor Patricelli's field assistant, not knowing that later she would become his doctorate adviser. "I got a great sense for what the lab and environment would be like here," Taff said. "Not to mention that UC Davis is perennially ranked among the top five schools in the United States for evolution and ecology."

    Taff's research focuses on the purpose and effectiveness of mating signals, as well as their relationship with sexual selection. According to Taff, the colorful, eccentric mating signals of wild birds (especially in his sample of Common Yellowthroat Warblers) seem unnecessary at first glance, and risky in regards to an efficient adaptation to their environment. "Despite these risks, sexual signals persist in many species across a wide range of taxonomic groups," said Taff. "The goal is to describe general patterns and principles that might contribute to the patterns of diversity in signaling across many species."

    Various funding awards have allowed Taff to focus intently on research throughout his years at UC Davis. He has been the recipient of a UC Davis Graduate Research Fellowship as well as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. "Both of these were incredibly beneficial because they have given me the flexibility to pursue my fieldwork and collaborations outside of Davis without having to be tied to campus,” said Taff. "I have no doubt that without these fellowships I wouldn't have been nearly as productive in my own research."

    In the near future, Taff hopes to find a faculty job in which he can run his own research program. "UC Davis has given me both the exposure to experts in a variety of fields and the time to absorb what I need to know to be confident that I can put together a successful research program." One of his main reasons for pursuing his goal of a faculty position is to inspire undergraduate and graduate students to enjoy research as much as he does. "When I engaged in data collection in class as an undergraduate, it made my work much more interesting. I hope that I can provide that same experience to my own students."

    To get a more in-depth look at Taff's research, visit his website.

    Photos: Taff holds the Greater-Sage Grouse; a male Common Yellowthroat Warbler rests on a branch; Taff zeros in on bird life in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. Credits: Conor Taff and Gail Patricelli.

    Image: Juliet Wahleithner.

    Juliet Wahleithner

    Ph.D. Student
    Education - Language, Literacy and Culture Track with a Designated Emphasis in Writing, Rhetoric and Communication Studies

    What matters to Juliet?
    Engaging students as we teach.

    Education Ph.D. candidate aims to shed light on the need to provide teachers with better support in teaching writing and the best ways to make it happen. Juliet Wahleithner, former high school English teacher, hopes to hold an academic position that combines both of her passions. “I very much enjoy engaging in research, but, as a former high school teacher, I also enjoy having opportunities to teach,” she said.

    An education at the University of California, Davis comes with a lot of opportunities, both as an undergrad and graduate student. Wahleithner encourages students to take advantage of all of them. “I did my undergraduate degree at UC Davis and was very pleased with my experience and the opportunities I had,” she said. “At the time I applied to graduate school, I was based in Sacramento, so UC Davis seemed like a natural choice.” She knew there would be experiences at her alma mater, both in her department and across the campus as a whole, which she would not have found elsewhere.

    Wahleithner is currently involved with three research projects at UC Davis. With her advisor, Professor Steven Athanases, she is examining the role teacher inquiry plays in new teachers’ knowledge development. She is also working on an evaluation with the UC Evaluation Center. Under the direction of Professor Michal Kurlaender, Wahleithner is taking a look at the impact of a five-year California Academic Partnership Program grant focused on expository reading and writing at a local middle school.

    For her dissertation, Wahleithner looks at how high school English teachers use knowledge of writing instruction to negotiate diverse student need and high stakes accountability pressures as they teach writing. Her information gathering included a survey of 171 high school teachers and observing eight teachers who teach in counties in Northern California.

    As a Professors for the Future (PFTF) fellow, she has been able to take advantage of leadership opportunities outside of graduate school. Through PFTF, she received money that has helped her fund her dissertation research. To further her leadership development, Wahleithner attended a Summer Institute in 2011 through the UC Evaluation Center at UC Santa Barbara, which allowed her to network and gain knowledge that was useful for her work. During her studies at UC Davis, Wahleithner has also received Graduate Program Fellowships, which have helped support her financially so that she can focus on her research. She has also been a recipient of travel grants, which have enabled her to attend national conferences to share her work and continue networking with others in the field.

