Graduate Funding in Thematic Areas
Every year, graduate students – regardless of school or college – have an opportunity to apply for our competitive Graduate Research Grant program, which supports innovative, impactful research that aligns with our four thematic areas:
Increasing Food Security: Improving the systems of agriculture, aquaculture, and wild food harvest is essential for meeting the nutritional needs of all those living today while enhancing the quality of life of those producing the food – and the land and aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems on which they depend. Transdisciplinary and collaborative projects that address food security challenges require both research and action, at scales from local to global.
Cornell Atkinson’s Graduate Research Grants program is supported by generous gifts from Bruce H. Bailey ’74; Dan ’47 and Pat Cornwell; Laurie Paravati Phillips ’78 and Duane Phillips ’78; and other Cornell Atkinson donors.
How to Apply
- Cornell graduate students
The 2022 Cycle Is Closed:
Ten recipients across Accelerating Energy Transitions (AET), Advancing One Health (AOH), Increasing Food Security (IFS), and Reducing Climate Risk (RCR): from Animal Science, Entomology, Food Science & Technology, Global Development, Horticulture, Plant Biology, Plant Breeding & Genetics, Science & Technology Studies, and Soil & Crop Sciences
Martin Abbott (Science & Technology Studies)
Redrawing Risk in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program: “Equity in Action” or Equity Inaction? (RCR)
Martin Abbott is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Science and Technology Studies. His research is concerned with the scientific and social nature of urban flooding, risk, and map-making. This research focuses on New Orleans and how the Federal Emergency Management Agency has refined the city’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps. These maps form the backbone of FEMA’s trillion-dollar National Flood Insurance Program and are among governments’ most powerful tools to minimize the impact of flooding and adapt cities to climate change. Martin’s preliminary analysis shows that urban flood risk is underestimated, poorly understood, and disproportionately affects low-income groups and minorities.
Nikita Agarwal (Food Science & Technology)
Grape Pomace Waste, as Natural Alternatives for Antibiotic Growth Promoters in Poultry Feed (AOH)
Nikita Agarwal is a PhD student working with Dr. Elad Tako on finding natural and sustainable alternatives to antibiotics in poultry feed. Antibiotic growth promotors pose a risk of increasing antibiotic-resistant microbes that can spread to humans through meat consumption. On the other hand, the wine and grape juice industry produces over 70 million tons of grape pomace “waste” annually. This low-cost by-product is a rich source of phenolic acids, which leads to soil pollution when discarded. With the funding from Cornell Atkinson, Nikita’s research will aim to reclassify this waste as a co-product by evaluating its effects on various aspects of poultry gut health.
Jenny Berkowitz (SIPS Horticulture)
Developing a Soil Health Index for Urban Agricultural Soils to Support Food Security (IFS)
Jenny Berkowitz is a Ph.D. student co-advised by Thomas Björkman and Jenny Kao-Kniffin. Her work examines processes for developing soil health practices that fit farmer and community goals. This study seeks to utilize participatory methods to build off New York City Farmer experience and create an Urban Soil Health Index. Urban farming has gained widespread enthusiasm for its immense potential to increase food security, particularly for the many urban growers who are people of color and from working-class backgrounds that experience food insecurity. Urban farmers have developed their own methods for assessing their soil health, some of which are not included or addressed in current rural soil health metrics. When farmers test their soils for standard health parameters, they have no guides to compare the “optimal” or “aspirational” ranges they would expect to see. The Urban Soil Health Index will be created by and for urban farmers to address these gaps.
Lauren Brzozowski (SIPS Plant Breeding & Genetics)
Leveraging Plant Immune Responses for Increased Food Security (IFS)
Lauren Brzozowski is a postdoctoral research associate advised by Dr. Jean-Luc Jannink in Plant Breeding & Genetics. As a plant breeder, she is interested in breeding new plant varieties for sustainable agricultural systems, especially those that contribute to ecological pest management. Lauren currently focuses on genetic research of phytochemicals in oat (Avena sativa) that contribute to plant disease resistance and to human health. Funding from the Atkinson Center will support her work in conducting new research to test whether oat varieties have different immune responses that can increase antioxidants and disease resistance. Studying how plants vary in their immune responses is a promising research area for breeding plants for resistance to pests and disease. This work can improve oat cultivation practices and provide a basis for studying other crop plants to promote food security in our changing climate.
