UMass Amherst Advisor-Student Pair Wins Highly Competitive Fellowship

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AMHERST, Mass. – Nadia Fernandez of Elkhart, Indiana, a Ph.D. student in Environmental Conservation, with her advisor molecular ecologist Lisa Komoroske, are one of 45 advisor-student teams to receive a coveted 2020 Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study, the organization announced today.

This award identifies emerging scientific leaders in biomedical and life sciences and supports the student’s research and professional goals, aims to improve faculty mentoring skills and promote diversity and inclusion in the sciences. It supports up to three years of the doctoral student’s dissertation research and provides the advisor an allowance to support diversity and inclusion efforts at the graduate and professional levels.

Fernandez says of the honor, “I’m incredibly humbled and honored to be awarded the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study. I’m excited to network with other incredible scientists who are committed to increasing diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice in the sciences. I believe this mentorship will support my growth as a scientist, mentee, mentor and advocate for DEIJ issues.”

Her advisor adds, “We are so thrilled to be a part of this unique program. Nadia is conducting exciting, integrative research at the intersection of evolutionary biology and biodiversity conservation and has tremendous potential to become a scientific leader in her field. Not only will the Gilliam award support Nadia’s dissertation research, but also greatly enhance her professional development and network to realize that potential. I am also very excited to implement approaches from the HHMI community to contribute to efforts to improve inclusivity in STEM here at UMass Amherst.”

Fernandez’s dissertation research is focused on understanding how contemporary and historical disturbances influence the structure and persistence of South American freshwater fish populations. In particular, she is using the Golden Dorado, a prized species at the center of an emerging recreational fishery, as a focal study species. In collaboration with Komoroske, her co-advisor Andy Danylchuk and partners in South America, Fernandez will combine approaches from evolutionary biology, population genomics and conservation biology to conduct her research.

Komoroske adds, “Nadia also co-founded the UMass Amherst BRiDGE program, a graduate student-led initiative doing critically needed work to improve visibility and equity for underrepresented early career scientists,” Fernandez and other BRiDGE co-founders recently wrote an opinion piece for the School of Earth and Sustainability on how to diversify academic seminar series and were recognized for their work with an award for excellence in Diversity and Inclusion by the College of Natural Sciences.

The Gilliam program fosters growth of the fellow’s research and professional skills and supports the advisor in regular mentoring training to facilitate connections and form a sense of community for fellows and mentors. The Gilliam fellowships were created in 2004 to honor the late James H. Gilliam, Jr., a charter HHMI trustee and a respected business and civic leader who spent his life nurturing excellence and diversity in science and education.

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