    Wahleithner has taken her own advice by being involved in many capacities on campus. For the past four years, she has coordinated the Academic Literacy Summit, a one-day event for regional educators. “One of the things I really value from my experience at UC Davis is the opportunity I’ve had for collaboration, both with others in the School of Education and with people through the wider campus community,” she said.

    When she's not busy studying, Wahleithner can be found running as a member of the Impala Racing Team, based in San Francisco.

    Learn more about Wahleithner’s research.

    Image: Melisa Whitaker.

    Melissa Whitaker

    Ph.D. Student

    What matters to Melissa?
    Impacting others through science outreach and service.

    Melissa Whitaker, a Ph.D. candidate in the Ecology graduate group, is currently studying the evolution of diet and parasitism in the lycaenid family of butterflies, and she has a knack for collaborating with others whether it’s on campus or around the world.

    Locally based in Dr. Art Shapiro’s Butterfly Lab in the Evolution and Ecology Department, Whitaker has worked on interdisciplinary projects combining computer science, natural history education, and biodiversity informatics under the UC Davis REACH IGERT program.

    Globally, her collaborations have included projects with various international research universities, including Kyoto University (Japan) and University of Tartu (Estonia) – not to mention she has also been to Uganda, Borneo, Peru, Thailand, Singapore and Costa Rica for other projects. Nationally, she has worked with top research universities like Harvard and the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

    Whitaker has received numerous fellowships that have funded her studies and travel. “I have always been diligent about going after my own funding,” she said. “Through the process I have learned a lot about grant writing and creating a strong research proposal.” She has received various travel awards and fellowships, including the Young Explorers Grant from the National Geographic Society, the Research Award from the UC Davis Center for Population Biology, the Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship, and several others.

    However, the extent of Whitaker’s work doesn’t stop at just research. She has recently made her mark on the mobile technology industry, as she has just released a new mobile app, “The Butterfly Guide,” that is available for free in iTunes. “It’s an educational iPhone app that I created in collaboration with two Computer Science undergrads at UC Davis,” she shared. “It serves as an electronic field guide to the butterflies of our region, and has features to promote citizen science and natural history education.” She plans to impact the local and global community through teaching, science outreach, and service – three things she has already successfully achieved during her time on and off campus.

    When not in the lab, developing new mobile technology, or traveling the globe, Whitaker enjoys running, cooking and yoga.

    Photo: Taken in Sutter Buttes, Calif. by Elizabeth C. Long.

    Image: Amy Williams.

    Amy Williams

    Ph.D. Student

    What matters to Amy?
    Exploring life's more fundamental questions.

    Image: Mars Rover.

    Amy Williams changed her field of study for the chance of a lifetime. With a master's in aqueous geochemistry from the University of New Mexico, Williams chose UC Davis for a Ph.D. in geo-biology when the opportunity arose to become a part of NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover Team. "When do you get to work on a mission to Mars!?" exclaimed Williams.

    Working with her UC Davis adviser, Dr. Dawn Sumner, William's research focuses on the ways microbial life is preserved by minerals, and how it applies to discovering these biosignatures and a habitable environment on Mars. "As a member of the rover team, I can suggest places on Mars to look for these types of biosignatures (if they exist) with the camera systems onboard Curiosity," she said.

    Last fall, Williams lived in Pasadena, California working on the mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Currently, she spends most of her time on campus, both in the geology department as well as the Dawson Lab in the microbiology department. William's research group includes researchers with interests ranging from microbial mat communities and growth forms in Antarctica to 500 million year old microbial communities preserved in rocks. "The diversity of research and experiences in my lab group allows us great resources over a wide range of topics and engaging discussions that broaden our studies," said Williams.

