Hertz Fellowship Supports STEM Education

Students interested in obtaining doctoral degrees in STEM fields can apply for a Hertz Foundation Fellowship.

The foundation encouraging research in applied physical and biological sciences mathematics and engineering. Applications are due by Oct. 24.

Executive Director Kathy Young described the fellowship as “incredibly competitive,” because fewer than 2 percent of applicants are accepted.

“We are really looking for the top students,” she said.

Since the foundation was established 1957, Hertz Fellows have founded more than 200 companies and they have received over 200 major awards, including two Nobel Prizes in physics, according to the website.

“A lot of our applicants apply because they want to be a part of the Hertz community,”

Young said.

Young sees the foundation as an opportunity for professionals to form networks.

“We have a lot of gatherings with Hertz fellows across disciplines, generations and geography and they are able to share ideas and collaborate,” Young said. “Many of them have started businesses together or wrote papers together.”

The Hertz Fellowship differs from most because students are not committed to work on their adviser’s projects, Young said, because they have their own funding. They can work on whatever project they want.

“You are not only receiving the financial value and the freedom that comes with the fellowship. You are also part of the Hertz community,” Young said.

The five-year fellowship covers full tuition for participating institutions, Young said.

Applications can be found on the Hertz Foundation website, hertzfoundation.org.

Researchers Tracking Fungus

Nearly one-third of the global rice production is lost each year to a disease known as blast. That much rice could feed 60 million people, a UA researcher said.

Martin Egan, assistant professor of plant pathology in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life sciences, obtained his Ph.D. in molecular plant pathology from the University of Exeter, UK, a leading institution in rice blast research. Egan recently received a $110,332 grant from the UofA Chancellor’s Innovation Fund to study the cell functions of M. oryzae, the blast fungus.

“It’s a serious threat to global food security,” Egan said.

Arkansas rice growers are responsible for about half of the rice grown in the U.S., so the disease is especially costly here.

The airborne disease is spread by spores that land on rice leaves and stick tightly, Egan said. Within eight hours, the spore germinates and forms a dome-shaped infection cell called the appressorium. This structure generates an enormous amount of pressure that builds up to allow it to punch its way physically through the leaf, where it begins colonizing the tissue and dampening the plant’s immune system.

“You don’t really see disease symptoms for about three days after infection, so it’s kind of silently colonizing the tissue,” Egan said.

This intrusion is made possible partly by a ring-shaped structure called a septin ring. The blast spores produce filaments made of septin, a class of protein. The filaments then grow into a ring structure where the appressorium is attached to the plant.

The septin ring is essential to spreading the fungus. Researchers are working to discover ways to stop that spread.

Egan and his co-investigator, Yong Wang of the U of A physics department, will be looking for other proteins that might play a role in controlling or regulating the septin filaments that build the septin ring.

Wang employs a Nobel Prize-winning technique called “super-resolution fluorescence microscopy” to help understand how the proteins that build the septin ring structures organize.

The technique, invented between 2006-2008, won the 2014 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

“Conventional fluorescence microscopy has a special resolution of 200 nanometers,” Wang said. “It’s not good for the proteins inside the bacteria, because the bacteria itself is about 500 nanometers in diameter, and the proteins are, like, 5 nanometers.”

The super-resolution technique is about 10-20 times better than conventional fluorescence microscopy, Wang said, allowing them to see the individual proteins inside the cells, bacteria or fungus.

“We would like to look at the septin ring at different time points and see how this ring structure develops,” Wang said.

Alvaro Durand-Morat and Lawton Nalley, both professors of agricultural economics and agribusiness, have researched and published reports on the global economic impact of the blast disease.

Rice is an important food staple for more than half of the world, according to a 2016 report by the professors. Therefore, the world supply must double by 2050 to keep up with the food demand from population growth.

Some strains of the fungus are quickly growing resistant to fungicides, so the need to identify new ways of addressing the disease is urgent.

Additionally, there is now a population of blast fungus that has adapted to infect wheat crops in South America.

“It’s the same organism, it’s just made a host leap,” Egan said.

Egan said one way of potentially preventing rice blast is planting cultivars that are genetically resistant to the disease. However, he also said the pathogen will adapt and overcome that resistance within a matter of one to three years.

Results from the researchers’ 2016 study showed that, by eliminating blast from production in the Mid-South, U.S. rice producers would gain $69.34 million annually and increase the rice supply to feed an additional one million consumers globally.

UA Recruiting Efforts Yield Record Enrollments

By Megan Wilson:

The University of Arkansas broke multiple enrollment records during the 2018-2019 school year, according to enrollment data.

Preliminary enrollment shows 27,778 UA students, an increase of 220 from fall 2017, according to the UA website.

The freshman class includes 2,507 students from Arkansas, another record, making freshman enrollment 5,019, according to the website.

The university set a diversity record with 20 percent minority students, with African-American and Hispanic students comprising the two largest minorities, according to the website.

Lynn Mosesso, director of Graduate and International Recruitment and Admissions, reported 1,433 international students from 115 countries.

The Multicultural Center has “different activities to educate the campus community about specific cultural groups and [they] engage student learning through games, presentation and conversation” said Brande Flack, director of Retention Programs at the Multicultural Center.

Suzanne McCray, vice chancellor of Enrollment, said her department has been making efforts to reach and recruit students across the state. College recruiters want to go where the students are, McCray said, but some high schools don’t let recruiters visit classrooms.

