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Two Grad Students Awarded Prestigious NASA Fellowships

By: Kathleen Tuck   Published 3:28 pm / November 18, 2015

NASA300x300Two Boise State graduate students have been named NASA Harriett G. Jenkins Graduate Fellows following a rigorous selection process. Only 13 of the prestigious Minority University Research Education Project (MUREP) Advanced STEM Training and Research (ASTAR) fellowships were awarded from proposals submitted from across the country.

The awards to Ann Marie Raymondi, a master’s student in biology, and Sheenah Lynn Bryant, a Ph.D. student in biomolecular sciences, require a multi-year commitment by both the fellow and their faculty advisor. The fellowships provide up to three years of funding to cover a stipend, fees, tuition and travel to national conferences, with an additional allocation for each advisor. As part of the application, the students developed a research proposal that was evaluated by NASA for scientific rigor and impact.

“These awards demonstrate that Boise State has joined an elite group of research universities. We attract high-quality graduate students who are competitive nationally, and institutions such as NASA recognize the research strengths of the university and, most importantly, the success of our students,” said Nancy Glenn, professor of geosciences and Raymondi’s advisor. “While it is wonderful to receive one award, the fact that Boise State received two awards only solidifies that we have become a metropolitan research university of distinction.”

In addition to research conducted at Boise State during the academic year, the award provides for an annual 10- to 15-week center-based research experience at a NASA Research Center. These experiences allow fellows to advance their degrees in STEM education, gain relevant research experience, expand their social networks, learn best practices and enhance their understanding of the research process.

NASA also provides professional development opportunities. Raymondi and Bryant are headed to Washington, D.C., this week to participate in the National Institute on Teaching and Mentoring conference.

“These awards are a great opportunity to expand research and educational opportunities for our students,” said Daniel Fologea, assistant professor of physics and Bryant’s advisor. “It confirms once again that the efforts Boise State puts into developing interdisciplinary programs is the right thing to do.”

Fologea notes that the fellowships will significantly increase the visibility of Boise State’s high-quality STEM education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

The MUREP program focuses on recruiting underrepresented and underserved students in STEM disciplines through completion of undergraduate or graduate degrees in support of their entry into the scientific and technical workforce.

Boise State ASTAR Fellows

Annmarie Raymond, Biology, NASA fellowship, Staff/Faculty, studio portraitAnn Marie Raymondi is grateful for the opportunity the fellowship offers. “This fellowship is geared towards women and minorities in STEM fields and I am beyond thrilled to have the support and involvement of NASA,” she said. “This will enable me to pursue hands-on training at a NASA research center where NASA scientists will help elevate my research and advance my career in ecosystem science.”

Her project is titled “Lidar remote sensing to measure fire prone invasive weed distribution and plant community structure along elevation gradients in dryland systems.”

Abstract: I am researching the effects of fire and climate change on plant communities in the sagebrush-steppe system.  The interacting effects of fire, a changing climate, and human development have put pressure on this system and are altering both its structure and underlying function.  This award will enable me to incorporate remote sensing into my research to better understand the magnitude of these changes in the sagebrush system.  Remote sensing affords us the ability to use new technologies to characterize the attributes and dynamics of ecosystems at larger scales. It is an important area of research since the many ecosystems that support life on earth are undergoing rapid change, underscoring the need for tools to understand these changes across scales. Nancy Glenn’s research group at Boise State is on the cutting edge of developing these new tools for arid lands and I am happy to be a part of this work.

Sheenah Bryant, NASA fellowship, studio portraitSheenah Lynn Bryant,didn’t fully appreciate the opportunities presented by the award until she was able to tell her sons. “I told them that this fellowship has given me the opportunity to work with NASA to help astronauts spend more time in space,” she said. “My 8-year-old son responded by saying that he was proud of me for working so hard, and that now I will get to work for NASA and become a superhero. This award means to me that I can research exactly what I’ve always been passionate about and that anyone can become whatever they want to be.”

Her project is titled “Microgravity Induced Modulation of Ca2+ Transport Mediated by TRPV4 as a Risk Factor for Osteoporosis.” The project aims to identify the effects of prolonged flight exposure on bone remodeling processes by considering the impact of microgravity on the biological activity of TRPV4 ion channels.

Abstract: Astronauts experience unique risk factors while in space. One of these risk factors is the absence of gravity or mechanical stress, which affects the musculoskeletal tissue resulting in loss of bone mass. Scientists have identified TRPV4 ion channels as transmembrane proteins potentially involved in the cellular process of bone loss while in space. Our research objective is to demonstrate that absence of gravity increases the activity of TRPV4. Further, we will demonstrate that this increase in TRPV4 activity leads to a greater number of osteoclast cells which function to break down bone matrix. By understanding the role of TRPV4 in bone loss, we may develop practical measures to minimize bone loss in astronauts during space missions.