    Williams has always held an interest in science's fundamental questions. "The big picture questions posed in the field of astrobiology, like what life might be like elsewhere in the universe, can be addressed the same way we explore interesting geobiological questions on Earth," she said. Studying geobiology at UC Davis has enabled her to work in a cooperative research group, research under a respected professor, and pursue her passion for teaching.

    "I am at the point in my career where developing research and teaching philosophies is critical to my future job prospects," says Williams. She has taken advantage of several of the professional development programs that UC Davis has to offer, such as the Pathways Career Symposium and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning's Powerful Pedagogy teaching workshop. These have especially helped her in balancing her pursuit of teaching, undergraduate mentoring, research, and life goals.

    "One of my goals as a faculty member is to introduce undergraduates, and especially minority students, to scientific research," says Williams. "The purpose of getting my Ph.D. is to teach in the geosciences at a primarily undergraduate institution." Williams believes in a strong foundation in undergraduate learning, which allows students to make informed choices about their future pursuits. "I look forward to continuing my mentoring in this capacity," she added.

    Follow Williams' research.

    Photos: Top: Amy Williams in Death Valley. Credit: Tyler Mackey. Right: Mars Rover. Credit: NASA.

    Image: Thomas Williams.

    Thomas Williams

    Ph.D. Student
    Food Science

    Image: Lettuce crop. What matters to Thomas?
    Food safety.

    A 2007 University of California, Davis undergraduate made his way back to the college town to pursue his Ph.D. after traveling the world for a year.

    His work in the Food Sciences Department is related to microbial diversity found on plants as well as microbial food safety. Williams, who worked as a waiter for eight years, said he has always considered himself a foodie, a person who is aware of the food they intake and have an appreciation that comes with eating and making food.

    “In our study, we examined the phyllosphere microbiota on Romaine lettuce grown in a single field in the Salinas Valley, Calif. May-July (early season) and August-October (late season) during two consecutive years,” reads his abstract. “This work demonstrates the significant variability and also the potential predictability of the microbial populations in the lettuce phyllosphere which can be used to assess the risk of human pathogen contamination of crops.”

    Throughout his graduate education at UC Davis, Williams has completed Teaching Assistantships in Microbial Diversity laboratories for the Microbiology Department. He has also received multiple department scholarships and has been a part of a United States Department of Agriculture AFRI NIFA grant under the supervision of advisor Dr. Maria Marco and in collaboration with Dr. Linda Harris, Cooperative Extension Specialist in Microbial Food Safety. Williams has also collaborated with the Microbiology Department and with the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

    Outside of conducting research, the foodie and former waiter enjoys reading fiction, playing baseball, snowboarding, and spending time with friends and family. Williams also said he has a desire to learn how to make fermented food. Hopefully, he will be able to take a class with Dr. Charlie Bamforth, Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences, before graduating with his doctorate in 2013.

    Williams, who has “a nerdy passion for environmental issues,” is still figuring out what he plans to do with his future but no matter what, he wants to put the skills he has learned since his career first began at the University of California, Davis at the forefront of 21st century research.

    Alumni Spotlights
    Image: Mei Lin Chan.

    Mei Lin Chan

    Ph.D. Student
    Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering

    What matters to Mei Lin?
    Cutting-edge research.

    It might be a long flight home to visit her family in Singapore, but international graduate student Mei Lin Chan knows that studying at UC Davis is well worth the mileage.

    “At UC Davis you can’t help but pick up knowledge from all different fields,” says Chan. As an example, the projects Chan works on involve extensive collaboration with biologists on campus. “By experiencing the way scientists from other disciplines approach and interpret their research, it allows me to become more knowledgeable of the possibilities and the application of my work,” continues Chan. “I am already prepared with the skill set to work in the collaborative environments that scientists at the cutting edge of research expect.”

    Chan’s research interests include Nano/Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (NEMS/MEMS); Microfluidics and Biosensor Technology; and Nano-Optics.

    Since completing her graduate degree from UC Davis... Chan is a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis.

    Learn more about Chan’s research.

    Image: Greg Cunningham.

