Family Fuels Westminster Alum's Research with National Science Foundation

Maria Alvarez Zavala NSF Fellowship Awardee

April 15, 2020

Six Westminster Scholars Recognized by the NSF

In her senior year at Westminster, Maria Alvarez Zavala applied for a National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate fellowship to research chemical impacts on agricultural workers. She didn’t think she’d get; it felt like a long shot with a very personal impact.

“My dad works in the state of Idaho as a farm worker. My proposal included a lot about my family and the exposure to chemicals that workers face every day,” Alvarez said.

Maria's family

Maria and family

The NSF awarded Alvarez a fellowship for her project focusing on biogeochemistry and looking at general chemical impacts that agriculture and roadways have on adjacent forests in East Lansing, MI. She will combine her technical training to promote needed changes for agricultural laborers to not only receive adequate hygiene practices in the workforce but to continue to evaluate herbicide and pesticide input on native ecosystems and the way in which the farm workers are affected.

“This tells me that the foundation is also seeing the importance of research that protects agricultural workers,” Alvarez said. “I’m so happy not only that my dream is fulfilled but my family’s dream too. Everyone has made sacrifices so I can continue studying.”

Alvarez graduated from Westminster in December 2019 with a degree in chemistry. She is in the McNair program, a federally funded effort to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups to go on to graduate study.

She is one of six Westminster scholars awarded NSF fellowships and honorable mentions this year. Five of the recognized Westminster researchers are from Westminster’s nationally recognized Honors College, which houses the Office of Fellowship Advising. The office serves all Westminster students and guides them through the grant-application process.

NSF Fellowship Awardees

  • Maria G. Alvarez Zavala (’19, Chemistry, McNair) in Life Sciences: Environmental Biology (currently at New Mexico State University)
  • Ember Bradbury (’20, Honors, Biology) in Life Sciences: Ecology
  • Douglas Getty (’16, Honors, Psychology) in Life Sciences: Psycholinguistics (currently at University of Pittsburgh)

Honorable Mentions

  • Grace Padilla (’20, Honors, Neuroscience, McNair) in Life Science: Neuroscience
  • Jadie Adams (’18, Honors, Math) in Comp/IS/Eng: Machine Learning (currently at University of Utah)
  • Jake Bergquist (’17 Honors, Biology) in Engineering: Biomedical Engineering (currently at University of Utah)

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program provides researchers a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, opportunities for international research and professional development and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.