Five Former MBL Undergrads Awarded NSF Fellowships

NSF GRFP recipient Sarah Messenger in Alaska during her time as a Research Assistant at the MBL. Credit: Sarah Messenger

Congratulations to the five students affiliated with the MBL as undergraduates, who were awarded Graduate Research Fellowships (GRFP) from the National Science Foundation (NSF). GRFPs recognize and support outstanding graduate students pursuing research-based advanced degrees at U.S. institutions. The five-year fellowships are extremely competitive, and it is an honor to receive one.

“The NSF graduate fellowship is among the most prestigious awards offered to aspiring young scientists who are pursuing graduate work. The fact that so many undergrads that spent time at the MBL through the SES program, REU program, Metcalf and summer internships programs were chosen by the NSF is a true testament to the inspiring experience we offer,” said Linda Hyman, Burroughs Wellcome Director of Education. “Congratulations are definitely in order to these students and their MBL mentors!”

Ruby An

MBL Affiliation: Semester in Environmental Science (SES) Alumna, 2015; Metcalf summer internship MBL Ecosystem Center
Undergraduate Affiliation: The University of Chicago
Current Institution: Princeton University

After completing the MBL Semester in Environmental Sciences and doing a Metcalf summer internship  An spent several summers as a research assistant at the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research site at Toolik Field Station in Alaska.

“I got into Arctic research through connections from SES at MBL,” said An. “I e-mailed looking for jobs and [was connected] to several opportunities, including the research assistant position at Toolik Field Station where I worked for four summers prior to starting graduate school. This inspired me to continue as a PhD student and my current research interests.”

An is currently pursuing her PhD at Princeton University in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She is using the NSF award to work on the mechanisms of Arctic shrubification in response to climate change at Toolik Field Station in Alaska.

Alyssa “Jordan” Bolling

MBL Affiliation: Research Intern, 2018
Undergraduate Affiliation: University of Alabama
Current Affiliation: University of Utah

Bolling worked with Rob Steele, University of California Irvine, in the Hydra Lab at the MBL. The lab was investigating the social behavior of hydra—a tiny, tentacled, freshwater organism.

Bolling is currently a second-year student in University of Utah neuroscience program. She works in the Zelikowsky Lab studying the effects of social isolation stress on social behavior in mice and the underlying neural circuits that mediate these effects.

“The MBL shaped my understanding of the science community as a whole and showed me the endless possibilities for discovery and collaboration. It was amazing to witness famous scientists from all over the world come together to do collaborative research over the summer. I don't really know if there is another place like it,” said Bolling. “My experience at the MBL shaped me and my career in a lot of ways. I'm really grateful to consider myself a part of that incredible network of people and that I have gained a community in science that I can connect with pretty much anywhere I go.”

Zoe Dellaert

MBL Affiliation: UChicago Metcalf Scholar at MBL, 2018 – 2020; High School Science Discovery Course Teaching Assistant, 2019
Undergraduate Affiliation: University of Chicago
Current Institution: Penn State University, University of Rhode Island (beginning Fall 2022)

Dellaert was an undergraduate summer research fellow at the MBL from 2018-2020 working with Associate Scientist Loretta Roberson. She was also a teaching assistant for the Coral Reefs in a Changing World High School Science Discovery Course. During her time at the MBL she worked in the Roberson Lab studying the calcification, symbiosis, and gene expression of the northern star coral (A. polculata) using microscopy and transcriptomics. Her UChicago senior thesis was published in the Biological Bulletin in February; co-authors included her research advisors Loretta Roberson, MBL, and Patrick La Riviere, UChicago.

“My MBL experience was vital in my career development…At MBL, I was able to flourish as a researcher and given the independence to explore my own ideas while still being guided by mentors such as Dr. Roberson. I was trusted with access to state-of-the-art microscopy and lab facilities as an undergraduate and never felt limited by my age or experience,” said Dellaert “But most of all, the MBL is a place where scientists lift each other up and there is an enormous spirit of collaboration. Of all the things I learned from my time there, this spirit of collaboration and kindness will stick with me throughout the rest of my career.

Dellaert is currently a research technician studying Caribbean corals in Baums Laboratory at Penn State University. In September, she starts her PhD work studying tropical coral responses to climate change in the Putnam Lab at the University of Rhode Island. The NSF grant will support this work.

Sarah Messenger at Toolik Field Station in Alaska. Credit: Sarah Messenger
NSF GRFP recipient Sarah Messenger at Toolik Field Station in Alaska. Credit: Sarah Messenger

Sarah Messenger

MBL Affiliation: Semester in Environmental Science (SES) Alumni, 2016; SES Teaching Assistant, 2018; Research Assistant, 2019-2022
Undergraduate Institution: Trinity College
Current Institution: Marine Biological Laboratory, MIT-WHOI Joint Program (beginning Fall 2022)

Messenger’s affiliation with the MBL started when she took the Semester in Environmental Science course in 2016. She completed a senior honor's thesis based on work done as a follow-up to her SES project and returned the summer after she completely the program to do additional field work prior to graduating from Trinity College.

After she graduated from Trinity College, she returned to the MBL as a teaching assistant for the SES Program and was later hired as a research assistant with the MBL Ecosystems Center. Since 2019, she has worked for the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research Study—the decades-long study of Artic ecosystems and their response to environmental change. She is currently the lead research assistant for the Arctic LTER Lakes Group and spends summers collecting samples in northern Alaska with a field team.

“My experience at MBL is what put me on the path to pursuing research in the first place and connected me with the opportunities that made me the scientist I am today,” said Messenger, who added that her time in the SES program is where she first learned about biogeochemical research. “As research assistant on the Arctic LTER, I've learned so much about how to do good research and explored my interests in Arctic biogeochemistry and the role of Arctic carbon cycling in the global carbon cycle.”

In the fall, Messenger starts her PhD program studying marine chemistry and chemical oceanography in the Ward Lab at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) -WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography/Applied Ocean Science and Engineering.

“I absolutely would not be pursuing a PhD if not for my time at the MBL,” she added. “I've gained a passion for research as well as the tools and skills to actually do research from my time here. I really wouldn't be where I am today without the faculty and other research assistants at the MBL Ecosystems Center.”

Emma Conrad Rooney

MBL Affiliation:  Semester in Environmental Science Student (SES) Alumna, 2018
Undergraduate Affiliation: Wellesley College
Current Institution: Boston University

Emma Conrad Rooney doing field work in a forest.  Credit: Emma Conrad Rooney
Emma Conrad Rooney doing field work in a forest.  Credit: Emma Conrad Rooney

For her independent project during the Semester in Environmental Science, Rooney worked with MBL’s Jerry Melillo and John Hobbie to investigate how urbanization and nitrogen deposition impacts fungal root colonization. For this project, Melillo connected Rooney to Pamela Templar at Boston University, who was co-running an urbanization gradient study across Massachusetts.

“I was able to collect soil and plant samples at the sites that were established for this study. After my semester at MBL, I began helping in Dr. Templer’s lab, where I am now a PhD student,” said Rooney. “The knowledge and skills in biogeochemistry and independent research that I gained through the SES program at MBL have been critical to my scientific journey. 

Rooney is currently a first-year PhD student in the Boston University Biology Department in the Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution Program. She is part of the BU Biogescience Certificate program and a trainee in the BU Graduate Program in Urban Biogeoscience and Environmental Health. In the Templar Lab, she is studying how forest carbon sequestration will be impacted by climate change, both in terms of warming growing seasons and changing winters.