    Greg Cunningham

    Ph.D. Student
    Physiology (now Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology Graduate Group)

    What matters to Greg Cunningham?
    Understanding animal physiology.

    On the island of Kerguelen in the sub-Antarctic waters of the Indian Ocean, alumnus Greg Cunningham, conducted research in collaboration with Dr. Henri Weimerskirch from the Centre d‘Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique from France.

    While working with his adviser, Dr. Gabrielle Nevitt at the University of California, Davis, Cunningham found that birds begin to learn and recognize smells before they leave the nest and sometimes as early as when they are still inside their shells. Currently, an Assistant Professor at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, Cunningham continues to conduct research on birds and their olfactory functions. But that is not all he does in his home across the country. “I teach in the Biology department, and teach courses such as animal physiology, animal behavior and zoology,” says Cunningham. His intended goals as a Ph.D. student are being met in his current position at the small liberal arts college.

    From being a part of the Professors for the Future 2004-2005 cohort to working with the Teaching Resources Center on campus, Cunningham gained a lot of training by being actively engaged in programs that UC Davis offers its students. “These experiences were crucial in my development of my teaching skills, and much of my current approach to teaching stems from what I learned from both attending and hosting sessions put on by the Teaching Resource Center,” says Cunningham.

    Graduate school at UC Davis helped Cunningham pursue both of his passions simultaneously. “Since I was in grade school, I have wanted to be a teacher and since my final year of college I have wanted to research birds,” he says. “I was interested in working with some sort of Antarctic bird for my research and also wanted to stay in California as I was living in Monterey at the time and had grown to really love California. When I found Dr. Nevitt on the UC Davis website, and saw that she worked in the deep south, I contacted her and applied.”

    As a student at UC Davis, Cunningham performed as our loving Mascot, Gunrock. He also wrote and played music, as he continues to do with his current band, “Big Tuna and the Fishermen”. His band plays for charity and cancer research events. “I hope to continue to have an impact on the lives of the students of St. John Fisher College both academically and by helping them to put their education into the bigger picture of their life and its goals,” he says.

    His valuable experience at UC Davis is one that Cunningham has not taken for granted. “Not only did I get an A+ education while attending Davis, but my experiences and friendships helped to make me into the person, teacher and scientist that I am today. For this reason, I’ll always have a sweet spot in my heart for Davis,” says Cunningham.

    Since completing his graduate degree from UC Davis... Cunningham is Assistant Professor of Biology for St. John Fisher College in New York.

    Image: James Flint Harwood.

    James Flint Harwood

    Ph.D. Student

    What matters to James?
    Conducting research.

    As an entomology graduate student, James Harwood has had the opportunity to collaborate with researchers from other departments on campus, as well as other institutions. Harwood has worked with scientists from UC Berkeley, Stanford University and El Colegio de la Frontera Sur in Mexico. The faculty and staff at UC Davis are supportive of graduate students and strive to see them succeed. The ease of collaboration and support of the faculty at UC Davis provide a great environment to conduct research and prepare students for a career in science.

    “When I decided to enter graduate school, UC Davis was my top choice,” says Harwood. “Because of the university’s prestigious entomology department and the reputation Davis has as a research institution – my choice was simple.”

    As an undergraduate at CSU, Bakersfield, Harwood knew that if he wanted to attend graduate school he would have to set himself apart from other students. “I worked hard in my courses and went out of my way to gain research experience,” says Harwood. “I had opportunities to work with several faculty members in the biology department and serve as a research assistant for the USDA. The research experience that I accumulated as an undergraduate was instrumental in my acceptance to UC Davis.”

    Harwood is pursuing a Ph.D. in entomology because he is fascinated with the subject, enjoys the research, and he would like to eventually have a career in academia. “Being able to study entomology at UC Davis is a great honor and a dream come true for me,” says Harwood.

    Learn more about Harwood’s research.

    Image: David McCollum.

    David McCollum

    Ph.D. Student
    Transportation Technology and Policy

    What matters to David?
    Powering the future.

