Biology Student Earns National Research Fellowship

Biology Department

Kirsten Famiglietti liked science as a kid. She even started working at a garden center as a senior at Guilford High School.

kirsten famigliettiBut she never intended to major in biology when she came to Southern a few years ago – let alone set her sights on the field of botany. But her intentions began to change after taking a few classes with Rebecca Silady, an assistant professor of biology and the university's botany specialist.

"At one point, she asked me if I would be interested in volunteering in her botany lab," Famiglietti says. "I did and enjoyed it a great deal. I was learning quite a bit. The only downside is that I wasn't getting paid, so I couldn't spend as much time in the lab as I would have liked."

Silady saw a fellowship program opportunity that was being offered by the American Society of Plant Biology (ASPB) and quickly suggested that Famiglietti apply. A few months later, Famiglietti received an email saying that she had been selected as one of 15 winners across the nation. She competed amid 55 applicants for the fellowship. In addition, she was one of only four students attending a "primarily undergraduate institution."

Famiglietti, who will be a senior this fall, is working during the summer doing laboratory research on the small, flowering plant called Arabidopsis thaliana, which Silady calls the "lab rat" of plant biology. Arabidopsis thaliana is in the mustard family. "We use it for experiments in the lab because it is small and grows faster than most crop plants," Silady says.

The goal of the research is to see how the plant responds to various stimuli, such as sunlight and gravity, and involves using mutant variants of the plant to compare the results. It hones in on how the seeds of the plant store protein, which can eventually help botanists and breeders learn about the nutritional value of grains.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to have the time and the resources to apply my research skills," Famiglietti says.

She is earning a $4,000 stipend for the 10-week program, which runs from mid-June to mid-August. She will present her work next year at the annual meeting of the ASPB.

Both Famiglietti and Silady had to submit paperwork as part of the application process. Candidates for the fellowship were judged on a variety of criteria, including a student's promise as an undergraduate student and the proposed project itself.

The fellowship winners are featured in the May/June edition of the organization's magazine, ASPB News. In the article, each individual tells why the award is important to them.

"Winning (the grant) and seeing my plans come to fruition have motivated me to work even harder and be more confident in pursuing my long-term academic goals," she says in the article.