Mohammad Irfan (SIPS Plant Biology)
Investigating the Role of Carotenoids in Improving Sustainable Agriculture of Sweet Potatoes Under Water Stress (IFS)
Mohammad Irfan is a postdoctoral research associate working with Gaurav Moghe in the Plant Biology Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science. He works in the field of plant-specialized metabolic pathways and high-value phytochemicals, such as anthocyanins and carotenoids of sweet potato, a nutritious superfood. The primary aim of this project is to address food security issues and improve the sustainable agriculture of sweet potatoes. Using transcriptomic and metabolomic approaches, he will investigate the role of carotenoids in sweet potato’s response to water-challenging conditions, which is expected to affect sweet potato yields in the coming decades as per future climate predictions. This project also aims to study the carotenoid’s metabolism during the sweet potato’s interactions with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi during water stresses.
Morgan Irons (SIPS Soil & Crop Sciences)
The Effects of Bacterial Organic Adhesives on Carbon Sequestration in Soils for Climate Change Mitigation (RCR)
Morgan A. Irons (she/her/they/them) is a Ph.D. candidate working with Johannes Lehmann to examine how bacterial organic adhesives affect carbon mineralization and sequestration through organo-organic and organo-mineral interactions in aggregates. The proposed work will use atomic force microscopy, scanning transmission electron microscopy, and spectroscopy techniques to obtain a mechanistic understanding of the spatial and chemical complexity of bacterial organic adhesive in soil aggregates, understand how that, in turn, confers persistence to other soil organic matter and carbon, and determine the chemical and surface morphology mechanism of adhesion between model bacterial species and relevant organic and mineral substrates. As soil contains the largest terrestrial pool of organic carbon (OC), understanding how OC occludes and turns over in soil is integral to accurately predicting and managing carbon sequestration and long-term soil fertility. The research will thus contribute to a more holistic understanding of how soil microbiomes affect carbon cycling and contribute to the development of more informed management strategies for combatting climate change and soil degradation.
Rachelle LaCroix (SIPS Soil & Crop Sciences)
Does Plant Litter Type and Microbial Diversity Effect Soil Organic Matter Molecular Diversity? (RCR)
Rachelle LaCroix is a Ph.D. candidate advised by Dr. Johannes Lehmann in Soil and Crop Sciences. Rachelle’s research is focused on identifying soil biogeochemical mechanisms that contribute to long-term storage of soil organic carbon. The funding provided by the Cornell Atkinson grant will enable her, with the help of her undergraduate researcher Caleb Levitt, to better understand the role of plant litter type and microbial diversity on the decomposition of soil organic matter. Improving our fundamental understanding of complex biogeochemical processes will increase our ability to adapt soil management policies to a changing climate.
Andres Ortega (Animal Science)
Abomasal Infusion of Nutritionally Non-Essential Amino Acid for Evaluation of Overall Amino Acid Utilization and Productive Efficiencies in Lactating Dairy Cattle (IFS)
Andres Ortega is a Ph.D. Candidate mentored by Dr. Mike Van Amburgh, whose group works to further develop the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System (CNCPS). The CNCPS is a nutritional model used by dairy farmers around the world to formulate cattle diets and predict productive performance. Andres’s research focuses on amino acid (AA) chemistry methods and metabolism in dairy cows in support of lactation and other nutrient demands. He is interested in developing novel methods to analyze the AA composition of different substrates using liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to better characterize the chemical composition of various model components. In this study, he will examine the role and energetic demand of non-essential AA for milk and milk component synthesis. The objective is to be able to improve diet formulation and further improve productive efficiency. This can result in less N excreted into the environment and lower feed costs for dairy producers.
Annika Salzberg (Entomology)
Trap Crops for Flea Beetle Control in Cabbage Fields (IFS)
Annika is a Master’s student in Katja Poveda’s lab in the Department of Entomology. As an agroecologist, her research centers around landscape ecology and the effect of landscape simplification on insect body size, abundance, and diversity–and subsequently how these factors affect crop damage and yields. She will use her Cornell Atkinson funding to conduct applied agricultural research into managing flea beetles through trap cropping in New York State. Determining viable trap crops will provide a new and more sustainable pest control practice for local growers, decreasing the frequency and/or amount of pesticides needed to maintain yields, and minimizing detrimental effects of pesticide sprays on surrounding ecosystems.
