Qiu Chang Wu ’18 has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, one of two Colorado College seniors to receive the highly competitive fellowship this year.
The award will support Wu’s research interests in systems and synthetic biology at Harvard University, where she will pursue a Ph.D. beginning this fall.
Wu, a molecular and cellular biology major and biochemistry minor, who wrote in her NSF proposal, “When I was young, I never saw myself as a scientist. I grew up in a working-class immigrant community on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I didn’t have a notion of what a scientist was, let alone how I could be one, but I knew I loved learning about the natural world.”
During the summer of her freshman year at Colorado College, Wu worked at the University of South Florida, where she studied ecological immunology in host parasite relations. The following summer, she was accepted into a research experience for undergraduates (REU) program at the University of California San Francisco, where she developed an interest in systems and synthetic biology. There she worked with Hana El-Samad, an eminent noise and systems biologist, and others to study noise control in mammalian cell systems. Wu was invited back for a second summer, and received an internship grant through CC’s Career Center to do so.
Her two summer’s work of research on gene expression noise is addressed in her NSF Graduate Research Fellowship proposal and is the subject of her senior thesis.
Wu says when she started writing the fellowship proposal, “I didn’t really have the goal of getting the NSF, but rather to learn how to write a complete scientific narrative with feasible experiments. My education at Colorado College, and particularly in molecular biology and chemistry, had gave me the tools to write it. My professors Dr. Jennifer Garcia, Dr. Phoebe Lostroh, and Dr. Olivia Hatton (all in the Molecular Biology Department) gave me the support to write it well. They met with me to talk about experimental logic, advice on proper scientific writing, and ultimately gave feedback on my actual proposal. I thought that the process was a great learning experience and a culmination of the background knowledge and skills I had gain in the four years here.”
In addition to her summer research, Wu spent the fall semester of her junior year at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where she worked on a biofuels related microbiology project.
As a student at CC, Wu has volunteered extensively in the community: as a literacy tutor, mentoring at-risk teens at an alternative high school, helping elementary-school students with homework before school starts, and judging science fairs.
As a result, she was encouraged to apply for — and received — an NSF Noyce STEM teaching fellowship to work with local underserved school in the STEM courses, where she worked with ESL students, providing assistance with STEM coursework. “As an ESL learner and an immigrant myself, I empathized strongly with the students’ struggles. My goal was to help increase English literacy and develop teaching methods to make STEM education more accessible for ESL students.”
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. It is a five-year program that includes three years of a $34,000 stipend for research as well as tuition coverage. During the 2018 awards cycle, the NSF received more than 12,000 applications and granted 2,000 fellowships.