May 29, 2018, BY Matt Hughes

Brian Case with a hellbender salamander
Brian Case ’15 studies the physiology of paternal care in North America's largest amphibian, the Eastern hellbender giant salamander.

In March, four recent Bucknell graduates now pursuing doctorates learned that they're among the latest recipients of Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation. The competitive program, which funded only about 15 percent of more than 13,000 applicants in 2018, will provide each an annual stipend of $34,000 to support three years of graduate school, as well as a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to their current institution. This is how they said Bucknell prepared them for their achievement:

Meredith Lutz '17, animal behavior and applied mathematical sciences major, French & Francophone studies minor, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in animal behavior at the University of California, Davis

Meredith Lutz ’17 observes wild lemurs at Kirindy Mitea National Park in Madagascar.

"While at Bucknell, I was immersed in an incredibly supportive research environment through the Presidential Fellows program. In that program, I spent two years working in Kevin Myers' psychology lab, and four years working at the monkey lab with Peter Judge and Reggie Gazes. I struggled through hard problems and learned to write for a scientific audience, two skills that have been invaluable to me in grad school. It was also at Bucknell that I got to go to Madagascar for the first time by studying abroad, a trip that has in many ways defined my trajectory since then. I've now been to Madagascar three times and will be spending a lot of time there this summer and next winter."

Alexander Vining '14, animal behavior major, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in animal behavior at the University of California, Davis

Alexander Vining ’14 is studying how animals use cognitive tools to negotiate Panama's forest canopy.

"My professors were invaluable in teaching me research, writing and presentation skills that I use all the time as a graduate student. Peter Judge, in particular, gave me opportunities to work with the primates on campus starting my first year. I also connected with another Bucknell alumnus, Alex Piel, who brought me to his field site in Tanzania for a summer to conduct field research with red-tail monkeys and chimpanzees. That experienced shaped my life course, driving me to pursue further fieldwork and preparing me for the difficult work I do now in Panama.        

"I should also give a shout-out to the mentorship of Nikki Young, Bill McCoy and to all of my amazing friends in the Common Ground program. The work I do to promote diversity and inclusion was a major component of my fellowship application, and the foundations of that work were built at Bucknell by an incredible network of mentors and peers."

Margot Farnham '16, biomedical engineering major, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at the University of Delaware

Biomedical engineer Margot Farnham ’16 studies soft tissues and how cartilage injury leads to development of disease.

"The biomedical engineering department at Bucknell is small and focused, so I had many opportunities to do research both in class and over the summer. This allowed me to explore questions independently, giving me the confidence and knowledge to excel in grad school. I also formed many meaningful relationships with my professors, several of whom have written me letters of recommendation for awards and other opportunities. I was recently at a conference in Philadelphia and met up with Professors Eric Kennedy, Jim Baish and Dan Cavanagh, and soon I'll be traveling to Portland for another conference where I'll be staying with another former professor. I'm so lucky to have formed these amazing relationships. Even since I've graduated, they still make an effort to check in and see how I'm doing, which makes me feel pretty special."

Brian Case '15, biology major, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech

Brian Case '15 studies the physiology of paternal care in North America's largest amphibian, the Eastern hellbender giant salamander.

"My interests in freshwater and amphibian biology were inspired by a remarkable two years as an undergraduate researcher with Professor Mizuki Takahashi. In his lab, I studied multiple paternity in marbled salamanders, and co-authored the lab's study on the diel signature of hellbender salamander eDNA across central Pennsylvania. Dr. Takahashi runs an outstanding research program, which truly captured my imagination to pursue a career in conservation and the natural sciences.

"Professor Mark Spiro gave me my first opportunities with biological research during the summer following my sophomore year, and I'm also in debt to Tony Stafford and the Bucknell Outdoor Education Leadership Program. The leadership and backcountry skills I learned as a BuckWild leader are ever valuable in my current role, journeying each day to the remote mountain streams of southwest Virginia to study the reproduction of our continent's largest amphibian."