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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 2020 Cohort

2022 Fellows

Photo of Modesta Abugu

Modesta Abugu

Horticultural Science

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisors — Dr. Massimo Iorizzo and Dr. Craig Yencho

Modesta Nnedinso Abugu is from Enugu State, Nigeria in West Africa. In Fall 2021 Modesta entered the Horticultural Science Department at NC State as a GGI scholar and is interested in using tools of genomics and advanced genetics to improve food security crops and enhance nutrition. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of Nigeria Nsukka where she researched nutraceuticals and the antioxidant properties of some orphan vegetable crops and a Master’s from Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida with her research focusing on introgressing superior flavor volatile alleles into a modern commercial tomato variety.  Before entering graduate school, Modesta was the Program Assistant for the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Nigeria Chapter, where she engaged policymakers, the media, scientists and other stakeholders on the potentials of agricultural biotechnology in promoting food security. She was also part of the inaugural cohort of Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellows program at Cornell University in 2015.  She now helps to lead and advance the communications strategies as well as train other cohorts on grassroots organizing and strategic communications. Modesta is also the managing editor of the African Studies Quarterly, UF, a 2020 Conviron Scholar of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) and a curator of Women in Genomics.

Photo of Rex Alirigia

Rex Alirigia

Forestry and Environmental Resources

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

Rex Alirigia is a GES minor fellow, with affiliation to AgBioFEWS Cohort 3. He is a Ph.D student in Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University. His research is focused on the socio-political dimensions of emerging biotechnologies. His current research explores stakeholder perspectives on the ecological, regulatory, and social considerations of genetic biocontrol technologies R&D and implementation. His past research used qualitative and quantitative strategies to explore aspects of technology adoption and utilization.

Rebekah Brown

Rebekah Brown

Food Science

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor — Dr. Jonathan Allen

Rebekah is currently enrolled in the Food Science Ph.D. program at NC State. Her academic background began at Paul D. Camp community college where she was selected to present her research at the Virginia branch of the American Society for Microbiology. She served as the college’s presidential student ambassador for a year before graduating with an A.S. and transferring to NCSU. She has a B.S. in Science, Technology, and Society (STS) and a minor in Nutrition from NC State. She was honored to be named the Bob Patterson Interdisciplinary Studies Fellow for her graduating class of 2020. Rebekah chose a global public health concentration under the STS major and focused her projects on the connections between food security and agricultural biotechnology. She has two main research interests. The first focuses on the carbon and nitrogen balance of dairy farm systems with a future application to how greenhouse gas emissions in dairy production could be changed by the introduction of different forage and grain inputs. The second research project will create a life cycle analysis of sweet potato crops and acrylamide formation in different varieties and cooking methods. Her professional experience includes positions in the hospitality industry, retail, manufacturing, private caretaking, and as a dietary aid. In 2022 she worked as the NC State Food Science Summer Scholars Program Coordinator.

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Asa BudnickAsa Budnick

Plant Biology

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

Asa has been pursuing his PhD in Plant Biology since the Fall of 2021 as a GGI scholar to develop domain mastery and find a network of likeminded people. Asa graduated with a BS in Biology from Northeastern University in 2018. During his time at Northeastern he worked on Co-op at MIT’s genome sequencing core and at Editas Medicine – a company working on gene editing for human therapeutics. Before entering NC State, he was working as a research associate at an agricultural biotechnology company, Inari Agriculture, in Cambridge Massachusettes. He worked on gene editing technology development for crop improvement as his long-term interest is to work to improve food systems, food security, and food sovereignty while utilizing and building an understanding of plant genetics.

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Eric ButotoEric Butoto

Crop and Soil Science

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor — Dr. Jim Holland

Eric has spent a good portion of his life in central and east Africa, born in DR Congo and lived in Burundi and Rwanda. He is currently a master’s student in the Crop and Soil Science Department under the advisement of Dr. James Holland. His master’s research compared long-term phenotypic and genomic selection for resistance to Fusarium ear rot and fumonisin contamination caused by Fusarium verticillioides in maize. His research interest is genomic selection, Fusarium verticillioides in maize, quantitative genetics, and environmental factors influencing fungi in maize. He received his B.S. degree in Agronomy (plant breeding and genetics) from Iowa State University. While at Iowa State University, he conducted independent research where he sequenced three photosynthetic genes intending to improve capacity to breed cold tolerant sorghum and increase grain yield and biomass. In the private industry, he has interned at Beck’s Superior Hybrids, Marshalltown, IA, and Dow AgroSciences, Nevada, IA where he gained various skills ranging from creating new breeding material to quantitative trait loci mapping.

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Greg FerraroGreg Ferraro

Agricultural and Resource Economics

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

Having started with NC State in Fall 2021, Greg hopes to research economic and data-driven analysis of environmental, agricultural, and social policy. He has a long-standing interest in economic development and political science. Greg holds a BS in Finance and Economics from the University of Maryland, an MA in International Political Economy of Development, and an MA in Economics, both from Fordham University. His relevant work experiences include positions as an agriculture Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, as an administrator/field research manager at a social work institute in Haiti, as a fellow at an affordable housing non-profit in NYC, and as a research associate at an environmental NGO in New York. Before moving to North Carolina, he worked for a Cote d’Ivoirian NGO on agricultural information and M&E projects, as part of a Fulbright Fellowship.

