Our Stories

Alumna Earns Prestigious Research Fellowship

During her time as a biology major at Willamette, Jacquie Grace '07 spent countless hours studying the behavior of Caspian Tern chicks in the Columbia River estuary. As a PhD candidate at Wake Forest University this spring, she still is investigating the behavioral development of young birds. But this time it's the Nazca Booby she has in her sights and the exotic Galá¡gos Islands where she is conducting the research.

This spring, she also won something coveted by scientists everywhere: funding to help with her research. She received a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which provides money annually for up to three years to students with extraordinary promise in the sciences, mathematics or engineering. Grace will receive about $40,500 this year. She is the seventh Willamette graduate to win this fellowship in the past four years.

Grace conducted her Caspian Tern research at Willamette under the guidance of Biology Associate Professor David Craig (read more about her undergraduate research.)

In graduate school, she has been investigating a strange behavior of the Nazca Booby, a bird that lives and breeds mainly in the Galá¡gos on the island Española. When non-breeding adults visit chicks whose parents have left them alone, the adults often display aggressive, sexual behaviors toward the young birds. Grace is studying the abusive behavior, which often causes the chicks to become more abusive when they grow up -- similar to a "cycle of violence" in humans.

"For the past month and a half, I have been protecting chicks by placing an enclosure around their nest sites, and taking blood samples to detect any differences between protected and unprotected chicks," she says.

Because she was away from her email during her time in Española, Grace didn't even know she had received the NSF award until Craig, her former mentor, sent her a note with his congratulations. She is excited about what the opportunity could mean for her future work.

"The NSF fellowship will allow me to continue to spend long periods in the field," she says. "Otherwise that would be very difficult since my financial support at Wake Forest is in the form of a teaching assistantship."

For information on this scholarship and others, contact Monique Bourque in the Student Academic Grants and Awards office on the second floor of Putnam University Center.