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Meet Our Students

AgBioFEWS Fellows are Ph.D. candidates across multidisciplinary fields of study. In addition to their primary graduate program, Fellows also earn a graduate minor in Genetic Engineering and Society and:

  • Embark on their studies embedded with NC farms, with later opportunities for international internships
  • Collaborate on an interdisciplinary cohort project
  • Take advanced interdisciplinary graduate courses and incorporate AgBioFEWS into thesis


See also: AgBioFEWS 2019 Cohort

See also: AgBioFEWS 2022 Cohort

2020 Fellows

Photo of Jabeen Ahmad, Plant Biology, Advisor - Amy Grunden

Jabeen Ahmad

Plant and Microbial Biology

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor – Dr. Amy Grunden

Jabeen is a second year doctoral student in Plant Biology at NC State University. She is a native to North Carolina and grew up locally in Cary. Jabeen previously obtained bachelor’s degrees in journalism and anthropology and a law degree from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She also has a master’s degree in physiology from North Carolina State University. Jabeen is a member of the Grunden Lab where her research focuses on plant-microbial interactions and exploring the wheat root microbiome. She hopes to better understand how plant-associated microbes can be used to improve plant growth and development, increase plant tolerance to abiotic and biotic stress, and enhance plant resistance and resilience to pathogens. She hopes her research will help solve challenges with food security.

See profile of Jabeen Ahmad in CALS Magazine

Photo of Jaimie Choi, Ag & Resource Economics, Advisor - Zack BrownJaimie Choi

Agriculture and Resource Economics

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor – Dr. Zachary Brown

Jaimie is a PhD student in the Agriculture and Resource Economics program. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a B.S. in both Economics and Mathematics. At BYU, she researched the relationship between race and housing transactions under a NCSU PhD alumni, Jaren C. Pope. Her passion for environmental economics stems from her involvement in the Provo Natural Resource and Sustainability Committee as a Displays & Recycling expert. Since June 2018, she has been meeting with city leaders, local businessmen, and state-wide organizational leaders each month to discuss environmental concerns and construct solutions that promote sustainability. She personally spearheaded the effort in decreasing recycling contamination among Provo residents. As a PhD student, Jaimie intends to focus primarily on environmental economics research that incorporates game theory and international trade theory.

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Photo of Salvador Cruz Matus, Plant BiologySalvador Cruz Matus

Plant and Microbial Biology

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor – Dr. Deyu Xie

Salvador is in his second year of the Plant Biology PhD program at NC State and has rotated in the laboratories of Drs. Anna Stepanova, Marcela Rojas-Pierce, and Deyu Xie. Salvador, a first-generation student, was born in Oaxaca, Mexico. He immigrated with his family and settled in Southern California. He attended UC Santa Barbara, MiraCosta and Palomar Community Colleges, and CSU San Marcos prior to obtaining a Biotechnology degree in 2019. He conducted cellular and molecular plant biology research, studying root development and phytoremediation of heavy metal(loids) at CSU San Marcos and UC San Diego. For his PhD, he hopes to incorporate his social sciences background and community involvement experience into his plant biology research to improve the quality of food and life of communities locally and internationally.

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Photo of Joseph GakpoJoseph Opoku Gakpo

Interdisciplinary Studies

Ph.D. Student | College of Humanities and Social Sciences | Advisor – Dr. Nora Haenn

Joseph is a PhD student in Agricultural and Extension Education at the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences, NC State University. His research interests include: communicating controversial sciences like GMOs, vaccinations, and climate; factors that influence success in agricultural education; and how communication is shaping global philanthropic efforts to reduce poverty. He holds a Bsc in Agricultural Biotechnology from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, an MA in Communication Studies from the University of Ghana, and a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from NC State. He is a journalist by profession and is the 2018 International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ Best Video Journalist Star Prize Award winner. He was also a 2016 Global Leadership Fellow with Cornell University’s Alliance for Science Program.

