Biology graduate student Sierra Gillman is the first Northern Michigan University recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF-GRF), one of the most prestigious awards available to students in the STEM disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees in the United States.
The fellowship will support her thesis project, “Human foods in a wild carnivore's diet: micro-changes with macro-consequences.” Gillman, who works with Assistant Professor Diana Lafferty, also won first place among graduate students for a related research poster presentation at NMU's Celebration of Student Scholarship.
“I'm researching the different microorganisms that live in the gastrointestinal tract of black bears,” Gillman said. “The human microbiome plays an important role in host health, but we still don't know much about the functional role of wildlife microbiomes. I was fortunate to work with local hunters and guides during the annual black bear harvest season to collect samples in the field. I then extracted DNA from the samples, so it's really the best of both worlds: field work and lab work. The hunters and guides were super-supportive, so I'm looking forward to getting the results and communicating my findings with them.”
Gillman joined the master's program in NMU's Biology Department to have the opportunity to work with Lafferty in the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Science Lab, with the goal of conducting research that will result in meaningful advances in wildlife ecology and conservation. Gillman expressed gratitude to Lafferty for her mentorship and constant encouragement throughout the fellowship application process.
“Sierra successfully competed with graduate students at Yale, Harvard, Cornell and Berkeley, known for their rigorous ecological research programs, to secure this incredible fellowship,” Lafferty said. “She is the first graduate student to join my lab and it's been a highly successful pairing; we're a great team. She's incredibly kind, ambitious, dedicated and highly productive. I'm proud of the great progress she's made, which shows in the achievements she's been able to accumulate through her work.”
Lafferty said the highly competitive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are selected by a panel of scientists based on the intellectual merits of the proposed work and broader impacts such as engaging diverse citizen scientists and making a strong connection between the work proposed and advancement of human knowledge.
“I hope this motivates undergraduate students to also apply and take the chance,” Gillman told attendees at the NMU Celebration of Student Scholarship. It's attainable and I'm here to help if you ever want it.”