Students Win Norris Fellowships
Occidental College junior Nathan Upham, a biology major from Claremont, and sophomore Jeffrey Cannon, a chemistry major from Austin, Texas, have been awarded prestigious Norris Scholar Fellowships to support undergraduate research in the sciences.
The Norris Fellowship will allot each student $12,500 to cover room and board, living expenses, supplies and travel costs over the next 18 months.
Upham’s project, “The Molecular Phylogenetics of the Dark Kangaroo Mouse, Microdipodops megacephalus,” studies the evolutionary history of the species that inhabits the Great Basin Desert of the American West.
These habitats are increasingly threatened by human activities such as livestock grazing and agriculture,” said Upham, a 2002 graduate of Claremont High School. “The dark kangaroo mouse is an ideal candidate for this type of study because it inhabits ecologically specific sand-dune habitats, making it an indicator species to study the effects of these human activities on other species in this sensitive habitat area. The Norris Fellowship will enable me to focus my energy as a researcher and contribute significantly to the scientific community.
Nate is a good, hard worker in the lab and the field and has become an indispensable member of our research team,” said biology Professor John Hafner, who has overseen Upham’s work for nearly three years. “He is a careful and thorough researcher and asks thoughtful questions.
After graduation, Upham plans to pursue a doctorate in evolutionary biology and ecology. He ultimately hopes to find a research position studying the effects of ecology on speciation – the process by which biological species form – in fragile regions.
Cannon's project, Nitromethylation of a Chiral Cationic p-Allylpalladium Complex: Synthetic Building Blocks for Biologically Important Molecules,” involves finding new ways to synthesize drugs. Findings could lead to the production of purer, more effective and cheaper pharmaceuticals. The research also considers the effects of carbohydrates on the body.
As an undergraduate, this is an opportunity most college students do not have,” said Cannon, a 2003 graduate of Westwood High School. “It gives me a chance to learn an incredible amount about the process of doing research, developing my own ideas and applying them to a field I’m interested in. The Norris is an excellent chance for me to further develop my skills as a researcher and propel myself towards my future goals.
Cannon plans to attend graduate school and is considering a career in academia or laboratory research.
Jeff is well-suited for his scientific aspirations,” said Donald Deardorff, Carl F. Braun Professor of Chemistry. “He is quick on the uptake, refined in his technical skills, and relentless in his experimental work. All of this is driven by his love for chemistry."
The sciences are among Occidental’s greatest strengths. The college’s Undergraduate Research Program – recipient of a 1998 National Science Foundation Integration of Research and Education Award – was cited as one of the country’s best in a 2001 study of undergraduate research sponsored by a consortium of private foundations. Over the past five years, 500 students have participated in research.
The Long Beach, Calif.-based Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation funds grants in the areas of medicine, education, community and youth programs, science, and the arts. Kenneth Norris, a metallurgist who discovered a way to make steel casings for bullets during World War II, created the foundation with his wife in 1963.