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2020 Plant and Microbial Biology Departmental Awards and Recognitions

Students get ice cream at the PMB ice cream social.

Each year at this time, the PMB community joins to celebrate the conclusion of another academic year and to celebrate the accomplishments of its members, with special recognitions for award-winners and graduating students, and with fond farewells to those departing for their next adventures. This year is no different in that respect. However, restrictions on public gatherings resulting from the coronavirus pandemic prevent us from holding this event in person in Spring 2020.

Recognizing the very special role played by our well-loved social events in bonding the department, the PMB Social Committee, with help from many other friends, has organized a virtual spring social, with the acronym SAVICS 2020. SAVICS stands for Spring Asynchronous Virtual Ice Cream Social, or, if you prefer, SAVing the Ice Cream Social.

Thanks to our Editor, Ms. Kayla Telford, and to many contributors, we present in newsletter form much of the content you would have experienced in person this spring. You’ll have to provide your own cake and ice cream, but then please browse through the many subjects you’ll find below and enjoy those of interest to you!

Brian Sullivan enjoying his ice cream.

A Message from the Department Head

Plant Biology Undergraduate Student Awards and Recognition

Each year the Undergraduate Program Committee gives awards to graduating seniors and awards to continuing students. For more information about each award and the recipient please click on the name of the award.

Awards for Graduating Seniors

Awards for Continuing Students


  • Maggie Rosen was a participant in our summer USDA REEU BeeMORE program who continued conducting part-time research in the Miller lab while a student at Durham Technical Community College. Maggie applied, was accepted and as of this January is an NC State undergraduate majoring in Plant Biology! Congratulations to Maggie!

Plant Biology Graduate Student Awards and Recognition

For more information about each award and the recipient, please click on the name of the award.


  • Martha Sue Sebastian Award: Brian Sullivan
  • Susan R. Vitello Award: Anna Dye
  • AgBioFEWS Fellowship: Salvador Cruz Matus, Eli Hornstein, Delecia Utley, Jabeen Ahmad
  • Provost’s Doctoral Fellowship: Xavious Allen, Jon Kizer
  • American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Minority Affairs Committee 2020 Recognition Travel Award: Imani Madison
  • PB GSA Travel Award: Catherine Aimone, Anna Dye, Rika Judd, and David Rodriguez Mora
  • Plant Biology Graduate Programs Travel Award: Megan Franklin, Rika Judd, Nicole Lindor, Ethan Pierce, David Rodriguez Mora, and Victoria Yell
  • Charles Stuber Travel Award: Yue Zhu

Plant Biology  Graduate Student Research Symposium Presentation Winners

Traditional Talks: Catherine Aimone (1st), Melodi Charles (2nd), and Brian Sullivan (3rd)

Lightning Talks: Sam Flake (1st), Delecia Utley (2nd), and Megan Franklin (3rd)
  • NC State Graduate Research Symposium Spring 2020 Nominees: Sam Flake, Imani Madison, Aleah Querns, and David Rodriguez Mora
  • Brian Sullivan was the Departmental nominee for the CALS Outstanding Graduate Student Teacher Award.
  • Catherine Aimone won the Best Oral Presentation Award in 2019 at the 9th International Geminivirus Symposium in Davis, CA.
  • Salvador Cruz Matus was selected as a finalist for the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
  • Emma Vtipil won 2nd place for best graduate student poster at the Southeastern Population Ecology and Evolutionary Genetics conference. She also was awarded the Genetics & Genomics Scholars Fellowship.
  • Nathan Wilson and Eli Hornstein participated with Drs. Sederoff and Rojas-Pierce in hosting a Spanish-language bioinformatics and biotechnology workshop in Arequipa, Peru.
  • Victoria Yell and Megan Franklin used the Plant Biology Graduate Programs Travel Award to attend both the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting and the AAAS CASE (Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering) workshop.
  • Yue Zhu used the Charles Stuber Travel Award to attend the 58th Annual Meeting of Phytochemical Society of North America (PSNA).

