2020 MSA Travel Award Winners

2020 MSA Travel Award Winners

Francis A. Uecker Travel Award
Sean W. McCotter - University of British Columbia

Sean W McCotter is a PhD candidate in the lab of Dr. Jim Kronstad at the University of British Columbia. Sean’s research focuses on the genetics and host-microbe interactions of the corn smut fungus, Ustilago maydis. Sean’s road to mycology was somewhat roundabout. He received his BA from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA with specializations in International Political Economy and Economics. Struggling to find employment in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Sean worked as a cook in a Chinese restaurant and continued his science education as a part-time student at Bellevue College. In 2011 Sean joined the Lab of Dr. Lori Carris at Washington State University as an intern working on a phylogenetic study of Morchella spp. and ultimately enrolled as an MS student. His research at WSU concerned the genomics of Tilletia spp. of bunt fungi. Upon graduation, Sean moved to Vancouver, BC to join the Kronstad Lab. Sean has a passion for teaching and outreach and has shown a nearly lifelong interest in mycology. He has been a member of the Puget Sound Mycological Society, the Palouse Mycological Association and the Vancouver Mycological Society. For fun, Sean enjoys “scoping” local BC rust fungi.

Alma Joslyn Whiffe-Barksdale Travel Award

Nicole Colón-Carrión is a third year Ph.D. student in the School of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona, where she works with Dr. Betsy Arnold. Nicole received her bachelor’s degree in Natural Science with a concentration in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico, Cayey Campus. As a graduate student, she is interested in fungal symbioses and their role in reforestation and agricultural enhancement. After obtaining her Ph.D., her career goal is to become a specialist focused on using symbioses to improve agriculture in Puerto Rico, with a special focus on biological control and plant health in natural and cultivated ecosystems. By integrating knowledge in mycology, plant pathology, plant sciences, molecular biology, bioinformatics, phylogenetics, ecology, and evolution, she hopes to develop and communicate innovative strategies to farmers to improve Puerto Rico’s declining agricultural practices, while also providing educational and research-training opportunities to local students.

Nicole Colón-Carrión - University of Arizona
Charles Kramer Travel Award
Lindsey Becker - North Carolina State University

Lindsey Becker is a PhD student in the lab of Dr. Marc Cubeta at North Carolina State University. She received her BA from The College of Wooster and her MS in Plant Pathology from North Carolina State University. Lindsey is inspired to find ways in which the wheat microbiome can be harnessed to improve yield for wheat plants experiencing water stress. Her research goal is to examine if plants under drought stress select beneficial microbes to pass along to the next generation. She is also interested in investigating the functions of the wheat microbiome to determine if functional changes occur when wheat plants experience drought. Lindsey’s research aims to reveal the resilient wheat microbial community that farmers can utilize to adapt to predicted climate change scenarios.

Constantine J. Alexopoulos Travel Award
Kasey Kiesewetter - University of Miami

Kasey Kiesewetter is currently a PhD candidate in Dr. Michelle Afkhami’s laboratory at the
University of Miami. She became interested in ecology as an undergraduate working with Dr.
Jean Burns at Case Western Reserve University studying the effects of climate on ant-mediated
seed dispersal of plants. After graduating with a B.S. in Biology, Kasey joined the Afkhami lab
with the goal of exploring microbial ecology and its role in conservation biology. She has been
conducting research in the Pine Rocklands, a highly imperiled, fragmented habitat in South
Florida. Because of the critical role fungi play in ecosystem functioning and the increasing
urbanization-driven fragmentation of natural landscapes, Kasey has become especially
interested in understanding how fungal communities in this ecosystem respond to habitat
fragmentation (e.g.the consequences of increased natural-urban interfaces at habitat edges).

Edward E. Butler Travel Award

José Solórzano is originally from Danlí, Honduras. Since he was a child, Jose became interested in sciences and teaching. In 2013, he obtained a high school degree certifying him to teach in elementary school. In 2014, he moved to Catacamas, Honduras, where he went to the Universidad Nacional de Agricultura (UNA) to obtain his bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Engineering from 2014-2018. In 2017, in his senior year, Jose was awarded with a visiting research scholar position at Louisiana State University (LSU) through a grant from the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund. Jose spent that time at Doyle’s Mycology Lab doing his undergraduate thesis research titled Competition Among Cercospora Species Associated with Cercospora Leaf Blight and Purple Seed Stain. In 2019, Jose became a Master’s student at LSU in the Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology, advised primarily by Dr. Vinson Doyle. Jose’s research focuses on understanding the etiology of Taproot Decline (TRD) of soybean caused by Xylaria sp. Jose’s interests include acquiring knowledge about the role of fungal secondary metabolites in infection, competition, and phytotoxicity.

