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Six UF/IFAS CALS Students Named to the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Creating high school science fair projects inspired Ann Bernert to pursue a career in science and share research discoveries with the public. Bernert will be able to pursue her research goals after receiving a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate student research fellowship.

“I’m so grateful for the support I’ve had throughout this process,” Bernert said. “Winning this award shows that you have a supportive community behind you. I’m grateful to the plant molecular and cellular biology program and to Dr. Gilles Basset who spent a lot of time working with me on the application.”

Bernert along with five additional UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) students were among the 2,000 students who received an NSF fellowship this year. More than 12,000 students across the country applied for the fellowship. Seventeen of the NSF fellowship recipients attend the University of Florida.

The fellowship program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines who are pursuing degrees at U.S. institutions.  Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 allowance for tuition and fees, opportunities for international research and professional development, and freedom to conduct their own research.

“The NSF fellows program has a history of supporting graduate students who go on to contribute significantly to innovations in science,” said CALS Dean Elaine Turner. “We are very proud of the CALS students receiving an NSF fellowship. They carry on the land-grant tradition of scientific discovery and sharing knowledge with the public.”

The following CALS students received an NSF fellowship:

  • Ann Bernert, Ph.D. student studying plant molecular and cellular biology
  • Jeannie Marie Klein-Gordon, Ph.D. student studying plant pathology
  • Kimberly Joan Ledger, Ph.D. student studying wildlife ecology and conservation
  • Julio C. Pachon, Ph.D. student studying soil and water sciences
  • Clancy Short, master’s student studying entomology and nematology
  • Sharmin Farhan Siddiqui, Ph.D. student studying environmental engineering in the UF/IFAS agricultural and biological engineering department

Much of Bernert’s motivation to apply for the NSF fellowship came from a desire for independently supporting her research and to graduate debt-free. Bernert said the funding makes it easier to conduct outreach events and hone science communication skills.

Finding ways to spread scientific knowledge is something that Bernert has been involved with for several years. During her undergraduate career at Oregon State University, Bernert created a project with her local Extension center that introduced high school students to different agricultural industries and lab research through field trips. The program introduces students to STEM careers and is still happening today.

Bernert continues to mentor students participating in science fair, and volunteers to talk about plant science in K-12 schools in the Gainesville community.

“As a female in science, being a role model for others is important to me,” Bernert said. “I want to be a part of encouraging young females to pursue STEM careers.”

The NSF grant will support Bernert’s research on novel gene discovery in plants to improve plant stress defense. She hopes her discoveries can advance the field of synthetic biology development and have applications to novel pharmaceutical compounds, and for agricultural crops to maintain high energy production while under stress.

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The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution. Visit the CALS website at cals.ufl.edu, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.

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