PSS’s Gabriella Hale recognized as Texas Tech 2020 McNair Scholar
By: Norman Martin
Gabriella Hale, a senior from the Department of Plant and Soil Science, is part of the ground-breaking 2020 Class of Texas Tech University's McNair Scholars Program, a graduate school preparatory program for undergraduate students from historically underrepresented groups who've demonstrated strong academic potential for graduate research.
"This opportunity has been my first experience in hands-on research, from project design to data collection and interpretation," said Hale, who is one of 13 Tech students in the 2020 Class and the only one from the Tech's College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
"Gaining research experience in a graduate-level setting has made all the difference in giving me the skills and confidence I will need to be successful in graduate school," she said "I'm thankful to be learning these skills now, as an undergraduate. I feel like the McNair Scholars Program has given me a head-start in pursuing research as a career path."
Last year, Texas Tech was the recipient of a five-year, $1.1 million grant from the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, one of eight educational opportunity programs within the U.S. Department of Education's Federal TRIO Programs. The grant, named after a NASA astronaut killed in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, allowed the university to establish the Texas Tech McNair Scholars Program.
McNair Scholars are provided access to research opportunities with faculty mentors, research conference funding, graduate school application assistance, academic and professional training and an eight-week summer research-intensive internship and stipend. The scholars also receive assistance in preparing for their Graduate Record Examinations, along with exam fee reductions and waivers for graduate school applications.
Guiding Hale down this highly-technical research path is Venugopal Mendu, Hale's mentor and an associate professor of cell wall biology in Tech's Department of Plant and Soil Science, and last year's winner of Tech's Chancellor's Council Distinguished Research Award.
"Gabriella is an excellent student and a hardworking undergraduate researcher," Mendu said. "I'm delighted to have her in my lab and she has been a productive member of the lab."
Hale's research focuses on "Investigating the Physiological Responses in Arabidopsis FKF1 mutant," which explores the complex phenomena of light mediated regulation of cellulose biosynthesis.
"We're working with a specific blue light receptor mutant – FKF1 – which showed enhanced cellulose and chlorophyll contents compared to wild type plants," Hale said. "It's hypothesized the mutants have higher photosynthetic efficiency due to enhanced chlorophyll content. Controlled environment plant growth chambers are being constructed to measure CO2 gas exchange."
Differences in gas exchange will allow for measurements of photosynthetic and respiration rates, she said. The hope to increase understanding of how the FKF1 protein is modulating physiological responses in order to co-ordinate development with delayed flowering time and increased cellulose content.
Faculty mentoring is a critical aspect of the McNair Scholars Program, officials note. Mentors are asked to commit their time, share knowledge and insight and guide McNair Scholars through the process and completion of a research project.
"Quality mentoring is so important to student success and completion of graduate programs," said Mark Sheridan, Vice Provost for Graduate & Postdoctoral Affairs and Dean of Tech's Graduate School. The McNair Program focuses on increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), he added.
CONTACT: Venugopal Mendu, Associate Professor of Cell Wall Biology, Department of Plant and Soil Science, Texas Tech University at (806) 834- 6327 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Editor: Norman Martin
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