UPDATE: Three Ohio Wesleyan Students Earn National Science Foundation Awards

Updated: April 18, 2014

Kristen Lear, OWU Class of 2011, also has earned a 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Lear will attend the University of Georgia to continue research into how bats can help to reduce the need for chemical pesticides. Read her story.

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Mary Ann Lee ’14 and Brad Turnwald ’13 have just been awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Here, Lee conducts research involving squids and ocean acidification during an internship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Mary Ann Lee ’14 and Brad Turnwald ’13 have just been awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Here, Lee conducts research involving squids and ocean acidification during an internship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

DELAWARE, Ohio – Of the more than 14,000 applications received by the National Science Foundation for 2014 Graduate Research Fellowships, only 2,000 candidates earned awards. Among that elite group are two Ohio Wesleyan University students.

Mary Ann Lee, Class of 2014, and Brad Turnwald, Class of 2013, earned the newly announced NSF fellowships. The awards include a three-year annual stipend of $32,000, a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance, opportunities for international research and professional development, and opportunities to conduct original research at the U.S. graduate school of their choice.

Brad Turnwald ’13 visited Europe before graduation as part of an OWU Theory-to-Practice Grant experience at European Molecular Biology Laboratories in Heidelberg, Germany. (Photo courtesy of Brad Turnwald ’13)

Brad Turnwald ’13 visited Europe before graduation as part of an OWU Theory-to-Practice Grant experience at European Molecular Biology Laboratories in Heidelberg, Germany. (Photo courtesy of Brad Turnwald ’13)

“Mary Ann and Brad are outstanding young scientists,” said OWU President Rock Jones, Ph.D. “Both thrived at Ohio Wesleyan, conducting research on campus with faculty mentors and additional off-campus research with highly successful OWU alumni. As a result of their extraordinary scholarship, both Mary Ann and Brad previously were named Goldwater Scholars, and now both have earned highly competitive National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. We couldn’t be prouder of them and their accomplishments.”

Lee of Decatur, Ga., is a zoology and psychology double major. After graduation in May, she plans to attend Arizona State University to pursue a Ph.D. in animal behavior. Her NSF application sought support for research into the evolution of sexually selected traits in seahorses.

OWU zoology professor Amy Downing, Ph.D., spent time discussing and reviewing Lee’s NSF proposal and is not surprised that it stood out with reviewers.

“In Mary Ann’s case, she crafted a very eloquent research proposal,” Downing said. “She delved deep into the literature and became very well-versed in this topic. She initiated contact with experts in the field in order to ask additional questions about the validity and likely success of her chosen research project. The personal initiative Mary Ann took in this process of developing her proposal, along with deep and nuanced thinking and persistence even when faced with complex ideas, resulted in a proposal deemed to be worthy of being awarded the most prestigious award for entering Ph.D. students.”

During her time at Ohio Wesleyan, Lee has conducted research with 1991 OWU alumnus Douglas Nowacek, Ph.D., of the Duke University Marine Lab. The two scientists studied vocalizations of pilot whales. Over the summer, Lee also completed an internship at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. There, she studied newly hatched squid to determine how seawater pH levels affected their swimming abilities and, subsequently, their vulnerability to predators.

Turnwald of Ottoville, Ohio, majored in biochemistry and minored in zoology at Ohio Wesleyan. He is enrolled in Stanford University’s biomedical science doctoral program and, ultimately, hopes to conduct academic research in molecular biology and teach at the graduate level. He previously earned a three-year Graduate Fellowship from Stanford, valued at more than $220,000.

While at Ohio Wesleyan, Turnwald conducted off-campus research under the direction of 1961 OWU alumnus Herbert L. DuPont, M.D., director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas School of Public Health. There, Turnwald investigated Clostridium difficile infection (CDI), one of the world’s most common sources of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and hospital-acquired bacterial infections.

Also at Ohio Wesleyan, Turnwald wrote and was awarded a university-funded Theory-to-Practice Grant to complete a summer internship at European Molecular Biology Laboratories in Heidelberg, Germany. There, he conducted research in the field of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, expanding work completed on the OWU campus with associate professor of zoology David Markwardt, Ph.D.

Of his experience in Germany, Turnwald recently said: “The lab in Heidelberg was diverse, including members from India, Italy, Portugal, and all over Germany. I was the only American. The experience really showed me that science is universal. Though there were some differences in the ways research labs are run in the U.S compared to other parts of the world, it was empowering to experience research in an international setting and realize that scientists all over the world are working together and collaborating on tough biomedical problems for the benefit of people everywhere.”

Markwardt said he is pleased to see Turnwald add an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to his list of accomplishments.

“Good students can sometimes get bogged down in details, but not Brad. He can take direction a single time and convert it into forward momentum with his research,” Markwardt said. “He’s fast becoming a colleague of mine, not just a former student.”

In Markwardt’s laboratory, Turnwald helped to expand research in directions that will benefit future student-researchers and likely bear fruit in findings submitted for publication in peer-reviewed professional journals. Markwardt’s research involves how cells control gene expression by regulating the metabolism, processing, and translation of ribonucleic acid (RNA).

Though the OWU research is ongoing, Turnwald’s name soon will appear in leading journals in connection with his research efforts in both Texas and Germany. For his research in Texas, Turnwald with be the first author – a significant distinction, Markwardt said.

“Having one’s experimental work included in a peer-reviewed paper as an undergraduate is an impressive accomplishment,” Markwardt said. “Being the first author of such a paper is rare indeed.”

Rare, too, is earning a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. According to the NSF, it has received more than 500,000 applications since 1952, but funded only about 46,500. More than 30 of the fellowship recipients later became Nobel laureates, and more than 440 have become members of the National Academy of Sciences, the NSF states. Read more at www.nsfgrfp.org.

Learn more about science education and other academic opportunities at Ohio Wesleyan at choose.owu.edu.


Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private, coed university offers more than 90 undergraduate majors, minors, and concentrations, and competes in 23 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Ohio Wesleyan combines a challenging, internationally focused curriculum with off-campus learning and leadership opportunities to connect classroom theory with real-world practice. OWU’s 1,850 students represent 42 states and 37 countries. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” listed on the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction, and included in the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “best colleges” lists. Learn more at www.owu.edu.

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