José Efrain Ortiz Solórzano - Louisiana State University
Everett S. Luttrell Travel Award
Spenser Babb-Biernacki - Louisiana State University

Born in the largely mushroom-less desert of Phoenix, Arizona, Spenser Babb-Biernacki nevertheless became interested in mycology during her undergraduate study at Arizona State University. A conservation biology student, Spenser’s honors thesis focused on the causal agent of the modern mass amphibian extinction: the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Although initially focused on its conservation implications, Spenser quickly became fascinated by Bd itself, and fungi in general. Her work with Bd led Spenser to an interest in mammal-fungus interactions, which she now studies as a PhD student at Louisiana State University. Spenser now works with the fungal pathogen Pneumocystis, an obligate symbiont of mammal lungs which can cause life-threatening pneumonia. Under the tutelage of her advisors Drs. Vinson Doyle and Jacob Esselstyn, she studies the systematics and speciation of these fungi in wild mammals to better understand how fungal pathogens adapt to changes in their hosts. Spenser believes species discovery is the most important challenge facing mycologists today, particularly in animal-associated fungi, which have historically received little attention.

Harry Morton Fitzpatrick Travel Award
Damian Hernandez - University of Miami

Damian Hernandez is currently a PhD candidate in Dr. Michelle Afkhami’s laboratory at the University of Miami. He became interested in the molecular mechanisms of plant-microbial interactions during his Master’s thesis studying plant immune responses to microbial pathogens with Dr. Christiane Gatz at the International Max Planck Research School for Molecular Biology. After graduating with his M.Sc. in molecular Biology, Damian joined the lab of Dr. Nirupa Chaudhari at the University of Miami studying the cellular diversity of taste neurons with single-cell transcriptomics and cellular labeling. He then joined Dr. Afkhami’s lab for his PhD with the goal of understanding how plants and their microbial partners integrate environmental context at a genetic level to regulate their relationships. He is currently working on how plant investment in arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis is regulated by environmental control over plant gene expression in gene families conserved in mycorrhizal plants.

Harry D. Theirs Travel Award

Johnny Balidion is currently a PhD student in plant pathology at NC State University and a Fulbright Fellow from the Philippines. Before starting his doctoral program in 2018, he is an Assistant Professor of plant pathology at the University of the Philippines Los Banos with 13 years of experience in teaching and research on diseases of several tropical crop systems such as rice, orchids, highland vegetables and cacao. Johnny’s research interests are on pathogen diagnostics, disease ecology and host-pathogen-abiotic stress interactions. In 2016, he was awarded the Borlaug Global Cocoa Initiative Fellowship and worked with USDA-ARS in Beltsville, MD on PCR-based detection of fungal pathogens associated with vascular streak dieback of cacao. Later that year, he led a USAID-funded project that aims to evaluate the fungal pathogens associated with dieback symptoms of cacao in the Philippines. Motivated to explore cacao pathogens, he received a Fulbright Foreign Student Fellowship in 2018 to pursue a doctoral degree and further research on latent fungal pathogens of cacao and their interaction with abiotic stress. Johnny loves exploring culture and food from different places. During his free time, Johnny likes to watch sci-fi movies, try out new recipes and bike around the Raleigh community.

Johnny Balidion - North Carolina State University
Howard E. Bigelow Travel Award
J. Ashton Reece - Middle Tennessee State University

Ashton Reece is currently a master’s student with Dr. Don Walker at Middle Tennessee State University. Ashton has been interested in fungal pathogens since 2014 when she first learned of the disease known as White Nose Syndrome (WNS) in bats. This led her to earn a BS in Biology with a focus in Ecology at Middle Tennessee State University where she began her work with Dr. Walker investigating a possible bacterial-fungal interaction with the causative agent of WNS Pseudogymnoascus destructans. She hopes to continue researching fungal wildlife pathogens with the goal to aid in conservation of the host organism.

James M. Trappe Travel Award
Brian Rennick - Michigan State University

After six years serving in the United States Air Force and an additional five as a DOD civil servant working as a plumber, Bryan Rennick perused and obtained his BS in Horticultural Science at Michigan State University where he developed a fascination in plant-fungal relationships. Now a Master’s student, Bryan studies under Dr. Gregory Bonito at Michigan State University, where he researches applications of ectomycorrhizal fungi in forestry and agriculture. Chief among his interests are fungal diversity and investigating the viability of co-cropping truffles with economically important trees in the Midwest US. In his pursuit of a Master’s, Bryan works to describe new Tuber species, investigate Tuber plantation management, and research ectomycorrhizal truffle and mushroom inoculations in bare-root Christmas tree nurseries after soil fumigation. Bryan aims to carry his passion and skills for working with fungi and plants forward into a career where he can continue building on these experiences.

