Colby Life Sciences Alumni Recognized by National Science Foundation

Natural Sciences5 MIN READ

Four recent biology and environmental education graduates awarded prestigious graduate research grants

Colby students assisted Associate Professor of Biology Dave Angelini (in background) last summer by surveying the abundance of bumblebee species on Allen Island, part of Colby’s Island Campus.
By Abigail Curtis
May 10, 2023

Colby life sciences faculty are celebrating four recent alumni from their departments who were awarded prestigious National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowships this spring, with three others receiving honorable mentions. 

Three other alumni also received awards in the fields of computer science, engineering, and economics. 

The highly competitive program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported disciplines and accepts just around 16 percent of the more than 12,000 applicants. The NSF-GRFP awards provide students with a three-year annual stipend of $37,000 along with a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance—a total of $147,000. They also have access to professional development opportunities. 

Chris Moore
Chris Moore, assistant professor of biology, said that being awarded a prestigious NSF-GRFP fellowship is akin to winning a golden ticket.

Assistant Professor of Biology Chris Moore described the fellowships as akin to winning a golden ticket. “We felt that we excelled in biology and environmental studies,” he said. 

Having this many recent life-sciences graduates receiving NSF-GRFP awards seems like a clear sign that good things are happening in those departments, he said, adding that it’s much more common to have one, two, or no fellowships. 

“If your students are being funded by the National Science Foundation, that’s the top tier,” Moore said. “I think we’ve been cultivating this culture about scientific investigation and independent research. Here at Colby, we want to empower students to go out into the world, and learn about it, and become these good scientists, and I think this is an indicator of that.” 

The fellowship grants are intended to ensure the quality, vitality, and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States, with past fellows including 42 Nobel laureates and 450 members of the National Academy of Sciences.

Colby alumni who received the 2023 NSF-GRFP awards: 

  • Liuqingqing Yang ’21, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in ecology, evolution, and behavior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Grace Horne ’21, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in entomology at the University of California, Davis
  • Vivian Hawkinson ’18, who is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental science at Yale University
  • Douglas Abrams ’19, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in computational and systems biology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
  • Natalie Maus ’21, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania
  • Curtis Haas ’22, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from Johns Hopkins University
  • Julia Chahine ’21, who is doing graduate research in economics at the University of Michigan

Colby alumni who received honorable mentions: 

  • Caroline Wilson ’18, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in biochemistry, genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology at the University of California, San Francisco
  • Sam Marchant ’21, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Diego 
  • Marisa Hamilton ’19, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in genetics and genomics at Duke University 

Horne is one of the life science alumni who received the NSF-GRFP award. She’s pursuing a doctoral degree in entomology from the University of California, Davis, where she studies plant and insect interactions through the lens of climate change.

“It feels so good to be independently funded,” she said. “The [fellowship program] is great because it funds the person and not the project, so you can go wherever you can, do whatever you want, as long as it’s within the same broad category.” 

Colby life sciences faculty members are proud of the work being done in their departments. Here, students collect and survey bees on Allen Island, part of Colby’s Island Campus.

A lot of her work involves herbarium specimens, or pressed plant material, collected over the centuries by taxonomists and hobby botanists. Horne first became interested in this line of research through classes she took at Colby with Oak Professor of Biological Sciences Judy Stone, including one about the taxonomy of flowering plants, through which the students created a collection of plants around campus. 

“That was super cool. It made me feel like I was part of a broader scientific community just by going out and collecting all these plants on our beautiful campus,” Horne said. “That’s definitely something that I’ve taken with me to Davis.” 

At Colby, she and other students worked closely with Stone and other professors, giving her a head start for graduate school. 

She also was able to follow her passion for learning about insects, especially butterflies and moths. Horne’s favorite is the rosy maple moth, a small, pink-and-yellow moth that is native to Maine and other parts of North America. 

“At Colby, I was part of the Maple Sugaring Club, which I led for a couple of years. Maple trees have always been close to my heart, and the rosy maple moth, of course, eats those trees,” she said. 

One day, Horne hopes to become a professor or hold a research position at a museum or botanic garden so that she can keep on teaching people about the importance of the rosy maple moth and other insects.