“There are some schools in the state that don’t allow you to come in to the school. There we’ll do a coffee chat in the community,” she said.

She said the university wants to be the university for the entire state and to do that they have to meet people where they are and take them information about the school.

Providing access to the flagship institution to students across the state is “a very important part of our mission,” McCray said.

“Being out there, being in the schools, letting students know you care and that they’ll find community on our campus, I think that’s incredibly important,” McCray said.

Many students from the university are from small towns in Arkansas and they need to be able to feel like the UofA is a home away from home, McCray said.

“It’s a combination of bringing the information to them and the excitement of going to college and the possibility of them going to the university,” she said. “Then getting them on campus so they can see if this a good fit for them.”

There have been initiatives to bring underrepresented students to the university by offering scholarships.

“In order to diversify a Predominantly White Institution like the UofA, we must work actively to recruit and support students of racial minority status,” Flack said. “Providing scholarships is one way to assist with the college expenses while fully investing in the diversity we value on our campus.”



Fall Deadline Near for Undergrad Research Grants

Students in a variety of academic fields and are interested in a research grant should apply for an undergraduate research grant by Oct. 17.

Almost 200 UA students applied for the research grant tailored for undergraduates during the 2017-2018 school year. Of those applicants, 42 received what is called a SURF grant, or Student Undergraduate Research Fund.

SURF grant supports UA students who research projects in Arkansas. The grant offers undergraduate students up to $3,250 for a living stipend and travel money, said Jonathan Langley, assistant director of Enrollment Services.

The program is designed to allow sophomores, juniors and seniors to complete research projects in their major, Langley said.

“SURF grants are available for students in all majors, from architecture to zoology. Any eligible student performing undergraduate research is encouraged to apply,” Langley said.

With almost $4,000 paid by the university, students can use the money to go on one of the 40 to 50 faculty-led study abroad programs.

“From broadening my horizons about the world to making a ton of new friends, study abroad has positively influenced me and served as a highlight of my time in college,” said senior Amrit Kannan, who studied in Belize during the summer of 2018.

Study abroad and the SURF grant give students an in-depth learning experience, Kannan said.

“Studying in a classroom has its limits. Instead of looking at a picture in a textbook, study abroad allows you to live in that picture, and experience it for days on end,” Kannan said.

A recipient also could have higher chances of finding other scholarships or being accepted into graduate school, Langley said.

“Many students who received SURF funding at the University of Arkansas have gone on to win nationally competitive scholarships and gain acceptance to some of the most prestigious graduate programs in the world,” Langley said.

The total $4,000 SURF award comes from a combination of funding from the UofA and the state, according to the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards website.

Chancellor plans to cut costs

Cutting administrative costs will allow UA administrators to give back to students, faculty and staff support programs, the UA chancellor said in his annual State of the University address.


Reducing the amount spent on supplies for the more than 4,000 printers on campus, as well as other administrative costs, would result in money that could better serve students and faculty and staff, Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz said.


“For every $2 we identify in cost savings, we will return $1 to student support and $1 to faculty support,” Steinmetz said.


Another example of cost-cutting that would provide money for student and faculty support services is searching for efficient test-taking services used in classes with hundreds of students, Steinmetz said.


Upgrading the wireless network in Hillside Auditorium


Upgrading the wireless network in Hillside Auditorium allowed a professor who was forced to use an exam-proctoring service that cost $90,000 each semester to provide test proctoring for five tests each semester to switch to a better in-class option that cost less, Steinmetz said.


“Frankly, that’s $90,000 I’m glad we’re not paying anymore,” Steinmetz said.


Steinmetz also stressed the importance of creating more campus jobs for students. He thinks it would be less expensive than outsourcing the work.


“I know our students would appreciate the chance to earn some extra income,” Steinmetz said.


The UofA also reached records in freshman retention and graduation rate, Steinmetz said. These are two areas he has tried to improve as during his nearly three years as chancellor.


The UofA retained just under 84 percent of freshmen students from last year and the six-year graduation rate reached 65.5 percent, Steinmetz said.


Steinmetz thinks that retaining freshman can raise the graduation rate, he said.


“There is a ripple effect we see in the junior, sophomore and senior years,” Steinmetz said.


Increasing freshman retention has been a part of Steinmetz’s plan to level out UA enrollment at 30,000 students on campus, he said.


UA administrators conducted a study of the campus and decided that 30,000 students is the ideal number for the UA campus at its current size, Steinmetz said.


In addition to increasing retention, the school has begun to intentionally limit the number of freshmen it enrolls each year, with just over 5,000 new freshman this year, Steinmetz said. This was an increase of approximately 250 students over last year’s enrollment.


UA administrators also try to balance 50 percent Arkansan students with 50 percent out-of-state students, Steinmetz said.


In the last year the UofA has been able to achieve that balance of in-state and out-of-state students within one percentage point, Steinmetz said.


To encourage Arkansan students to attend, 87 percent of scholarship money at the UofA is awarded to Arkansas students, Steinmetz said.


Steinmetz thinks that the mindset of UA students, faculty and staff, should be accepting to new ideas and willing to creatively tackle problems on campus, he said.


“When presented with a challenge or a new idea, let’s focus on saying ‘yes’ instead of defaulting to ‘no’,” Steinmetz said.