Camillo Stubenberg (Global Development)
Energy Transition as Last Resort: The Adoption of Decentralized Renewable Energy Technologies in the Wake of State Absence and Fossil Fuel Shortages in Lebanon (AET)
Camillo Stubenberg is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Global Development. He is advised by Lori Leonard, Jenny Goldstein, and Sara Pritchard. Camillo will use this funding to conduct field research in Lebanon in the fall of 2022, examining the rushed adoption of off-grid and renewable energy technologies in Lebanon, where an interlocking political and financial crisis has led to a total breakdown of the country’s electricity sector. In the summer of 2021, a convergence of political, financial, and infrastructural crises led to severe fuel shortages. Without the diesel necessary to run both the state’s power plants and private backup generators, the country was quite literally plunged into darkness. As a result, households, communities, and businesses are scrambling to access off-grid and renewable energy systems. The project aims to answer three related questions. First, how does an energy transition take place in the “absence” of fossil fuels and state regulation? Second, how do emerging green energy startups alter electric connections and reconfigure existing political and social patterns? And finally, how does connection to decentralized and renewable infrastructure affect end-users’ energy behavior and political outlook? By shedding light on the ongoing dynamics in Lebanon, this research provides insights both for the design of renewable energy systems as well as policies aimed at fostering energy transitions across the globe.
Increasing Food Security (IFS): Five recipients from Global Development, Horticulture, and Masters of Public Health
Maria Arnot (Masters of Public Health)
Effectiveness of Motivational Interviewing on Adult Dietary Changes
Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) launched a Produce Prescription Program in Tompkins County in 2018 to prescribe fruits and vegetables as medicine for high-risk participants with low food security, low income, and diet-related health issues. Simultaneously, this program supports local organic farmers who grow and sell the fresh produce that is provided to program participants weekly. By 2020, the program had expanded to 75 participants. Working with Baz Perry at CCE, Master of Public Health candidate Maria Arnot will assess the effectiveness of motivational interviewing on the participants’ dietary changes through this program. While research shows that motivational interviewing can be influential in promoting lifestyle changes, especially in substance abuse treatment, minimal research is available as to how this can be applied to dietary behavior changes, particularly when paired with existing produce prescription programs
Emily Baker (Global Development)
Participatory Agrobiodiversity Mapping Informs Sustainable Livelihoods, Food Security, and Socio-ecological Resilience
Emily Baker is a Ph.D. student studying smallholder farmers’ cultivation and understanding of agricultural biodiversity in the Rwenzori Mountains of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and western Uganda. Diversified agroforestry and home garden systems have gendered implications for smallholder social and ecological resilience, livelihoods, and food security. Working with Rachel Bezner Kerr, Baker seeks to understand the ways that intersectional and intergenerational agrobiodiversity knowledge and agency are linked with macro drivers of social and environmental change, and can inform policy approaches and community decision-making for local conservation, food security, and equitable approaches to social and ecological resilience.
Emily Hillebrand (Global Development)
Engaging Men to Improve Gender Equality, Food Security, and Sustainable Livelihoods in Malawi
Emily Hillebrand is a Ph.D. candidate working with Rachel Bezner Kerr, examining processes and implications of gender-transformative approaches and shifting masculinities in Burundi and Malawi’s agriculture development. Her research will be conducted in partnership with Soils, Food, and Healthy Communities (SFHC), a farmer-led non-profit organization that addresses the challenges of soil infertility, climate change, food insecurity, and gender inequality in Malawi. This study will be carried out in 10 SFHC target communities, reaching more than 300,000 people, to examine the effects of a gender-transformative intervention on couples’ key household negotiations related to food security, nutrition, and livelihoods strategies. The study will pay particular attention to how men participate in gender activities and what factors contribute to their engagement and personal changes.
Connor Lane (Horticulture)
Apple Microbiome Responses to Preharvest Chemical Treatments Affecting Ethylene Production
Connor Lane is a Ph.D. student advised by Jenny Kao-Kniffin. While plant microbiomes are increasingly recognized as important for the optimal functioning of agricultural systems, little is known about fruit-associated microbiomes. The apple microbiome is of interest due to the role microbes play in apple diseases and spoilage during postharvest storage. In this study, Lane proposes investigating the microbiome response to different plant growth regulators that slow ripening and spoilage by limiting ethylene production. He will also examine the apple microbiome’s functional traits. These findings on microbial dynamics related to treatments with postharvest effects will pave the way to a greater understanding of food spoilage and dietary effects on the human gut microbiome.
Yejin Son (Horticulture)
Uncovering the Role of Polyphosphate Accumulating Organisms and Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi in Soil for Enhanced Soil Health and Carbon Sequestration
Healthy soils are fundamental for food security, but intensive farming practices have negatively impacted various aspects of soil health, including soil aggregation and carbon storage. Soil microorganisms, especially certain fungi, aid soil organic carbon sequestration, but much remains unknown about these collaborative effects. Advised by Jenny Kao-Kniffin, Ph.D. student Yejin Son’s research aims to discover how polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs) recovered from manure could work with these fungi to sequester organic carbons in the rhizosphere of Irish Potato, potentially leading to improved food security and agricultural techniques, as well as increased use of PAOs as a phosphorus biofertilizer option and climate change mitigation.
