Tech graduate students earn research support through grant programs

Jan 23, 2020 | Applied and Natural Sciences, General News, Innovation, Research, Students

Two graduate students in the College of Applied and Natural Sciences’ Master of Science in Biology program received competitive research grants this academic year at Louisiana Tech University. 

Connor Gruntz received a grant from the Texas Ecolab Program, and Onyekachi Idigo received a Sigma Xi Grant in Aid of Research (GIAR). Earlier this year, both students were also recipients of newly created graduate scholarships donated by Dr. Thomas McNealy in honor of Dr. Joseph Davis and Dr. Robert Flournoy, former faculty at Louisiana Tech University who assisted McNealy when he was a graduate student at Louisiana Tech.

A 2019 Environmental Science graduate, Gruntz joined the MS program through the Concurrent Enrollment Program in Spring 2019. He works in the lab of Assistant Professor Dr. Natalie Clay; he is researching the impacts of low-level sodium additions on plant chemistry, productivity, and decomposition in riparian systems. Gruntz began working in Clay’s lab in summer 2017.

“My decision to go to graduate school was greatly influenced by the joy I found in the research I was conducting and the encouragement and enthusiasm from my advisor, Dr. Clay.” The funds from his grant titled “Understanding the Impacts of Sodium-Enriched Senesced Leaf and Woody Tissue on Decomposition Rates in Riparia” will facilitate fieldwork in Texas so he can complete his thesis research. Upon completion of his master’s degree, Connor plans to work as a conservationist, studying the effects of nutrient inputs on coastal ecosystems.

The Texas Ecolab Program partners with landowners throughout the state to improve the environment by providing researchers with access to private land for ecological research. The program enables landowners to maintain the natural state of their properties and encourages effective stewardship while allowing them to learn the unique attributes of their land through research. Funded research must also be able to demonstrate a benefit to farming, ranching, or wildlife management. This is the first year Louisiana Tech University has had the opportunity to participate in the program.

Onyekachi Idigo joined the MS program in winter 2018, moving here from Nigeria where she completed her degree in Biochemistry at Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State Nigeria. She works in the lab with Associate Professor Dr. Jamie Newman, studying the properties of adult stem cells with the goal of enhancing the use of stem cells in medicine. 

The funds for her grant, titled “The role of MED12 in adipogenesis of human adipose stem cells,” will help purchase lab supplies so Idigo can complete her thesis project.  Upon completion of her master’s degree. Onyekachi plans to attend a PhD program.

“I made a choice to quit my job back home and start a graduate program because of my quest for knowledge and my love for research. Coming to Louisiana Tech and working in the Newman lab is a great stepping stone for me because I have always wanted to teach at the college level and set up a lab where research-focused students like myself can actively contribute their research to the world,” Idigo said. “My philosophy of life has always been perseverance, determination, and hard work, and these three qualities have always kept me going forward to achieve my goals. The Sigma Xi Grants in Aid of Research are a great motivation and a great step towards achieving my degree.

“I believe it is the first of many to come and I am excited about what the future holds for me. I am eternally grateful to Louisiana Tech especially Dr. Jamie Newman. Her professionalism, motherly care, and constructive criticisms have really shaped and developed me for life skills that will be useful even after I graduate from the program.”

Sigma Xi is an international honors research society that promotes interdisciplinary research, communication, and outreach. GIAR is a competitive research program where grants are awarded twice a year to undergraduate and graduate students who participate in research. Approximately 11 percent of student proposals are funded. 

Louisiana Tech has an active Sigma Xi chapter open to all students and faculty who participate in research.    

“The GIAR program allows our students to receive recognition on an international scale for the work that they do as part of their education at Louisiana Tech.” Dr. Heidi Adams, Louisiana Tech University Sigma Xi Chapter President.