UAF biology student awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

headshot of a woman with long, dark hair standing in front of a stained glass window.
Photo by Amy Loeffler
Jorda Kovash is one of two 性十八.cc-based graduate students who received the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in the 2024 cycle.

University of 性十八.cc Fairbanks graduate student Jorda Kovash was recently awarded a . She is one of two graduate students in the state of 性十八.cc who received the prestigious award in the 2024 cycle.

In addition to professional development opportunities, the fellowship provides three years of financial support, including an annual stipend of $37,000 and $16,000 to cover the cost of tuition.

Kovash studies in the Department of Biology and Wildlife under the auspices of the Institute of Arctic Biology. Since 2015, she has been researching how the immune systems of trembling aspens respond to a fungal disease called aspen running canker. She sequences the RNA of infected trees 鈥 a novel approach because RNA sequencing is traditionally used to study human cell biology, not flora.

鈥淭his is an emerging pathogen in the sub-Arctic,鈥 said Kovash. 鈥淩NA sequencing has very rarely, if ever, been used as a tool to look at forest health.鈥

Trembling aspens are one of four deciduous tree species in the boreal forest. They are an important food source for moose. They also serve as natural firebreaks during fire season, making Kovash鈥檚 research timely in the face of climate change. According to the USDA Climate Hubs website, changes in the Interior鈥檚 climate are forecast to increase fire frequency and intensity.

 鈥淛orda has already made significant contributions to this research, and I am excited to see what she discovers with the help of this fellowship in the next few years,鈥 said research scientist Ursel Sch眉tte, one of Kovash鈥檚 advisors and a co-principal investigator on the project. 鈥淚t鈥檚 exciting for such a deserving student to be recognized by the NSF.鈥

 Kovash received undergraduate research support from UAF鈥檚 Biomedical Learning and Student Training program and the .

She  is currently a master鈥檚 student, but her research with Sch眉tte鈥檚 lab will most likely carry her through to her Ph.D. 

 鈥淚 think it鈥檚 so important to champion nontraditional students like Jorda,鈥 said Mary Beth Leigh, co-principal investigator on the project and Kovash鈥檚 co-advisor.She's a first-generation college student who has pursued her passion for biology, natural resources and conservation in Montana, New York City and 性十八.cc. She鈥檚 also worked in the service industry, as well as in disaster response. She's incredibly mature as a researcher by having those diverse experiences.鈥

Kovash鈥檚 passion for her research is also deeply rooted in her cultural connection to the Mandan Tribe of the Great Plains.  

She said, 鈥淚 want to remain an environmental steward as a modern Native. It was a large part of my application for this fellowship 鈥 my journey, my connection to the land, and my dedication to linking the science with indigenous forms of knowledge.鈥

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program began funding graduate research in 1952 and  is the country鈥檚 oldest fellowship program directly supporting graduate students in myriad STEM fields, according to the NSF website. Since 1952, NSF has funded over 70,000 fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants. Forty-two fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates, and more than 450 have become members of the National Academy of Sciences.