Microbiology Graduate Student Awards and Recognition


  • Doctoral Dissertation Completion Grant Award: Nicholas Faulkner (Fall 2019), Hannah Wapshott-Stehli (Spring 2020), and Jennifer Greenstein (Spring 2020)
  • 2019-2020 University Graduate Fellowship: Micaela Robson, Rachel Hammer and Anna Garrell


  • Doctoral student Adam Groth presented a talk and poster at the November 2019 Molecular Biotechnology Symposium on the interactions of the honey bee pathogen Paenibacillus larvae (American Foulbrood disease) and its bacteriophages.
  • Deaja Sanders was awarded the NIH Molecular Biotechnology Training Program (MBTP) Traineeship for her graduate research in Dr. Amy Grunden’s laboratory in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology.
  • UNC professor Ralph Baric earned his PhD in Microbiology from NC State in 1983. During his time at NC State he worked in Bob Johnston’s lab conducting research on the fourth floor of Thomas Hall (then Gardner Annex). He has been a leading voice for media outlets about the coronavirus. He was recently interviewed by WRAL’s David Crabtree to discuss the battle against COVID-19.

Research Laboratory Announcements

  • Jose Bruno-Barcena would like to welcome Madison Klein (picture on the left) to his lab in Spring 2020. She is a PhD candidate in Functional Genomics and a participant in the 2020/2021 Genetics and Genomics Scholars program.
  • Mashael Aljumaah, Microbiology PhD student, joined the Bruno-Barcena lab this spring.
  • Dr. Xiang Ma (“Max”) arrived at NC State this January from Hunan China (with her scientist husband and son) to conduct research in the Miller lab on microbial genetics and metabolism. She is a visiting scholar supported by a China Scholar Council Fellowship for the year, and is eagerly looking forward to getting back in the lab. In February she had a paper published in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology on a role of tmRNA in the fish pathogen Aeromonas veronii.
  • Yara Abumhosen joined the Miller lab this January following a rotation through the Biochemistry MS fellowship program (IBMP). Yara received her undergraduate B.S. in Chemistry at UNC-Pembroke last year and is working on a translation / protein production project that is collaborative with Computer Science.
  • The Sozzani Lab would like to welcome new members Nima Yazdani (Research Tech), Rachel Peters (Research Tech), Michael Schwartz (Postdoctoral Research Scholar), and Ryan Spurney (Research Assistant).
  • Imran Khan (Postdoctoral Research Scholar) and Linzhou Huang (Postdoctoral Research Scholar) joined the Rojas-Pierce lab this year.
  • The Kleiner Lab would like to extend a very warm welcome to Dr. Simina Vintila who started this Spring as the lab manager. We have also had Marlene Jensen (PhD student), Clara Tang (PhD student), Abigail Korenek (Undergraduate Researcher), and Rowan Roskam (Undergraduate Researcher) join our lab efforts as well.
  • Jennifer Rocca, a Postdoctoral Research Scholar, has joined the Hawkes lab.
  • The Alonso-Stepanova lab would like to welcome Matthew Neubauer to the lab. He is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar.
  • The Alonso-Stepanova lab will be saying goodbye to Pathy Fernandez-Moreno and Javier Brumos in August 2020.
  • Liang Tang and Qingqing Li, both Visiting Scholars, joined the Xiang Lab in Spring 2020.

Plant and Microbial Biology Spring 2020 Graduates

This semester has been a trying time for all involved, and the department commends you on your resilience and perseverance in completing your degrees. Congratulations Graduates! Good luck on all your future endeavors.

Faculty and Staff Announcements

  • Dr. Chad Jordan who has been promoted to the rank of Teaching Professor.
  • Dr. Jose Bruno-Barcena who has been promoted to the rank of Professor.
  • Dr. Jillian De Gezelle who has been promoted to the rank of Teaching Associate Professor.
  • Laurie Edwards and Jeff Gillikin received the CALS Awards of Excellence this Spring.

In closing, we wish everyone a safe and happy summer. We hope to meet again in person soon, perhaps at our PMB Fall Ice Cream Social in September 2020. Thanks to all who contributed to the creation of SAVICS 2020, with special recognitions to:

Dr. Bob Franks, Head, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology

Dr. Larry Blanton, Director of Graduate Programs, Plant Biology

Dr. Michael Hyman, Director of Graduate Programs, Microbiology

Dr. Chad Jordan, Director of Undergraduate Programs, Plant Biology

Dr. Paul Hamilton, Director, MMB Graduate Program

Dr. Eric Miller, Professor, Microbiology

Mr. Dwayne Barnes, Graduate Services Coordinator, PMB Graduate Programs

Ms. Kayla Telford, Program Assistant, PMB Undergraduate Programs


From the PMB Social Committee:

Ms. Gina Chaput, Ms. Rachel Clark, Ms. Nicole Lindor, Mr. Isaiah McBryde, Ms. Kayla Telford

Ms. Catherine Freeman and Dr. Tom Wentworth, Co-Chairs

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