Huck trainees recognized at graduate school awards

Four Huck graduate students were recognized with distinctions at the recent 2023-24 Graduate Student Awards, hosted by the Graduate School at Penn State.

Awards and medals on a table at the 2023-24 Graduate Student Awards, hosted by the Graduate School at Penn State.

Grace Buddle, Allison Carothers, Ana Leon-Apodaca, and Sarah Richards were lauded for their excellence in teaching and research.

Buddle, who is pursuing a Masters degree in Biotechnology, was awarded the 2023-24 Professional Master’s Excellence Award. As part of the capstone requirement for the Biotechnology master's program, Buddle completed a co-op centered around neurodegenerative pathology in Alzheimer’s Disease.

“My culminating project was the development of a method for high-resolution three-dimensional whole-brain analysis of Alzheimer’s pathology in mouse models,” said Buddle. “The development of this methodology will advance our understanding of the pathology and progression of Alzheimer’s, allowing for the development of novel methods for studying, diagnosing, and treating neurodegenerative diseases. My masters program has allowed me to discover and fall in love with new areas of research and really cemented my future as a scientist."

Buddle attributes a large portion of her success in the program to chair Natasha Tirko, whom she recognizes as an avid supporter and advocate of her studies throughout the past two years, alongside mentorship from her co-op managers, Sean Liu and Jonathan Sugam, whom she says were instrumental to her success in her co-op and capstone research.

Allison Carothers, doctoral student in Integrative and Biomedical Physiology, was recognized as a Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Award recipient. Carothers, a fifth-year PhD candidate under Fransisco Diaz, studies the role of hyperandrogenism and zinc in the ovary, and is working towards establishing a better animal model to study polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). She has served as a teaching assistant in three different classes.

“We as instructors must do the work to empathize with the students we have been entrusted to help succeed,” Carothers said. “It is my responsibility to believe in my student's ability to achieve and [to] figure out what tools I need to provide them with to help foster that success, which can only come from striving to understand the diverse demographics in my classroom.”

Ana Leon-Apodaca, recipient of the Intercollege Graduate Student Outreach Achievement Award, is a doctoral student in Bioinformatics and Genomics. She's interested in understanding how demographic history, endogamy, and consanguinity affect the distribution of genetic variation, genome-wide homozygosity, and their relationship with complex traits. Leon-Apodaca co-leads DNA Day at PSU, a science outreach program at Penn State which aims to break down barriers between science and the public.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made me realize [the] disconnection between science and our society,” said Leon-Apodaca. “An essential part of being a scientist is communicating our research to a wider audience. As a Hispanic/Latina pursuing a STEM graduate degree in the United States, I’m even more cognizant of the language barriers faced by non-native English speakers within STEM fields.”

To celebrate National DNA Day, Leon-Apodaca and her co-lead place Penn State graduate students in high school classrooms across Pennsylvania to teach interactive lessons on DNA, new discoveries in genomic research, and potential careers in science.

“We have made it a priority to focus on schools where the majority of students come from underserved communities, as they often lack the infrastructure, educational resources, and exposure to the latest advances in technology," she said. “Beyond empowering the next generation, this science outreach program has reminded me of the transformative power of education and the importance of fostering inclusivity and equal opportunities for all members of our society.”

Sarah Richards, a doctoral student in Ecology with a dual title in International Agricultural and Development (INTAD), was given the Graduate Student International Research Award. Richards is conducting a research project in collaboration with the University of Costa Rica to investigate the impact of native cover crops and pesticide inputs on active soil microbes in a coffee production system.

“The INTAD program serves as a platform for me to translate my research findings into practical knowledge that is accessible to a broad base of farmers,” said Richards. “There are studies affirming that the value in bringing diverse minds together is that more can be achieved together, than the sum of what each individual can do alone,” she said. “This is what I sought in my graduate degree: a chance to exchange knowledge about sustainable agriculture, and to interact with diverse collaborators to expand the positive impact of our work together.”

Richards, who began her international agricultural research as a study abroad student while an undergrad, has since conducted research in Italy, Peru, and Uganda as well as her project in Costa Rica. “A universal lesson in all my international experiences has been that collaboration is a medium, but empowering people is the goal, and it has made me a better collaborator throughout my work in Costa Rica."

To learn more about the master's and doctoral graduate options offered by the Huck, visit their web pages.