Kenneth Wells Travel Award

Maria-Jose Romero-Jimenez is from Liberia, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. She did her undergrad in Biotechnology Engineering at Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica (ITCR) and her undergrad honors thesis at Western Illinois University. She returned to WIU to do a masters with the guidance of Dr. Andrea Porras-Alfaro and this Fall will start a PhD at Oregon State University with the guidance of Dr. Posy Busby. Her research for three years has focused on the description of a new fungal species of the Darksidea genus and the characterization of its ecology and role on semi arid grasses. She is very interested on fungal developmental and phenotypic plasticity and their role on their interactions with plants. Maria also enjoys to participate on outreach activities and the MSA student section. During her free time, Maria watches The Office, Parks and Rec and lately Star Wars the Clone Wars. Maria also likes to bake and paint with watercolors and gouache.

Maria-Jose Romero-Jimenez - Western Illinois University
Margaret Barr Bigelow Travel Awards
Xiomy-Janiria Pinchi-Davila - Western Illinois University

Xiomy-Janiria Pinchi-Davila

I was born and raised in Pucallpa, located in the peruvian amazon. I completed my undergraduate degree in Biology with a major in Botany at Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos at Lima, Peru. In 2017 I came to the US to present my undergrad thesis results in the 85th MSA Annual Meeting for the first time. In this meeting Dr. Stajich introduced me to my current master’s advisor, Dr. Andrea Porras-Alfaro. The energy and friendly people I met at MSA convinced me to pursue a career in Mycology. Currently, I am in my last semester at Western Illinois University completing her master’s degree in Biology. My thesis focused on the description of a new fungal specie of Pleosporales and its interaction with plants. In fall 2020, she will be joining the IPS program at University of Georgia where she hopes to major in Plant Pathology.

Annie Schauster fell in love with mushrooms at a young age, collecting morels and other edible fungi with her father. Her passion grew after joining the Colorado Mycological Society and earning a volunteer position for the Denver Botanic Gardens Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi. Developing the skills needed for macrofungi identification and how to manage a fungal herbarium, she realized how little we know about the Kingdom Fungi. She made the ultimate decision to return to school nine years after earning her BS in Biology and has since graduated with a MS in Biology from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse in May of 2020, focusing on the study of Mycology. Working with her primary advisor, Dr. Todd Osmundson, her research focused on burn morels, using genetic and genomic techniques to investigate their successional patterns and modes of reproduction. Annie recently accepted a PhD position at the University of Colorado Denver where she will be investigating fungal adaptations in hostile environments. She hopes to use her research and teaching experiences to one day educate our younger generations on the importance of fungi and fungal research.

Annie Schauster - University of Wisconsin - La Crosse
Orson and Hope Miller Travel Award
Olivia Anderson - Montana State University - Bozeman

Olivia Anderson is an undergraduate at Montana State University where she is pursuing a B.S. in Organismal Biology and minors in Statistics and Museum Studies. She joined Dr. Cathy Cripps lab in 2018 after taking one of Dr. Cripps’s classes and falling head over hiking boots for all things fungal. She has worked her way up from a volunteer lab assistant to creating and investigating her own research projects regarding the potential of soil aggregation by burn-fungi in burned forest areas. Her other focus in the fungal world stems from her love of herbarium science. While currently searching for her next project, she is working under the professors in charge of the MSU herbarium system, Dr. Cripps and Dr. Lavin, to learn her general taxonomy and proper herbarium techniques. Olivia hopes to continue with fungal herbarium work in graduate school and return to the subject following her service in the Peace Corps. She also fosters a great love for community service through her position as the president of MSU’s National Residence Hall Honorary, executive board member of the Residence Hall Association, member of MSU’s Mortar Board chapter, and Peace Corps Campus Ambassador.

Emerson-Fuller-Whisler Travel Award

Annakay Abrahams is a PhD candidate working with Dr. Marin Brewer in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Georgia. Her research focuses on using comparative genomics, cytogenetics, microscopy and field studies to better understand the life cycle and high genetic variation in the blueberry pathogen Exobasidium maculosum. Her project is currently exploring the role of vector transmission in the pathosystem and whether a vectored lifestyle may be responsible for the recent emergence of the pathogen. Annakay is a Jamaican native who previously received a BS in Biology and MS in Plant Pathology.

Robert L. Gilbertson Travel Award

Sean Patev is a Bay Stater with interests in wood decay fungi, fungal-host interactions, and plant pathogens. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Hibbett lab at Clark University in Worcester Massachusetts studying the white-rot genus Lentinula. Sean received his Masters in Plant Pathology from Cornell University, where he worked with Phytophthora infestans, and studied Microbiology and Plant Pathology at The University of Massachusetts Amherst for his Bachelor’s. Outside of academia, Sean is co-owner of 3D printer manufacturing and service company TKI, a small Orchard, and volunteers with the Worcester Tree Initiative. He enjoys producing custom lab equipment for himself and others, including thermal cyclers, bead beaters, tube racks, magnetic racks, and more. He hopes to someday integrate his pursuits in technology and engineering with applications in forestry and agriculture.

