Skip to main content

2021 Plant and Microbial Biology Departmental Awards and Recognitions

Picture of a flower planted in a waffle-cone bowl with sign behind it that reads: "NCSU's Plant and Microbial Biology Dept. SAVICS 2021"

Each spring, the PMB community comes together to celebrate the accomplishments of its members, give special recognition to award-winners, and bid fond farewells to graduating students and others departing for their next adventures. Much like last year, COVID-related restrictions on public gatherings will prevent us from holding this event in person this year. Instead, we present the 2nd edition of our virtual spring social in the form of a newsletter: SAVICS 2021 (Spring Asynchronous Virtual Ice Cream Social)! So grab some ice cream and enjoy!

‘The Scoop’ from the Department Head

As we get to the end of the semester and head into summer, I suspect many of you are ready for a break and a chance to recharge.  It has been a challenging year for all, some more so than others. I want to thank all of you for the extra effort that you have put forward during the COVID pandemic. It appears that we have managed the crisis well and are headed toward the end of the worst of this pandemic. There is work left to do, but the value of a break should not be underestimated. This spring newsletter features some of the many successes and awards that our departmental members have worked hard to achieve in the past year. Congratulations to all of you. It also highlights many of the individuals who are new to the department. We hope that this next year will allow us more opportunities to come together and welcome you into the department.

I also want to congratulate all of the students who are graduating and wish them best of luck in their future endeavors. I look forward to celebrating with you during the upcoming departmental virtual graduation ceremonies and to hearing from you as you set off into the next set of possibilities. I close with an ice cream serving suggestion from Chris Pratt, “You can pour melted ice cream on regular ice cream. It’s like a sauce!

-Bob Franks

Plant Biology Undergraduate Student Awards and Recognition

At the end of each academic year, the Undergraduate Program Committee gives awards to recognize exceptional graduating seniors and continuing students. For more information about the awards and recipients, please click on the name of the award.

Awards for Graduating Seniors

Awards for Continuing Students


  • Samantha Mowery was recognized with an Honorable Mention Award in the 2021 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship competition.
  • The Botany Club maintained regular virtual meetings during the 2020-2021 academic year. They hosted guest speakers, coordinated virtual meeting activities, and even organized a socially distanced in-person meeting outdoors at the end of the year that was well attended. The Plant Biology Undergraduate Program recognizes the hard work and many contributions of this year’s officer team:
    • President – Fisher Stines
    • Vice-President – Isaiah McBryde
    • Secretary/Treasurer – Katie Lohff (fall) and Sydney Buck (spring)
    • Agri-Life Council Representatives – Sallie Taylor-Parker and Morgan Cantrell

Plant Biology Graduate Student Awards and Recognition

Every year, the PMB Department recognizes the exemplary work of graduate students who have been awarded internal departmental awards, as well as external awards. For more information about the awards and recipients, please click on the name of the award.



  • Anna Yaschenko was recognized with an Honorable Mention Award in the 2021 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship competition
  • Melodi Charles won an award for her poster presentation at the NCSU MBTP (Biotech) Symposium last Fall. Melodi is pursuing her PhD in Plant Biology with a minor in Biotechnology and is working under Dr. Heike Sederoff.

Lab Announcements and Publications

Alonso-Stepanova Lab

Mario Fenech Torres (picture on the left) is a new postdoc in the Alonso-Stepanova Lab. Mario received his Ph.D. from the University of Malaga in Spain, under the mentorship of Miguel Botella.

The Alonso-Stepanova Lab also has a new Ph.D. student, Anna Yaschenko (picture on the right). Anna received her undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The Alonso-Stepanova Lab recently bid farewell to Javier Brumos Fuentes, who returned to Spain after receiving the prestigious “Ramon y Cajal” Fellowship from The Institute for Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology (IBMCP) in Valencia.

The Lab has two new publications to share:

Haigler Lab

The Haigler Lab has two undergraduate researchers who will be graduating this May. Aniko Verbrugge will graduate with CALS Honors and Phi Beta Kappa, and will be attending Penn State this Fall as a Ph.D. student. Nik Pettit will graduate Phi Beta Kappa and is exploring opportunities for graduate school in the area of plant breeding.

Congratulations to Ethan Pierce from the Haigler Lab! In December 2020, Ethan received his M.S. degree based on his thesis entitled “An improved ovule culture system enables exploration of cellular controls of cotton fiber diameter”. Ben Graham, a former PMB graduate student, is now a postdoc in the Haigler Lab. The Haigler Lab has one new publication to share (Ben Graham’s Ph.D. research):

Hawkes Lab

The Hawkes Lab has several new members, including 3 new postdocs, Gabriella Houdinet, Catherine Aimone and Shailesh Karre (Shailesh is co-advised by Dr. Peter Balint-Kurti). Additionally, the Hawkes Lab welcomes Matthew Willman, a new research technician.

