“Extremely productive,” “hardworking,” “talented, “phenomenal,” and a “helpful and friendly mentor” are a few of the words used to describe the six graduate students who received Graduate College Research Excellence and Teaching Excellence awards in the 2019-20 academic year.
The six recipients are Department of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology (GDCB) students — Travis Hattery, Kerui Huang, Ashish Jain, Rebekah Starks and Weijia Su — and GDCB Teaching Assistant Aric Warner from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.
Travis Hattery (TEX Award, fall 2019)
A Ph.D. student in GDCB Associate Professor Marna Yandeau-Nelson’s lab, Travis Hattery received a Teaching Excellence Award for his work as a teaching assistant in Biology 313L (Principles of Genetics laboratory course). Hattery, whose major is in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, was nominated by GDCB Assistant Teaching Professor Jelena Kraft. Kraft is the teaching lab coordinator for Biology 313L.
In nominating Hattery, Kraft said, “As the teaching lab coordinator, I have observed firsthand the passion with which Travis teaches this course, and his efforts and contributions routinely go above expectations of his teaching assistantship.”
Kerui Huang (REX Award, spring 2020)
Kerui Huang is a Ph.D. student in the lab of GDCB Assistant Professor Hua Bai. Her major is in genetics and genomics. She was nominated for the REX Award through the Genetics and Genomics Interdepartmental Program.
Bai said, “Kerui has a ‘get the job done’ attitude. She can always make the impossible possible.” Bai added one reason Huang has been so productive and gets the work done in a short period of time is due to her “high work ethic and perseverance.” Bai added that Huang’s “work discovered a new paradigm for cardiac aging.”
Ashish Jain (REX Award, fall 2019)
Ashish Jain is a Ph.D. student in GDCB Associate Professor Geetu Tuteja’s lab. He is majoring in bioinformatics and computational biology. His research focuses on using bioinformatic approaches to understand gene regulation with a focus on the placenta and pregnancy disorders.
“Because of his productivity in his own research, his collaborative efforts, and the excellent quality of his publications, I strongly recommend Ashish for this award.” In addition, Tuteja stated that her student has demonstrated a breadth of knowledge in bioinformatics and computational biology, publishing manuscripts with biological findings, building a web tool, and developing an approach to integrate and cluster multi-omics data.
Rebekah Starks (REX Award, spring 2020)
Rebekah Starks is also a Ph.D. student in the Tuteja lab, and her major is in bioinformatics and computational biology. During her Ph.D., Starks has focused her research on understanding gene regulation in the mid-gestation mouse placenta.
“Bekah is extremely productive, hardworking and talented,” Tuteja said. “Bekah helps everyone in the lab, and has trained numerous undergraduate students. I am very impressed with everything she has accomplished during her Ph.D. (both computational work and bench work) and believe she is very deserving of this award.”
Weijia Su (TEX Award, fall 2019; REX award, summer 2020)
Weijia Su completed a double Ph.D. in plant biology and bioinformatics and computational biology in summer 2020. Her major professor was GDCB Professor Tom Peterson. Before completing her doctoral studies, she received both a TEX Award in fall 2019 and a REX Award in summer 2020. She was nominated for the REX Award through the Interdepartmental Plant Biology Program.
Distinguished Professor Steve Rodermel in GDCB nominated Su for her TEX Award. Su served as a teaching assistant in Biology 313 (Introductory Genetics, 300 students) for five fall semesters. As a TA in Biology 313, Su’s primary responsibilities included answering student questions, keeping track of grades, helping to proctor and grade in-class exams, and administering make-up exams. “She always performed her duties promptly, and with extreme care and good humor. Her ability to successfully help over 300 students required knowledge of many areas of genetics and an ability to empathize with and help students seek answers to their questions. She was a terrific TA, one of the best I have had in over 30 years at ISU.”
In reference to Su’s REX Award, Peterson said, “Overall, Weijia’s work produced significant advances in our understanding of how transposons contribute to genome evolution.” Su’s research analyzed how Transposable Elements (TEs) can form novel Composite Insertions that can regulate nearby genes. She also developed programs for TE annotation.
Aric Warner (TEX Award, spring 2020)
Ph.D. student Aric Warner was nominated by GDCB Associate Teaching Professor Karri Haen-Whitmer for a TEX Award in spring 2020. He received the nomination for his work in Biology 256L for two years. A Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering student, Warner is majoring in microbiology. His major professors are Laura Jarboe and Zengyi Shao.
In nominating Warner, Haen-Whitmer said, he “has shown a high level of motivation and interest in physiology teaching. To illustrate his dedication, he has created grading rubrics that complemented the TA keys for the laboratory assignments. He made these available to other TAs, showing his sincere interest in helping others become better instructors.” She added Warner “has been very helpful in the transition to online learning in the lab.”
The department congratulates all of these REX and TEX recipients.