    “I’ve been very fortunate,” says David McCollum. “As a Ph.D. student in the interdisciplinary Transportation Technology and Policy Graduate Group, I have received fellowships that have enabled me to pursue research opportunities and discover new ways to power our future.”

    McCollum has received fellowship support (twice) from the ARCS Foundation (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists), a national non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds for financial assistance to gifted and deserving students in the physical sciences and engineering. He has also been awarded the Eisenhower and Chevron Fellowships. These funding opportunities have allowed McCollum to participate in things that would otherwise have been out of his reach.

    McCollum also participated in a three-month program with Argonne National Lab in Washington D.C. and he spent a summer in Vienna, participating in a fellowship for young scientists at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

    “These engaging experiences have enhanced my network with other scientists worldwide, and they enrich the knowledge I share with UC Davis colleagues,” says McCollum.

    Since completing his graduate degree from UC Davis... McCollum is working for the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) Energy Program in Laxenburg, Austria. He is a Research Scholar studying long-term energy modeling and scenario analysis.

    Image: Hope Mirlis.

    Hope Mirlis

    M.F.A. Student
    Dramatic Art - Acting concentration

    What matters to Hope?
    Inspiring others.

    Hope Mirlis operated a theatre company in Atlanta for about 10 years and both choreographed and performed locally. After being in the performance field for a number of years, Mirlis decided it was time to hone her artistic chops.

    “It was important that I look for a two-year program that prided itself in a collaborative and interdisciplinary environment,” says Mirlis. “UC Davis was one of the few who offered this important component, easily making it the best match for me.”

    “I also wanted a program for mid-career professionals, not a conservatory,” continues Mirlis. “So I knew I would need to plan my own journey and ask for guidance from advisors along the way. If you are looking for teaching opportunities and truly interesting performing options, then UC Davis is a great choice.”

    Receiving her M.F.A. means that Mirlis will have a highly regarded terminal degree in her field and she will be able to teach at the university level. Plus with the expansive education she received, Mirlis has added valuable new skills and techniques to her performance toolbox.

    Since completing her graduate degree from UC Davis... Mirlis is performing and teaching in New York.

    Image: Shannon Murphy.

    Shannon Murphy

    M.S. Student
    Avian Sciences

    What matters to Shannon?
    The welfare of our feathered friends.

    UC Davis alumna and current Wildlife Biologist for ICF International (formerly, Jones & Stokes) Shannon Murphy plans to continue her education by pursuing a Ph.D. in studying behavioral ecology in relation to birds. Her passion for the welfare of captive parrots led her to do research in the UC Davis Avian Sciences Graduate Group. (Murphy is pictured here interacting with one her favorite birds, an Orange-Winged Amazon Parrot named Zilla.)

    As a graduate student at UC Davis, Murphy’s research focused on the bathing and preening behavior of captive Orange-Winged Amazon parrots. “I chose UC Davis because it is one of the only schools (if not the only) in the country that have a captive parrot population available for behavior and welfare research.” Murphy’s education at UC Davis has been valuable to opening doors that may not have been opened otherwise. “Although my research focused on captive parrot behavior, my M.S. in Avian Sciences can lead to various careers related to avian science, working with either wild or captive birds.”

    With a UC Davis education come resources both in and outside of the university and city. “I was awarded the Jastro Shields Research Award and the UC Davis and Humanities Graduate Research Fellowship, both of which contributed to supplies and equipment necessary to perform my research. Our lab (PI: James R. Millam) is also supported by The Winn Endowment for Parrot Research which provides substantial funding for parrot-related research,” says Murphy. As an out-of-state student, fees can be difficult to pay. “The UC Davis Graduate Program Fellowship provided the much needed out-of-state tuition during my first year as a student at UC Davis, before I became a California resident.”

    Even on her days outside of her academic and work lives, her research interests are shown. She likes to go bird watching, go on birding trips, or find rare migratory birds that show up in the area. But that is not all she does. “On a day outside of the lab you might find me spending time with my friends, walking my dog or reading a good book,” Murphy says.