Reducing Climate Risk (RCR): Four recipients from Architecture, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Soil + Crop Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine
Laurel Lynch (Soil + Crop Sciences)
Defining Fundamental Tradeoffs Between Microbial Activity and Soil Carbon Sequestration
Laurel Lynch is a postdoctoral associate advised by Johannes Lehmann in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences. As an ecosystem ecologist, she is interested in how microbial and environmental drivers influence the molecular composition of dissolved organic matter. With this funding, Laurel seeks to better understand how the composition and spatial distribution (between soil horizons and across landscapes) of microbial residues shape systems-level Carbon cycling. These natural climate solutions have the potential to meet ~40% of the carbon reductions needed to keep climate warming below 2°C and confer co-benefits, such as wildlife habitat, improved human health outcomes, and better air and water quality.
Prince Ochonma (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)
Accelerated and Sustainable Bio-Hydrogen Generation with Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Technology for Advancing a Negative Emissions Future
Prince Ochonma is a Ph.D. student in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, advised by Greeshma Gadikota. This project involves developing accelerated and sustainable bio-hydrogen generation with integrated carbon capture and storage technology, to advance a negative emissions future by producing H2 from renewable biomass sources with in-situ CO2 capture. The building blocks for this technology include water, aqueous or solid biomass, and alkaline resources such as industrial residues or naturally occurring minerals. This technology could be integrated with a bio-refinery and adapted to utilize agricultural or dairy waste generated in rural communities, or food waste in rural and urban regions. Sophomore Claire Blaudeau also received a supplemental undergraduate grant to assist with this research.
Ranaivo Rasolofoson (College of Veterinary Medicine)
Drowning and Climate Change in Small-scale Fishing Communities Around Lake Victoria
Ranaivo Rasolofoson is a postdoctoral research associate in the College of Veterinary Medicine, advised by Kathryn Fiorella. He is interested in investigating the impacts of environmental programs and environmental changes on human wellbeing and environmental outcomes. With support from Cornell Atkinson, Rasolofson will explore the potential effects of climate change on drowning deaths in small-scale fishing communities in low-income country settings, to raise awareness on the necessity of effective measures to mitigate the effects of climate change of such communities.
Yang Yang (Architecture)
Energy and Mobility-aware Urban Design: A Mobility Simulator Assisting Urban Design Decision-making for Mitigating Energy Consumption and Transportation Emissions
Yang Yang is a master’s student advised by Timur Dogan in the Department of Architecture. She will use funding from Cornell Atkinson to develop a mobility simulator to aid urban design decision-making for mitigating energy consumption and transportation emissions. The research is expected that it will enhance the design and planning of mobility solutions, energy use, and urban form. This could facilitate the early discovery of synergies that lead to better cities with lower energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Increasing Food Security (IFS): Four recipients from Entomology, Soil and Crop Sciences, Natural Resources, and Plant Breeding and Genetics
Reducing Climate Risk (RCR): Four recipients from Architecture, Anthropology, Biological and Environmental Engineering, and Soil and Crop Sciences
Ashley Jernigan (Entomology)
Elucidating the Effect of Soil Fauna on Crop Yields through Nutrient Cycling (IFS)
Ashley Jernigan is a PhD student in Kyle Wickings’ lab in the Department of Entomology. She is interested in the effect of soil microarthropods on crop productivity and agroecosystem functioning. Her research explores how changes in microarthropod abundance and community composition impacts nutrient cycling and plant pathogen transmission and suppression. With this funding, Ashley is completing a project investigating how alterations to microarthropod abundance and community composition impacts soil nitrogen cycling and plant nutrient acquisition under different fertilizer treatments. Elucidating these important agroecosystem relationships will allow for improved management of crops and will lead to increased system resiliency.
Eugene Law (Soil and Crop Sciences)
Soil Carbon Storage and Soil Structure Impacts of ‘Kernza’ Intermediate Wheatgrass (IFS)
Eugene Law is a PhD candidate in Soil and Crop Sciences co-advised by Toni DiTommaso (Weed Ecology and Management Lab) and Matt Ryan (Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab). His current research explores the development of cropping systems and market opportunities for two novel perennial grain crops, intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye, using a systems approach that incorporates aspects of agronomy, ecology, soil science, and economics. He will use funding from the Atkinson Center to expand the breadth of his research on how perennial grain crops might enhance soil health by comparing indicators of soil carbon storage and soil structure regeneration in fields of perennial intermediate wheatgrass and annual wheat.