Kleiner Lab

Nicole Rideouis joining in the Kleiner Lab as an undergraduate researcher in May. The Kleiner Lab also has a new exchange visitor, Marie Aggerbeck, who will be working on protein-based stable isotope probing in rhizosphere soil samples. Marie is from Aarhus University in Denmark and is at NCSU as part of the INTERACT project sponsored by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The Kleiner Lab also wants to give special recognition to Abigail Korenek (picture on the right), who received an Undergraduate Research Award from OUR. Abigail will work under the supervision of Dr. J. Alfredo Blakeley-Ruiz, a postdoc in the lab, on her project entitled “Identifying proteomic signatures of microbial growth”.

Krings Lab

Congratulations to Kipp Callahan in the Krings Lab for successfully defending this past semester! Supported by a grant from the NC Native Plant Society, Kipp’s work focused on documenting the vascular flora and plant communities of Pondberry Bay (Sampson County), one of several plant conservation preserves owned and managed by the state’s Plant Conservation Program (NCDA and CS). Kipp is currently the Land and Resource Steward of Coal Oil Point Reserve (California) and president of the Channel Islands chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

The Krings Lab also welcomes Mine Memis to the herbarium. Mine is currently a master’s student at the University of Istanbul, working under the direction of Dr. Dilek Oral. She is here to complete her research on a species complex in Berberidaceae.

Sheth Lab

The Sheth Lab is saying goodbye and good luck to two of their members. Lab manager Erin Coughlin was accepted into the Ecology Ph.D. program at Duke University, where she will be working under Dr. Justin Wright. The Sheth Lab is also bidding farewell to their undergraduate researcher, Daisy Ryan. Daisy was recently accepted into the M.S. program in Biology at Appalachian State University!

The Lab has one new publication to share:

Sozzani Lab

The Sozzani Lab has several new members, including 2 new postdocs, Kumar Krishnamoorthy and Michael Schwartz. Additionally, the Sozzani Lab welcomes three new graduate students (Dinesh Kiran Bhosale, Milan Shah, and Adarsh Puri) and four new undergraduate students (Aitch Hunt, Atiyya Muhammad, Matthew Murray, and Jacob Higgins). Rachel Peeters has also joined the Sozzani Lab as a research technician.

Wentworth Lab

The Wentworth lab had four publications in the past year. Two were from collaborations at NC State University; Dr. Changcheng Liu, from the Botanical Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was a Visiting Scholar, and Ms. Jackie Fitzgerald (now at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden) was an Undergraduate Researcher.

Faculty Awards and Announcements

  • Dr. Linda Hanley-Bowdoin received the 2021 Jackson Rigney International Service Award
  • Dr. Bill Hoffmann was a nominee for the 2020 Outstanding Global Engagement Award
  • Dr. Heike Sederoff received the Outstanding Research Award, which included her induction into the Research Leadership Academy
  • Dr. Anna Stepanova was selected as a University Faculty Scholar for NC State
  • Dr. Marcela Rojas-Pierce was promoted to full professor
  • Dr. Seema Sheth was reappointed to a 2nd term as Assistant Professor.
  • Dr. Eric Miller and his coPIs (David Tarpy, Alex Graves and Elsa Youngstedt) received renewal of their NIFA funding for the BeeMORE program for an additional five years.
  • Professor Emeritus Dr. Udo Blum was recently featured as a Pioneer of Allelopathy in the Allelopathy Journal of the International Allelopathy Foundation. Since his retirement, he has written a three-volume retrospective analysis of his research on plant-plant allelopathic interactions involving phenolic acids.

The PMB department would also like to bid a fond farewell to our Plant Biology Undergraduate Program Assistant, Kayla Telford. Thank you for all your contributions to the department and the PB program. We wish her all the best!

Plant and Microbial Biology Spring 2021 Graduates

The last year has been a difficult time for us all, and the PMB department commends you all on your resilience and perseverance in completing your degrees. Congratulations Graduates! Good luck on all your future endeavors.


Despite the difficulties brought the COVID pandemic, PMB continues to move forward. We all look forward to resuming a normal life and schedule; but until we are able to, please stay safe and have a wonderful summer! Thank you to all who contributed to the creation of SAVICS 2021.

From the PMB Social Committee: Dr. Chad Jordan, Ms. Anne-Marie Noblitt, Ms. Rachel Clark, Dr. Alex Goodnight, and Committee Co-Chairs, Ms. Catherine Freeman and Dr. Tom Wentworth

Leave a Response

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.