UH Hilo students earn Graduate Fellowships

Date: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has presented Graduate Student Fellowship Awards to a pair of University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo students enrolled in the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science (TCBES) master’s degree program.

The latest recipients are Jodie Schulten, who enters the TCBES program this fall, and Austin Aslan, who began his studies in Fall 2011. They join earlier awardees Jonatha Giddens, who will enter a Ph.D. program at UH Manoa after completing her thesis here, and Shannon Graham, who is now working on a Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee.

“The Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) provides nearly unlimited opportunities to conduct research and further your education,” said Dr. Donald Price, professor, biology/tcbes graduate program chair. “This award is a great achievement for these students, and to have four winners in such a short period of time speaks highly of their advisors, as well as the TCBES program.”

Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $30,000, a $10,500 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

Among the current UH Hilo students, Giddens is collaborating on an introduced marine predator removal experiment in Puakō. She is working with the Nature Conservancy marine team and the Hawai’i Cooperative Fishery Research Unit to assess the ecological impacts of the introduced grouper roi (Cephalopholis argus) on a native Hawai’i reef fish assemblage. With the field assistance of local fishers, they are determining the ecological impact and management feasibility of roi removal in West Hawai’i. Giddens said GRFP has provided the opportunity to attain her long-term careers goals.

Aslan is studying the impacts of alien (non-native) bird pollinators on Hawaiian flowering plants whose native Hawaiian honeycreeper pollinators are mostly extinct. He is using controlled pollination crosses of flowers and radio telemetry of birds to determine the likelihood that the new pollinators (“Japanese White eyes”) will help keep the rare Hawaiian plants (known as Lobeliads) from declining or going extinct.

Schulten will shed light on the challenge of creating “hybrid ecosystems” on the Island of Hawaiʻi to address the ongoing battle between native and non-native species. Working collaboratively with teams from UH Hilo, the US Forest Service, and Stanford University, she will examine the impact of various light conditions in lowland wet forests around Hilo and Puna to determine if it is possible to create ecosystems with a “light-level threshold” where desired species can regenerate and invasive species cannot.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind. GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduates in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions.

Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google Founder Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.

For more information about the Graduate Research Fellowship Program, visit https://www.nsf.gov/ .

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