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Our students, faculty, and postdocs come from a variety of places and backgrounds. Read some of their stories below.
Alex immigrated to the US with her family when she was three years old. Her parents left post-communist Bulgaria and moved to Santa Monica, California so she could have access to a good education and a wider variety of career opportunities. Though they worked very hard and lived in the city, they went out of their way to show Alex natural places, which first sparked her interest in biology. In college she became interested in microbes, and was fascinated with the idea that we could study a group of organisms we can’t even see through their genetics. With the help of great mentors, she made her way to graduate school where she now studies how bacterial and fungal interactions help toads survive deadly pathogens in Valerie McKenzie’s Lab. She aims to become a professor and graduate advisor, and plans to work to increase diversity in the biological sciences.
Javan grew up in Virginia and attended Old Dominion University where he studied biology. As an undergraduate he had a variety of research experiences, from investigating populations of mosquito-eating fish to building houses for bees. These experiences, and good mentorship, inspired him to pursue research further. After college he briefly taught biology at an inner city high school, and then worked as a microbiologist for Sabra Hummus company. He chose to come to CU Boulder because of the quality of the program, the advice of his undergraduate mentor, and because when he interviewed with Becca Safran, who is now his advisor, she was warm and welcoming. When he arrived here, however, he had a difficult time adjusting to the lack of other people of color in Boulder. So, he talked with counselors at Wardenburg student health center, joined student groups, and helped with campus-wide diversity initiatives to find community and help other students of color who may have been struggling with the same things. He also reached out to other grad students in EBIO, and helped recruit more students of color to build a more diverse department. Since then he has felt much more comfortable. When not improving the social climate in academia, Javan studies the evolutionary forces that contribute to plumage color in different species of barn swallows.
Sukuan grew up in Shenzhen, China, a big city in which he wasn’t exposed to much of the natural world. When he was 17 he moved to the US to finish High School because he preferred the education system here. For his bachelor’s degree he attended Colorado College. During that time he loved all the opportunities to experience the outdoors in Colorado. Early on he developed an interest in plants, and would read about carnivorous plants in an encyclopedia. Otherwise, his interests were all over: he also enjoyed organic chemistry and biochemistry. When he applied to graduate school he went through CU’s IQ Biology program, which allowed him to integrate his diverse interests. He got to know his current adviser Stacey Smith through his undergraduate adviser, and he now studies carnivorous plant evolution in her lab. The students and postdocs in the Smith lab come from very diverse backgrounds, but everyone is friendly and learns from each other and Sukuan feels very comfortable there.
Lisa is from Massachusetts, but her father’s family is Greek and Italian. She earned her undergraduate degree from American University in Washington DC in mathematics. She was originally also studying justice, thinking she’d work for the FBI, but ended up being more drawn to math. She also studied art and architecture abroad in Italy, which gave her the opportunity to meet and learn more about her family there. When she came back to the US, she worked for the Department of Defense as a mathematician, where she loved the work she was doing but became more interested in applying her mathematical skills to answer questions about the natural world. So, she started graduate school at CU Boulder through the IQ Biology program, which allowed her to catch up on biology while still utilizing her mathematical background. She also became involved with the Student Academic Success Center at CU, supporting first-generation college students and other underrepresented groups on campus. This connected her to a larger community on campus whose values she shares. Lisa is co-advised in the Doak and Peleg labs, where she combines math, ecology, and computer science to model animal behavior and species interactions.
Lara grew up and studied in Italy. From an early age she was interested in science and exploration, and wanted to go to space. In high school she got interested in astrobiology, and eventually came to the US on a NASA fellowship to complete her master’s thesis at NASA’s Ames Research Center. There she studied microbes that had been sent to space, and her adviser suggested she continue doing research and pursue a PhD, which led her to CU Boulder. She is now in Steve Schmidt’s lab where she studies microbial life in extreme environments. She has traveled to the high Andes, Antarctica, Kilimanjaro, and Death Valley for research to understand what allows microbes to survive in these hostile places.
Dan grew up in the high mountains of Chiapas, Mexico. Though far from the ocean, he obtained his Bachelor's degree in Aquatic Biology at University of California Santa Barbara where he discovered his two passions: underwater research and teaching science. He is a certified Divemaster and Scientific Diver and has worked extensively as a research diver conducting studies in a variety of marine ecosystems. He also taught ocean science and snorkeling skills to k-12 students at Catalina Island Marine Institute, and scientific research diving for the American Academy of Underwater Science. He gained a fascination for marine invertebrates, specifically observation and study of invertebrate symbiotic relationships. This lead him to his current position as a PhD student in the Li lab, studying the chemical relationship between marine clams and photosynthetic algae.
Julie is proud to be pursuing her doctoral degree as a queer woman in plant community ecology. She grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago -- around many different types of people, but few wild and diverse open spaces. In college, she began working to restore the small patchwork of ecosystems around the city and realized that even this relatively small effort would take a lifetime of work, so she decided to explore science that could make our efforts to manage and restore ecosystems more effective. Her M.S. brought her out to Eastern Oregon rangelands, where she interfaced with agriculture-dependent communities and ecosystems for the first time. Although a nerdy seed and plant ecologist at heart, she found an unexpected home out on the range. She is now at CU Boulder in the Suding Lab, aiming to network with land managers, ranchers, and other scientists to develop ecology-based management practices for working lands. The way she sees it, moving the needle is only part plant science; the other part is opening the door for a more diverse future generation to get their hands dirty in applied and agricultural ecology.