    While doing research at UC Davis, Murphy became a more well-rounded person – gaining useful skills and lifelong friends along the way. “I have enjoyed my experience here at UC Davis so much that I hope to pursue a Ph.D. here, as well.”

    Since completing her graduate degree from UC Davis... Murphy is a Research Ecologist at UC Davis.

    Image: Lauren Porensky with farmers in Kenya.

    Lauren Porensky

    Ph.D. Student

    What matters to Lauren?
    Conserving biodiversity in human-dominated landscapes.

    “The adviser-student dynamic is essential in creating a successful atmosphere for a graduate student,” says Lauren Porensky, a 2012 graduate from the Ecology Graduate Group. “I made an effort to choose the adviser who seemed like the best fit for me.”

    Porensky studied under Professor Truman Young, researching the impacts of livestock management activities on ecology and conservation in central Kenya. Most of her dissertation work was done in Kenya, where she collaborated with the Mpala Research Centre, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Jessel Ranch to study ecological edge effects around abandoned cattle corrals.

    While in Kenya, Porensky became involved in community outreach. She frequently shared her findings with local land managers. “I developed a pictorial plant guide and a rangeland monitoring guide for the land managers,” said Porensky. “I also presented my results at local ‘discovery days’ and published findings in local newsletters.”

    Porensky attributes the success she experienced in her field of research to the solid foundation the Ecology graduate group develops in their students. This is achieved through formal training before students are released into the field. Porensky appreciated the collaborative and friendly atmosphere of the program, noting that the success in her research resulted, in part, from the open academic relationships encouraged in the program between faculty and their students, as well as between students and their peers.
    Porensky garnered financial support for her research through various fellowships and grants, including the National Science Foundation’s Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant and their Graduate Research Fellowship, Travel Awards from Society for Conservation Biology, and many others. “My graduate school experience would have been much less rewarding without fellowships,” shared Porensky. “They paid my stipend and also gave me the research funding to conduct experiments in Kenya.”

    For Porensky, the graduate education she received at UC Davis was invaluable. It has prepared her for a long and successful career in ecology by cultivating leadership qualities through her studies and work abroad.

    Since completing her graduate degree at UC Davis… Porensky is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Nevada at Reno, focusing on applied restoration techniques for the Great Basin.

    During her free time she is involved in various outdoor activities, including hiking, backpacking, rock climbing and backcountry skiing. She is also looking forward to volunteering at Reno’s Habitat for Humanity program.

    Photo credit: Solveig Franziska Bucher.

    Image: Thuppil (with laptop) shows happy villagers videos of elephants being deterred by playbacks.

    Vivek Thuppil

    Ph.D. Student
    Animal Behavior

    Image: Hand-drawn diagrams were used to instruct farmers on correct assembly. What matters to Vivek?
    Freedom to conduct research that directly supports society.

    We don't normally think of elephants as being a threat to human life and well-being. But in southern India, elephants can be just that. Vivek Thuppil, a recent doctoral graduate in the Animal Behavior Graduate Group, spent the last few years in the fields of southern India conducting research on crop-raiding behavior by wild Asian elephants. While crop-raiding, these wild elephants can destroy farmers' complete harvests, and have been known to even kill them by trampling. It's obvious why local farmers are looking for a solution.

    This is where Thuppil comes in. His research focused on finding a non-violent way to decrease, and at times totally relieve, the number of instances that farmers have to deal with the conflict that crop-raiding creates. “I study anti-predator behavior in wild Asian elephants and determine whether threatening recorded sounds could be used to mitigate crop-raiding by Asian elephants, a major form of human-elephant conflict,” shared Thuppil. He and his team have produced playbacks using inexpensive speakers that play perceived threatening recordings of tiger growls and other threatening loud sounds – which kick on once an elephant has tripped the sensor. Numerous speakers are placed around a farmer's property, which has resulted in deterring elephants from entering the crop areas."