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Photo of Arden Hecate, Public Administration, Advisor - Jennifer KuzmaArden Hecate

Public Administration

Ph.D. Student | College of Humanities and Social Sciences | Advisor – Dr. Jennifer Kuzma LinkedIn | CV

Arden (they/them, formerly Andrew Hardwick) comes to us with undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and Political Science with a minor in economics and a master’s degree in Public Administration. Andrew has an interest in interdisciplinary work with a focus on environmental policy. In the past, they have done work related to reforestation, biofuels, and prescribed burning. They conducted research with our faculty member, Dr. Jennifer Kuzma, on how we choose to regulate emerging technologies by examining the politics and values that drive regulation and responsible innovation. Arden’s research interests focus on the role of government in balancing our uses of the natural world. Arden is currently studying environmental policy from an interdisciplinary perspective.

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Photo of Dana Mugisa, Biological and Ag Engineering, Advisor - John ClassenDana Mugisa

Biological and Agricultural Engineering

Ph.D. Student | College of Sciences | Advisor – Dr. John Classen

Dana is a PhD student in the Biological and Agricultural Engineering program at NC State. She was born and raised in Uganda, where she earned her B.S in Agricultural Engineering from Makerere University, Uganda. In Spring 2020 she completed her MS in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Georgia. Her master’s thesis focuses on assessing the environmental and health impacts of biogas adoption by small holder farmers in Uganda. For the past six years, she has also worked as a research and development engineer with Smallholder Fortunes and Thermogenn, an NGO in Uganda that develops agricultural technologies to help uplift the incomes of female smallholder farmers in the cattle corridor of Uganda. Dana is passionate about research that addresses environmental sustainability in the agricultural sector, specifically waste management, nutrient recovery, water and air quality assessment, and food sustainability.

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Photo of Sandy Ramsey, Crop Sciences, Advisor - Ramon Leon

Sandy Ramsey

Crop and Soil Sciences

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor – Dr. Ramon Leon

Sandy is a second year PhD student at NC State’s Crop and Soil Science program. Her research  focuses on variable precision planting for site-specific maximization of weed suppression and yield in row crop systems. She grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina and received her BS Degree in Plant and Soil Science with a concentration in Agroecology at North Carolina State University. During her undergraduate career, Sandy had many opportunities to gain hands-on experiences in agriculture. (She worked at the Agroecology Education Farm at NC State, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, and Lowes Foods. Afterwards Sandy worked in Amagansett, New York as an apprentice at Amber Waves Farm). Sandy returned to Raleigh and began working for the Maize Breeding and Genetics Lab at NC State. From this experience, Sandy knew she wanted to continue her education in agricultural research and completed her Masters in Weed Ecology and Biology at NC State.

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Photo of Delecia Utley, Plant Biology, Advisor - Heike SederoffDelecia Utley

Plant and Microbial Biology

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor – Dr. Heike Sederoff

Delecia is a second year PhD student in Plant Biology from Durham, North Carolina. She received her B.S. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Howard University in 2018. At Howard she conducted research in Dr. Janelle Burke’s lab culminating in the thesis “Sex Determination and Resource Allocation in Dioecious Rumex acetosa and related species.” She also completed an internship with the Walt Disney World Co. Agricultural Sciences Department at Epcot, maintaining various edible plants and giving guest tours throughout the greenhouses. Delecia is currently working with faculty member Dr. Heike Sederoff, on understanding and integrating root-microbe interactions into whole plant physiology. She is interested in using biotechnology to produce innovative ways to become more efficient and sustainable at food production.

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Photo of Sebastian Zarate, Forestry and Environmental Resources, Advisor - Jason DelborneSebastian Zarate

Forestry and Environmental Resources

Ph.D. Student | College of Natural Resources | Advisor – Dr. Jason Delborne

Sebastian is a PhD student at NC State’s Forestry and Environmental Resources program. He comes from Peru with a background in social sciences. He graduated from Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru with a B.A in Sociology and is completing his master’s in Science and Technology Policy at Arizona State University where he also works as a Sustainability Associate at the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Services. He co-founded Sidereus Nuncius, a nonprofit organization that fosters science and technology policy in Peru and engages with communities of practice and experts. He is interested in science and technology policy in Latin America, sustainability, emerging technologies, natural resources and the environment.

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