Sean Patev - Clark University
Richard P. Korf Travel Award
Brianna Almeida - University of Miami

Brianna Almeida is a PhD student in Dr. Michelle Afkhami’s plant-microbial interaction lab at the University of Miami (UM). She began her scientific journey at Florida International University in the plant physiology lab of Dr. Jennifer Richards, where she studied stomatal morphology. After graduating she joined the Afkhami lab to understand how plants interact with fungi. For one of her first projects she sequenced soil fungal communities from Everglades tree islands and identified manipulated abiotic and biotic factors that altered soil fungal diversity and composition 15 years after restoration. Brianna is also involved in scientific outreach with children from the local community. She participates as a judge for the Fairchild Challenge which aims to engage students with the natural world. She has also organized graduate students to participate in Bio-Reach, a program in the UM Biology Department which invites underserved elementary schools to engage in scientific learning modules and direct conversations with scientists. For her main dissertation project Brianna hopes to understand if foliar fungi and the chemicals those microbes produce have effects on pollination services. She was inspired by the relatively new Ipomoea-Periglandula plant-fungal association model and how these fungi could possibly change plant productivity.

D. Rabern Simmons Travel Award
Daniel Enrique Acosta García - Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Daniel E. Acosta García is a bachelor student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. During his mycology and physiology courses, he become interested in fungal diversity and their role for ecosystem processes and started a research stay with Dr. Camille Truong on insect-fungi interactions between bark beetles and mycangial fungi. In the near future, he aspires to study more deeply the symbiosis between fungi and organisms from other kingdoms, while developing further his skills in genomics and bioinformatics for ecological inferences.

William C. Denison Travel Award

Darianne M. Alvarez was born and race in Utuado, Puerto Rico (PR). Her childhood was around a farmer family having and caring for our environment. Her father, Juan A. Alvarez, was a farmer but also an Agricultural Education teacher of kids from 6th grade to 9th grade. His father became his teacher and helping her getting involved in the organization name interactionally has Future Farmers of America (FFA), competing in poultry and coffee production but also in oratory with the title of “Whitening of the Coral Reefs” raising awareness of the death of corals due to the pollution and global warming. Timepass and Ms. Alvarez got to high-school and became the regional president of Arecibo, PR, in FFA from 2006-2007. This position was given to FFA members, the best juvenile agricultural project in the region on Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and the best interview made by an FFA committee. Finishing high school, she started in a Horticulture program at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, PR (UPRM). She was graduating with honors. In her 3rd year of the bachelor, she met her mentor for the master degree, Dr. Lydia I. Rivera Vargas that is a teacher in UPRM of Crop Protection and Tropical Phytopathology. Ms. Alvarez finishes her master degree with a thesis called Pericarp Browning: a Post-Harvest Problem on Rambutan Fruit (Nephelium lappaceum L.). This project was fulfilled from 2012-2016 were two varieties of rambutan fruit were evaluated 7,14 and 18 days for fruit quality and fungal pathogens associated with the pericarp browning with new reports as Colletotrichum siamense, Colletotrichum tropicale and Neopestalotiopsis clavispora (not published). She was presenting her work in Puerto Rico and in American Phytopathological Society, Caribbean Division, Mexico Congress. Ms. Alvarez became an Agricultural Education teacher as her Dad for two years (2016-2018), from kids of pre-school to 7th grade having FFA awards with their students competing in numerous events. At that time, Ms. Alvarez’s brother Dr. Omar A. Alvarez has begun being a professor in UPR in Utuado and motivated her to start her Ph.D. She applies to the environmental biology program at Ana G. Mendez University in 2018 and become a Ph.D. student by the mentoring of Dr. Sharon A. Cantrell. She began this project in 2018 searching for the effect of Hurricane Maria in the Janzen-Connell model with tree native species in the Yunque national forest. The species were Prestoea acuminata (resistance to hurricanes), Schefflera morototoni (susceptible to hurricanes), and Guarea guidonea (tolerant to hurricanes).

Darianne M. Alvarez-Franceschi - Ana G. Mendez University
Donald Barr Travel Awards for MSA Long-Term International Members
Camille Truong - Nacional Autonomous University of Mexico

Camille Truong is an Associate Researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Her expertise spans across taxonomy, molecular systematics, evolution of symbiosis and modelization of ecological data. She is particularly interested in fungal biodiversity from tropical and southern temperate ecosystems to understand the role of fungal diversity for ecosystem functioning and the evolution of plant-fungi interactions through time and space. She completed her PhD at the University of Geneva (Switzerland) and two postdocs at Duke University and the University of Florida. She is an MSA member since 2013 and is currently acts in the MSA research awards committee.