Three Win NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Jim Tranquada

A graduating Occidental senior and two alumni have been awarded prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research fellowships, awarded annually to candidates in the sciences and social sciences who are pursuing a master’s degree or Ph.D.

Amelia Muscott ’22, a geology major and 2021-22 Norris Science Scholar from Redmond, Wash.; J.P. Flores ’21, a biology major from Valencia who is a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill; and Ca’La Connors ’17, a diplomacy and world affairs (DWA) major from Denver now working for Developmental Pathways will receive support for their graduate education from the NSF.

The fellowship provides three years of support for graduate study leading to research-based advanced degrees and is intended for students in the early stages of their graduate work. It provides a $34,000 living stipend and $12,000 per year for tuition for three years within a five-year period.

Occidental also had three honorary mentions this year: Tzu-Yi (Ian) Jan ’20, a biochemistry major who is now pursuing a doctorate in bioengineering at the University of Washington; Maeve Secor ’22, a biology major from Baltimore currently working as a research assistant at Occidental’s Moore Laboratory of Zoology; and Zachary Schuman ’21, a chemistry major from Montclair, N.J. who is a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry at UCLA. In the last 10 award years, Occidental students and alumni have received 30 NSF fellowships and multiple honorable mentions.

“People have been asking me what Oxy is doing to be so successful,” Flores notes.

Muscott is headed to the University of Utah to pursue the same kind of research she conducted at Occidental—the analysis of ancient lake sediments to reconstruct the timing and pattern of past climate fluctuations in an effort to better understand modern climate change. She will be the first doctoral student in the lab of Sarah Crump, newly appointed assistant professor of geology and geophysics.

“I have been working with Dr. Crump for the past two years through my research in [Oxy Assistant Professor of Geology] Darren Larsen’s lab on the timing and pattern of glacial retreat at the end of last ice age,” says Muscott. “I feel incredibly honored and excited to have received an NSF Fellowship. I think my research experience at Oxy is the reason I got it. I had the most wonderful, amazing research experience I believe can’t be matched anywhere else.”

In his pursuit of a doctorate in bioinformatics and computational biology, Flores’s graduate research has focused on cellular identity and disease markers, specifically on the mechanisms driving an aggressive type of cancer seen in children known as Ewing’s sarcoma.

“The fellowship means a lot to me personally—it’s the culmination of the last four years at Oxy, working on cone snails in Professor Joe Schulz’s lab and with John McCormick and Amanda Zellmer in biology,” Flores says. “This is a great first step to jumpstart my career.”

Connors is currently a community engagement specialist at Developmental Pathways, a Colorado-based nonprofit agency serving individuals with developmental disabilities/delays and their families.