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National Science Foundation honors alumni for leadership potential

April 15, 2013

  • News Image
    Laura Bogar B.A. ’12
  • News Image
    Alyssa G. Kent B.A. ’11

Two Lewis & Clark alumni received prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships for demonstrating promise as leaders in their fields. The NSF offers fellows three years of support for graduate studies, investing in the education of outstanding students who have the potential to contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.

Laura Bogar B.A. ’12 will attend Stanford University in the fall and plans to study fungal ecology in the Department of Biology. Alyssa G. Kent B.A. ’11 is a second-year Ph.D. student at the University of California at Irvine in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Kent is studying how marine bacteria adapt to their environment in the context of global climate change.

Laura Bogar B.A. ’12

Majors: Biology and chemistry

Hometown: Seattle, Washington

Tell us about the research you were involved in at Lewis & Clark.

As an undergraduate, I was involved with a number of great research projects, ranging from spider biogeography with Greta Binford, associate professor of biology, to vegetation monitoring with Paulette Bierzychudek, William Swindells Sr. Professor of Natural Laura Bogar B.A. '12 and Professor Peter Kennedy at the 2011 Pamplin Society induction ceremony.Laura Bogar B.A. '12 and Professor Peter Kennedy at the 2011 Pamplin Society induction ceremony.Sciences. My primary focus, however, was the work I did with Peter Kennedy, assistant professor of biology, on the ecology of ectomycorrhizal fungi. These fungi are symbiotic with plant roots and are the source of most of the wild mushrooms you’ll find at the farmer’s market (think chanterelles). Many big trees in temperate forests, including those in Oregon, need these fungi to survive.

My thesis was focused on the effects that entire communities of these fungi can have on other, nearby fungal communities. We are only beginning to understand how organisms like fungi interact underground, which makes it exciting to study their ecology. They seem to do all the things other organisms do—eat, excrete, reproduce, and compete like crazy—but all the action is invisible until you get to the lab. Ultimately, understanding these processes can help us understand how these fungi affect plant communities like forests, and will give us a better sense for how we can keep these plant-fungus communities healthy both above and below the ground.

What are your plans for the future, and how do you think your Lewis & Clark education has prepared you for those goals?

After graduate school, I would like to find a postdoctoral research position and build an academic career as both a researcher and an educator. That said, I think my time at Lewis & Clark left me sufficiently broad-based that I could imagine taking advantage of non-academic career opportunities, should they present themselves. Lewis & Clark helped me figure out the strengths and interests that will define my career: science, education, and the environment are among them. I feel very lucky to be allowed to spend the next several years studying fascinating questions of my own choosing, and am excited to dive back into my research in September.

Alyssa G. Kent B.A. ’11

Major: Mathematics

Hometown: Pullman, Washington

Tell us about the research you were involved in at Lewis & Clark.

I attended a National Science Foundation–sponsored research experience for undergraduates in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I mathematically modeled plant resource allocation in relation to herbivore pressure.

What are your plans for the future, and how do you think your Lewis & Clark education has prepared you for those goals?

I discovered my interest in biology while snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef during my semester abroad on the Australia overseas program. In my senior year with my math major nearly finished, I started taking more biology courses. I decided to apply to biology graduate programs with the encouragement of Greta Binford, my first biology professor.

After graduate school, my goal is to become a professor at a small college—an environment where I can not only pursue my research, but also mentor and teach students. I learned from some of the most dedicated professors at Lewis & Clark, and I look forward to following their example.


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