Pursuing the Sciences
A graduate degree takes initiative, curiosity, persistence, and more. And with a fellowship, graduate students are ready to take on the world. Or even the universe, if you ask Allison Matthews.
Matthews is fascinated by the questions of the universe and in her first year she is deeply involved in astrophysics research as she pursues her doctoral degree in astronomy. As a member of UVA’s Star Formation Group she’s working with scientists in the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a National Science Foundation facility at UVA. These scientists study the stars, which is leading to a greater understanding of how galaxies form and evolve.
The Hearst Minority Fellowship gives Matthews opportunities and confidence in what is still a male-dominated field. “I have almost become immune to being the lone woman sitting in a quantum mechanics course or presenting my research at a conference,” she said. “What’s wonderful about UVA’s Department of Astronomy is that while women are certainly still a minority, I absolutely do not feel like one.”
Stephanie Roe: The Power of Science
Stephanie Roe believes the power of science holds the key to tackling the deforestation and environmental degradation that threaten much of our world. She came to UVA to pursue a doctoral degree that will add to her wealth of scientific experience and knowledge.
Roe has a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s in environmental management, along with experience working with the government and private sector on environmental initiatives and a current part-time position with Climate Focus, a think tank and international advisory organization. She’s published ten peer-reviewed white papers, written five successful grant proposals, and implemented 19 projects worldwide.
“What excites me most is that the land-use modeling and research I’m doing now has the potential to solve major problems ahead of us, such as trying to feed the world with the land and resources we have,” Roe explained. “We can use sustainable planning and new technology to stop deforestation and environmental degradation.”
“My upbringing on a rural farm and love for science have converged, and my career path is clear. I want to work at the intersection of land use, biodiversity, and climate change to improve economic and environmental planning in developing countries.”
Maria Ali: Cultivating Potential
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the encouragement and positivity of the entire Department of Biology, while the generous support of the Hearst Minority Fellowship has been so validating,” said Maria Ali.
Ali’s research and coursework are progressing at a relentless pace. During her first semester in the doctoral program, she completed a ten-credit course in integrative biosciences while working in a lab in which she produced nearly 130 seedling samples for microbial testing. Using the seedlings, she was able to identify a potent class of antimicrobial compounds that suppress growth of the human pathogenic bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.
Her research has great potential, too. As a member of the lab directed by biology professor Sarah Kucenas, Ali uses zebrafish as a model to study glial cells, which protect nerves in order to help nerves deliver signals throughout the body. Their work has the potential to reveal new discoveries in glial development and identify new treatments for neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis.
Ali describes Kucenas as a patient and uplifting mentor. “Her enthusiasm and optimism are infectious,” Ali said. “She encourages us to try new things and be fearless. At the same time, she and the other members of the lab are extremely driven and proficient scientists.” Ali takes advantage of her moments outside of classes and teaching to immerse herself in science. “It’s refreshing to be able to do independent research and learn empirically.”