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Biology students win 2021 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

By Srila Nayak

Two Ph.D. students in the College of Science have been selected for the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSFGRF). They are among 10 Oregon State University students to receive the NSFGRF award this year. Kristofer Bauer and Cheyenne Jarman, both first year doctoral students in the Department of Integrative Biology, have received the NSF award to support their research in the fields of marine science, evolution and ecosystem management.

College of Science alumna Lorraine Waianuhea (Biology ’18), currently a research assistant at the San Diego Zoo Global, has also received the 2021 NSF award.

The NSF GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at US institutions. In 2021, NSF offered a total of 2,074 awards to students from a competitive pool of applicants from all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support including an annual stipend of $34,000 and a cost of education allowance of $12,000 to the institution.

As a NSF Fellow, Bauer will investigate how marine invertebrates may be adapting to climate change, specifically to low oxygen conditions known as “hypoxia.” Since 2002, hypoxia or oxygen-depleted waters have been a recurrent condition off the Oregon coast each summer killing crabs, fishes and other marine life.

In the lab of his advisor Felipe Barreto, Bauer studies how organisms like copepods, small crustaceans, adjust to low oxygen environments and the effects of hypoxia on evolution and genetic variations among a species as they adapt in response to changing climatic conditions.

NSF Graduate Fellow Kris Bauer

NSF Graduate Fellow Kris Bauer

“I’m hoping that that the implications of my work can influence the management of fisheries, as copepods are really important prey for predators like salmon and tuna,” said Bauer. His project will also focus on how genetic changes in copepods can shed light on adaptations in other marine organisms facing hypoxic conditions.

Bauer graduated with a degree in biology from Oregon State after gaining research experience in the marine ecology centered Menge-Lubchenco Lab under the supervision of postdoctoral scientist Sarah Gravem and Professor Bruce Menge. As an undergrad, Bauer received the Alexei Lubchenco Menge Fellowship to support his ecological field research on barnacles and mussels population dynamics in rocky intertidal habitats.

Bauer worked on different aspects of marine biology across four labs during the course of his undergraduate career and published research on an intertidal predator with Barreto in the journal Marine Biology. The latter project, which studied the mating behavior of an intertidal sea star, Leptasterias, was facilitated by the College of Science’s donor-supported Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE Science) scholarship.

Bauer derives inspiration to pursue science from his own health battles. Diagnosed with a life-threatening bacterial infection in high school and with cancer in his final year at OSU, Bauer and his teams of doctors successfully overcame both health challenges.

“Each of these experiences led me to confront my mortality and realize that every day is important. As a scientist I am regularly reminded of humanity's mortality and of our mutual obligation to maintain our planet’s health,” Bauer noted.

NSF Graduate Fellow Cheyenne Jarman.

NSF Graduate Fellow Cheyenne Jarman

A first-generation college graduate from Los Angeles, Jarman is pursuing doctoral research in the lab of Professor Mark Novak in the Department of Integrative Biology. Her NSF-supported research project examines predator-prey behavioral (non-consumptive) interactions to strengthen conservation and the management of ecosystems. Jarman’s research will specifically focus on examining the higher order interactions between grazers (animals that feed on plants) and their predators to better understand what drives changes in ecosystem composition.

Jarman graduated with high honors in marine biology and computer science from University of California-Santa Cruz where she was a STEM Diversity Fellow and conducted research in a Coastal Ecosystems Lab. She was awarded the Seymour Marine Discovery Center’s Student Research and Education Award and the Koret Scholarship at UCSC.

She has performed computational and machine learning analyses of species and ecological phenomena, and developed R scripts for datasets on a United States Geological Survey project surveying seabird and marine mammal populations. Jarman contributed to a machine learning program that identified algae particles in sea urchin stomachs to generate a quantitative understanding of sea urchin grazing behavior.

As an undergraduate student, she also conducted summer research in a marine ecology lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which enabled her to carry forward her research project on urchin predation and kelp forest conservation in California. Her findings on the ability of mesopredators to potentially control urchin outbreaks formed her senior thesis in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at UCSC.

“My goal is to bridge my quantitative background with my passion for empirical studies,” said Jarman, who was also awarded the Oregon State Provost Scholarship in 2020.

The NSF GRFP is the country’s oldest fellowship program that directly supports graduate students in STEM fields. NSF Fellows are anticipated to become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.