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Jill FurgursonJill Furgurson

Forestry and Environmental Resources

Ph.D. Student | College of Natural Resources | AdvisorDr. Jason Delborne

Jill will start her Ph.D. program in the Fall of 2022. She holds an M.S. from the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State, where she conducted research pertaining to the sustainable use of natural resources, specifically those used in traditional Cherokee artforms. She also holds an M.A. from the Department of Geography at the University of North Carolina. As a research trainee at the Carolina Population Center and member of the Spatial Health Research Group, she evaluated the impact of various social, spatial and environmental risk factors on disease incidence. Broadly, Jill is interested in the combined use of spatial analysis and social science methods as an integrated approach to addressing issues related to emerging biotechnologies aimed at improving human health and the environment. Her research interests are guided by a framework of inclusive governance that incorporates the complex mix of historic, sociopolitical and cultural factors that impact society and environmental sustainability.

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Katrina GeistKatrina Geist


Master’s Student | College of Humanities and Social Sciences | Advisor — Dr. Nora Haenn

Katrina Geist is a Master’s student in NC State’s Anthropology Department. Katrina is from Denver, Colorado. She received her BA in Anthropology from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2018. At MSU Denver, she was privileged to work on several professional research projects including a Mayan language revitalization project in Guatemala and Honduras, an Andean archaeological digitization project, a crime statistical study on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, and a transcription project for the Denver-based Lab to Combat Human Trafficking. She also worked professionally post graduation as a TA/research assistant on a study abroad experience in Japan, and researched ecotourism and organic agriculture as an alternative economy in Okinawa. She also spent several years doing archaeological field work in Colorado, including volunteering at MSU Denver’s field school. Katrina’s current research engages with place-based education and Indigenous food sovereignty. She enjoys exploring North Carolina through foodways, and has not yet established a strong preference about barbecue sauce.

Chris Gillespie

Chris Gillespie

Plant Pathology

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor — Dr. Shuijin Hu

Chris is working towards a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology (specializing in soil biogeochemistry) at North Carolina State University. As a member of the Hu Lab, his primary research endeavors are focused on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within differing agroecosystems. Moreover, he seeks to explore the influence of soil physical properties, chemical processes, and microbial structure and functionality on GHG emissions in Southeastern soils. Gillespie received his bachelors in Crop and Soil Science from Michigan State University. He then matriculated to Oklahoma State University, obtaining a M.S. in Plant and Soil Science specializing in soil chemistry.

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Nick Loschin

Nick Loschin

Applied Ecology

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor — Dr. Khara Grieger

Nick is originally from North Carolina and holds a BS in Environmental Science from NC State. Currently he is a PhD student in the Applied Ecology Department, working in the Interdisciplinary Risk Sciences team under Dr. Khara Grieger. He decided to join the PhD program at NC State because he is interested in better understanding the interdisciplinary intersections between risk assessment, sustainability, and community engagement within the context of new food and agriculture technologies. Over the past few years, he has been working at US EPA as an ORISE Research Fellow where he has centered his work within social and natural sciences in order to make science more accessible to diverse groups. More specifically, his team is situated within the Sustainable and Healthy Communities National Research Program, where they focus on environmental justice, science translation, and cumulative risk impacts. He also volunteers with the RTP Speakers Bureau, where he regularly gives presentations on sustainability to a wide variety of audiences and organizations.

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Amanda Mainello

Amanda Mainello-Land

Plant Pathology

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor — Dr. Jean Ristaino

Amanda is at NC State pursuing her Ph.D. in plant pathology by developing tools to detect oomycete pathogens on nursery crops under the guidance of Dr. Jean Ristaino. Amanda found her interest in plant pathology by first realizing her curiosity about food systems could become a career path. Amanda majored in Biology and Public Policy as an undergraduate at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and developed an interest in agricultural policy. After graduation she took a position at The Center for Food Safety, a non-profit in Washington, D.C. focused on sustainable agriculture issues. Between writing policy comments and communicating with the public about the state of American agriculture, Amanda had the opportunity to see how scientists could influence policy. She was motivated to get back into lab after realizing the value of her scientific skills and identifying gaps she could fill in this space. Amanda then spent three years in Happy Valley, isolating and identifying bacteria that magically turn potatoes into mush as part of her Master’s work at Penn State University.

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Nolan SpeicherNolan Speicher

Communications, Rhetoric and Digital Media

Ph.D. Student | College of Humanities and Social Sciences | Advisor — Dr. Jean Goodwin

Nolan Speicher grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and earned his B.S. in neurobiology at the University of Iowa in 2015. Before pursuing graduate education in communication, he worked as a science writer and digital marketing analyst for Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT), a global manufacturer of custom nucleic acids. In 2019, after four years at IDT, he moved to Raleigh to pursue the M.S. in communication at NC State. During his time here, he has studied science / environmental communication from a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives, spanning both the humanities and social sciences. In addition to working as a research assistant for Dr. Jean Goodwin, he has worked as a teaching assistant for the undergraduate courses Science Communication and Public Engagement (COM 289) and Public Speaking (COM 110).

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Ruthie StokesRuthie Stokes


Ph.D. Student | College of Agricultural Life Sciences | AdvisorDr. Ruben Rellan-Alvarez

Ruthie is currently a Biochemistry master’s student in the Alvarez Lab and is planning to transition to receive her Ph.D. in Biochemistry. She is also a fourth-generation farmer from Magnolia, NC. where learned how to drive a tractor before the age of five. She had a very active role within her family’s farm and the community garden her father planted at Byrd’s Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Her research interests include biochemistry, plant genetics, and translational science. She graduated from North Carolina Central University (NCCU) with two undergraduate degrees in Biomedical Sciences and Chemistry, with a concentration in Biochemistry. As a member of the Alvarez Lab, she increased her biochemistry lab skills by doing lipid extractions, protein purification, and using software like skyline and M.S. Dial. Her project with Dr. Alvarez will be working on the ZCN8 protein.

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