    "I chose UC Davis mainly due to Professor Dick Coss, who was very interested in my research interests and was willing to give me the academic freedom to pursue my own research goals," said Thuppil. "The Animal Behavior Graduate Group is also one of the best animal behavior programs in the world."

    Image: Workers assemble the electronics setup for the devices.

    This freedom allowed Thuppil to conduct research that directly supported society, one of his top priorities. In the future, Thuppil hopes to get a postdoctoral fellowship or a conservation biologist position at a zoo in order to continue his research.

    Various university fellowships have also played an important role in the academic freedom that Thuppil has experienced. He has received an Animal Behavior Graduate Group Mini Fellowship, a UC Davis and Humanities Graduate Research Fellowship, the Bert and Nell Krantz International Agriculture Fellowship, and the Tracy and Ruth Storer Zoology Fellowship.

    Whether he embarks on an academic postdoc or a conservation position with a zoo, Thuppil hopes to continue being a mediator of human-elephant contact. "I want to benefit both Asian elephants [an endangered species] and villagers whose lives and livelihoods are at risk due to crop-raiding behavior."

    Thuppil caught the travel bug during his research in southern India. "Travelling is my main passion. During my studies, I was also able to travel to other parts of the world like Costa Rica, Kenya, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and South Africa."

    You can follow Thuppil's research and whereabouts on his research blog.

    Photos: Top: Thuppil (with laptop) shows happy villagers videos of elephants being deterred by playbacks. Right top: Hand-drawn diagrams were used to instruct farmers on correct assembly. Right Bottom: Workers assemble the electronics setup for the devices. Credits: Vivek Thuppil and Jan Coss.

    Image: Wilson To.

    Wilson To

    Ph.D. Student
    Comparative Pathology

    What matters to Wilson?
    Making a dent in the world and helping others to do the same.

    Graduating in June 2012, Wilson To hopes to make a dent in the world. “No matter how important my research is to me, in the bigger picture, it’s only a small bit of the overall research in the field,” says To. The comparative pathology Ph.D. candidate has been researching disease processes in humans by looking at the microcirculation in the small blood vessels of the eye. Paying attention to the microcirculation in our bodies can help give a peek into the body, and detect changes due to disease early. To is trying to answer the question, “How do we find diseases earlier and stop them from damaging the body?”

    To, whose career path was originally optometry, became a Gates Foundation Fellow after graduating high school. The foundation has covered education costs from his undergrad years until now. He was also a previous recipient of the Hugh Edmondson Research Fellowship through his department.

    Currently, To spends most of his time in the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento but can also be found taking classes in Valley Hall on the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine campus. Studying comparative pathology allows him to study both humans and animals. “I get the best of both worlds,” he says.

    The UC San Diego alumnus wanted to stay within the UC system. UC Davis was the only graduate school he applied to because he was introduced to the program as an undergrad and was thoroughly impressed. “Many universities don’t have the opportunity reach across the multidisciplinary spectrum,” To says.

    Over his three years at UC Davis, To has talked to people from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicinel to others in the College of Engineering. “It’s been really fun working with all these different people,” To says. To says in order to get your research out of the lab and into the real world, students must talk to people outside of their field.

    As a student on this campus, To believes he is in a unique position to inspire other students to do research and use the resources available here to do so. He has been involved in mentoring programs. These opportunities were made possible through the Microsoft Student Partners program, as well as their annual Imagine Cup technology competition. To has taught students K-12 how to use technology positively. In the Imagine Cup, students 16 years and older compete to create the best technology to solve today’s toughest problems. During the past year’s competition, To mentored one of the teams.

    After June, To plans to work in the industry and develop a new perspective of the work he does in the lab. One of his projects was recently awarded a slice of a 3-year, $3 million Microsoft Grant which will help fund further research and product incubation. He hopes to continue making dents in the world and help others do the same. “One of the most important things you can do is inspire someone,” To says.

    Last Updated: April 2, 2013