A 2011 Sewanee graduate is the most recent alum to receive a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and the university’s fourth graduate to do so in the past four years. Stephanie Loria was awarded the fellowship, which supports three years of graduate research.
Loria, an environmental studies (ecology and biodiversity) major, conducted undergraduate research on cave millipedes for two and a half years before her work was published in peer-reviewed publications last fall. At Sewanee she also completed an honors thesis and received the Harry C. Yeatman Award for leadership and inspiration in biology.
Loria is currently in her first year at the Richard Gilder Graduate School of the American Museum of Natural History, where she is studying the evolution of a Southeast Asian scorpion family. She says that no one has ever looked to see how old the scorpions are or how they evolved in regions from the Himalayas to the Philippines.
Loria says that her interest in invertebrates grew from the undergraduate research she was able to do at Sewanee, and the ability to work with cave millipedes that were found in the area.
“One of the reasons I went to Sewanee was because of the 13,000-acre campus,” she says. “Every biology lab I had involved going out and collecting data on the Domain. It really cultivated my interest in biology.”
Leighton Reid (C’06, environmental studies), who received an NSF fellowship in 2009 and is completing a doctorate in tropical conservation biology at the University of California-Santa Cruz, said Sewanee prompted his success because he was treated as if he were a graduate student and given ample research opportunities.
While at Sewanee, Reid went on a tropical studies abroad course in Costa Rica and conducted research on bird communities and forest restoration. He returned to Sewanee briefly after graduation to publish his undergraduate research on species turnover trends in eastern hardwood forests on the Cumberland Plateau.
Reid has returned to Costa Rica to study forest transitions there. His research examines how seed-dispersing birds and bats impact tree growth in abandoned cattle pastures.
“The NSF fellowship has just been critical,” he says. “It has allowed me not to work as much on other people’s projects, and to spend more time on my own projects.”
Eric Keen (C’08, environmental studies/religion) was awarded a fellowship in 2011, and is currently studying whales at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
After graduating from Sewanee, Keen was a Fulbright scholar in Indonesia, where he taught English at an Islamic high school and incorporated environmental education into his lesson plans. His current research interests include how ocean habitats yield whale ecosystems.
Chase Spurlock (C’09, biology) also received a 2011 fellowship. Spurlock, a graduate student in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology within Vanderbilt's School of Medicine, has published two first-author papers on rheumatoid arthritis and is working on two more: one continuing studies of rheumatoid arthritis and the other focusing on multiple sclerosis. He says that having the opportunity to work in a major research lab after college was a “transformative experience.”
During his time on the Mountain, Spurlock served as the student fire chief and chaired the Honor Council. At graduation, he received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan award for character.
Professor of Biology Jon Evans, who was an adviser to Reid and Keen, says it is unusual for an institution to have multiple graduates receive such a competitive fellowship in such a short span of time. “It shows the kind of program we have,” he says. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program began in 1952; former recipients include 30 Nobel laureates and 440 members of the National Academy of Sciences.
Keen said the strength of Sewanee’s environmental studies program is its interdisciplinary nature.
“It’s almost a liberal arts approach to science,” he says.