Ryan Lepak (Natural Resources)
Tracing Sources of Mercury Contamination in Freshwater Fisheries Across Space and Time (IFS)
Ryan Lepak is a postdoctoral research associate working with Peter McIntyre in the Department of Natural Resources, Casey Dillman, Cornell Museum of Vertebrates and the Mercury Research Laboratory in the US Geological Survey. His research focuses on understanding current and past sources of neurotoxic methylmercury to freshwater fisheries of central Africa by measuring stable isotope tracers in fish preserved in museums worldwide. The support from SBF will allow Ryan to visit and subsample fish from European museums that predate many instances of anthropogenic mercury contamination like mercury-mediated small-scale artisanal gold mining which has expanded rapidly in this region in unregulated ways. Accessing greater spatial and temporal coverage from museums specimens will allow Ryan to better inform the region of the extent of contamination and inform these impoverished nations of realistic baselines they may strive to achieve for safer fish consumption.
William Stafstrom (Plant Breeding and Genetics)
Modeling Mycotoxin Risk in a Tanzanian Smallholder Farming System (IFS)
Will Stafstrom is a Plant Breeding and Genetics graduate student working in Dr. Rebecca Nelson’s maize disease lab. He studies various ways of mitigating the harmful effects of mycotoxins produced by maize fungal pathogens. His research spans multiple scales from the genetic basis of mycotoxin resistance to landscape wide indicators of mycotoxins. His work supported by the Atkinson Center will focus on modeling mycotoxin risk in a smallholder farming system in Tanzania by integrating local surveys of mycotoxins with remote sensing datasets of environmental factors. This project intends to improve understanding of mycotoxins’ relationship with environmental conditions and to develop a useful tool for predicting mycotoxin risk areas on a yearly basis.
Allison Bernett (Architecture)
Early Design Decision-making Framework for Simulating Building Energy, Carbon, and Cost (RCR)
Allison is pursuing a master of architecture degree and working in Dr. Timur Dogan’s Environmental Systems Lab in the architecture department. Prior to Cornell, Allison worked as a sustainability consultant. Her research in the lab focuses on developing an early design decision-making building simulation framework that when furnished with basic inputs generates design options that can be filtered by energy performance, carbon footprint, and cost criteria. Given that architects make critical early design decisions on orientation, massing, and structure that significantly affect the energy use and carbon footprint of the design, such a framework aims to better inform these initial decisions, reducing time and cost while improving building performance.
Luisa Cortesi (Anthropology)
The Flood Room (RCR)
Luisa Cortesi (PhD, Yale, Forestry and Environmental Studies and Anthropology) is currently the S.H. Taylor postdoc in Anthropology and STS. She is an environmental anthropologist, interested in the environmental knowledge of increasingly disastrous waters, in particular floods and toxic drinking water, and environmental justice. She works primarily in North Bihar, India, a place that is recurrently flooded and increasingly so, where she asks under which conditions are people better equipped to face a disaster.
Alexa Schmitz (Biological and Environmental Engineering)
Extracting Rare Earth Elements with Engineered Microorganisms for Sustainable Energy (RCR)
Alexa is a postdoctoral researcher with the Barstow Lab in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering. Her research focuses on the development of an efficient and sustainable solution to the growing demand for rare earth elements in light of their utilization for renewable energy technologies, especially wind turbines. In collaboration with researchers at the Idaho National Lab, Alexa is using the bacterium, Gluconobacter oxydans, to extract these critical metals from end-of-life waste materials via its production of strong, but biodegradable, organic acids. This bioleaching process will hopefully replace some of the more harmful technologies currently in place for rare earth extraction. Funding from the Atkinson Center will support Alexa’s development of whole-genome knockout collections in G. oxydans, allowing her to comprehensively identify genes underlying the bioleaching process that can be targeted for improvement through bioengineering.
Itamar-Ariel Shabtai (Soil and Crop Sciences)
Can Improved Drainage Water Management in Peat Soils Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emission and Optimize Crop Yields? (RCR)
Itamar Shabtai is a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Integrative Plant Science working in Johannes Lehmann’s lab. He is interested in how soil water content can be managed to stabilize organic carbon in the soil. Peat soils contain more organic carbon than all the forests of the worlds combined but their degradation under agricultural use is responsible for 6% of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Itamar will leverage ACSF funding to study how improving the water budget of agricultural peat soils can minimize peat carbon decomposition. This work will help develop management tools to reduce CO2 emissions from agricultural peat soils.