Colgate student and alumnus win NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

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National Science Foundation announces recipients of prestigious fellowship that funds graduate work in STEM research.


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Colgate senior, Jacob Watts, and 2017 alumnus, Humberto Ochoa, its highly competitive Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) grant that provides support for US scientific leaders of tomorrow. According to NSF, the GRFP “is the nation’s oldest fellowship program providing support to graduate students in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields”. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees.

Jacob Watts in the field
Jacob Watts '21

Jacob, a Biology major from North East, Pennsylvania, began his Colgate research working in Professor Eddie Watkins' Fern Ecophysiology Lab as a first-year. Now, as a graduating senior, he will use his NSF GRFP funding to study tropical fern evolutionary ecophysiology at the University of Minnesota's (UMN) Plant and Microbial Biology Department with Distinguished McKnight University Professor Jeannine Cavender-Bares. During his time at UMN, he plans to use plant physiology to inform models which predict the future distribution of tropical ferns in a rapidly changing climate. This summer (2021), Jacob will work in Honolulu, Hawaii to serve as a research assistant for Professor Chris Muir in the plant ecophysiology lab at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. There, he also expects to go on many hikes to explore the diverse tropical flora. In the Fall, Jacob will attend the University of Cambridge as a Churchill Scholar to complete a one-year master’s degree in Plant Sciences. His mentor at Cambridge will be Colgate alumnus, Dr. Adam Pellegrini '10. His GRFP will then fully fund the first three years of his PhD at UMN – to start in the Fall of 2022.

Humberto, also a Colgate Biology major, hails from Trenton, New Jersey and started his research career in the lab of Colgate Professor, Engda Hagos, which he began in his sophomore year. Later, he served as a mentor to first and second-year students on the Hagos team.

Humberto Ochoa in the lab
Humberto Ochoa '17

In the summer before his senior year, Humberto served as a research assistant to Senior Investigator Dr. Lalage Wakefield at the NIH in Bethesda, MD. He stayed on in the Fall to complete the Colgate NIH Study Group. After Colgate, he spent two years with the NIH National Cancer Institute as a recipient of the NIH Cancer Research Training Award (CRTA) working again with Dr. Lalage Wakefield. Humberto is now in his second year of his PhD program in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and works in the RNA Therapeutics Institute under Dr. Craig Mello. Humberto will use his NSF GRFP funding to continue his work on small RNAs at UMass Medical School. 

NSF Fellows are anticipated to become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering. These individuals are vital to maintaining and advancing the nation's technological infrastructure and national security as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large.

Fellows share in the prestige and opportunities when they are selected. Fellowships provide the student with a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, as well as access to opportunities for professional development available to NSF-supported graduate students.

Additionally, five Colgate alumni were awarded NSF GRFP Honorable Mentions:

John Bennett '19, Biochemistry and Classics (Stanford University)
Courtney Benoit '17, Molecular Biology (Harvard Medical School) 
Liam Friar '15, Physics (University of Colorado Boulder)
William Rosencrans '19, Physics (California Institute of Technology)
Maryann Webb '18, Environmental Biology and Spanish (Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology)