Life sciences graduate students awarded NSF fellowships

April 20, 2022

In recognition of research accomplishments and plans for graduate work, three Arizona State University School of Life Sciences students have been named 2022 Graduate Research Fellows by the National Science Foundation.

Tasneem Fayek Mohammed, Jynx Pigart and Nicholas Wiesenthal were all selected for this distinguished award supporting early career graduate students.  Collage of portraits of ASU students and NSF fellowship recipients (from left to right): Logan Gin, Carly Busch, Tasneem Fayek Mohammed, Nicholas Wiesenthal and Jynx Pigart. From left to right: Logan Gin, Carly Busch, Tasneem Fayek Mohammed, Nicholas Wiesenthal and Jynx Pigart are all ASU School of Life Sciences graduate students who have been named Graduate Research Fellows by the National Science Foundation.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based masters and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines or in STEM education.

Fellows receive a stipend of $34,000 annually for three years, along with a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees, which allows students to focus on progressing their own research projects rather than teaching or working on research projects on behalf of their adviser.

All three of the award winners are current lab members of School of Life Sciences Assistant Professor Katelyn Cooper, who was also recently awarded the NSF CAREER award, as well as multiple other funded projects. 

In addition to this year’s three winners, current lab member and PhD candidate Carly Busch was awarded the GRFP in 2020, and recent PhD graduate Logan Gin received the award in 2017. 

“This means that all five PhD students who Dr. Cooper has mentored (or will mentor) have had the NSF GRFP — this is pretty fantastic odds for any faculty member, and even more impressive for an early career faculty member!” said Professor Sara Brownell, director of the Research for Inclusive STEM Education (RISE) Center. “Katey Cooper's research program is helping to establish SOLS and ASU as a hub for biology education research, and the caliber of the students is elevating the quality of this program.”

The Cooper Biology Education Research Lab focuses on creating a more diverse and inclusive scientific community through better understanding how mental health affects students in biology learning environments.

“I am truly beside myself, I am so impressed with and grateful to NSF for funding students who proposed research projects focused on undergraduate and graduate mental health,” said Cooper about her students' GRFP awards. 

“It’s just such an example to students to do the research that you think is important,” she said. “You should dream big and think deeply about problems that are really hard, even if others think you should avoid those topics.”

2022 winners

ASU SOLS masters student Tasneem Mohammed

Tasneem Fayek Mohammed will be graduating this spring with her master's degree in biology.

Tasneem Fayek Mohammed

Tasneem Fayek Mohammed will be graduating this spring with her master's degree in biology. An ASU student through and through, she also received her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences.

Her current research focuses on biology and pre-med student experience with stress and depression, examining underlying factors and exploring ways to create more inclusive courses.

Originally from Palestine, Mohammed’s personal experience navigating scientific graduate research instilled a deep interest in the intersection of personal culture and academia.

“Reconciling these cultural disconnects left me feeling empowered, but I realized this is not the case for all students, and that such disconnects often discourage students from becoming scientists,” she said. “As I started to conduct more mental-health related research in my master’s, I realized that combining these two passions could have a profound impact on how we think about the challenges that students with different cultural backgrounds face in higher education and what we can do to create a more inclusive scientific community.”   

After graduating, she will continue her studies in ASU’s Biology and Society PhD program, where she hopes to build further on her research as she works toward her goal of becoming a tenured professor. 

“During my PhD, I will embark on a new area of research aimed at furthering our understanding of the intersection of mental health and science education for students with different cultural backgrounds,” she said. “I hope that I will establish readily accessible resources and services for underrepresented students, and make a global impact by fostering inclusive science environments.”

ASU SOLS student Jynx Pigart

Jynx Pigart is an incoming PhD student in the School of Life Sciences Biology Education program.

Jynx Pigart

Jynx Pigart is an incoming PhD student in the School of Life Sciences Biology Education program. 

“Being a recipient of the NSF-GRFP, and it being awarded prior to even starting graduate school at ASU, has been incredibly validating to my internal commitment to make the most out of my experience as a student in higher education,” she said. 

Pigart plans to study student mental health in learning environments, with a special interest in groups that have been historically under-supported in STEM, including LGBTQ-plus and low socioeconomic status populations. 

Pigart cemented her interest in biology, teaching and student mental health during her undergraduate studies. She received her bachelor's degrees in biology and psychology from East Carolina University, where she served as an undergraduate teaching assistant in introductory biology labs for three years, and completed her senior thesis on undergraduate student mental health and social support in virtual environments. As she started applying for graduate school, she considered programs specializing in her experiences and interests as separate topics before discovering Cooper’s lab. 

“There is no other lab in the country that intersects all these interests so succinctly the way Dr. Katey Cooper’s lab achieves,” she said. “I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to have the research interest that I have chosen if it wasn’t for the unique opportunities at ASU.

“I’m looking forward to the future!”

ASU SOLS student Nicholas Wiesenthal

Nicholas Wiesenthal is a first-year PhD student in the Biology and Society program.

Nicholas Wiesenthal

Nicholas Wiesenthal is a first-year PhD student in the Biology and Society program. 

As a biology education researcher, my current research focuses on exploring graduate student mental health in research and learning spaces and seeing how STEM graduate research and teaching can exacerbate or alleviate one's depression and/or anxiety disorders,” he said. 

Last year, he co-authored a paper in CBE-Life Sciences Education, a free online quarterly journal published by the American Society for Cell Biology. In a qualitative interview study of 50 life sciences PhD students from two different institutions, Wiesenthal and his colleagues in Cooper’s lab identified four aspects of graduate school that influenced student depression: the amount of structure in teaching and research; positive and negative reinforcement; success and failure; and social support and isolation. 

He is currently working on a similar study examining both graduate student depression and anxiety disorders to see how generalizable the findings are with various demographic groups nationwide.

“With the growing concerns of a mental health crisis in higher education, I have become really passionate about finding the underlying causes for the problems found in graduate programs that can exacerbate one's mental health,” he said. “By doing this kind of work, it can give a spotlight to graduate student mental health in academia and hopefully lead to changes that can help students with depression and/or anxiety disorders succeed as graduate students.”

Previous winners

ASU SOLS student Carly Busch

Carly Busch is a second-year PhD student in the School of Life Sciences Biology and Society program.

Carly Busch

Carly Busch is a second-year PhD student in the School of Life Sciences Biology and Society program and was awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2020 as she started at ASU. 

Originally from Houston, Texas, Busch received her Bachelor of Arts in biology at Whitman College before coming to ASU to work in Cooper’s lab.

Her current research focuses on biology education. 

“A few years after graduating, I learned that there is an entire field devoted to exploring research questions related to biology education and knew that it would be the perfect combination of teaching and conducting impactful research,” she said. 

“I am currently working to assess the impact on STEM undergraduates from an instructor revealing their LGBTQ-plus identity during class,” she said. 

Results of her research suggest that openness from instructors regarding their LGBTQ-plus identity has a positive impact on students, regardless of how they identify. Students report feeling better able to approach and relate to their instructor, and an increased sense of belonging in the field of science overall.

ASU SOLS alum Logan Gin

Logan Gin graduated with his doctorate in biology and society in fall 2021.

Logan Gin

Logan Gin graduated with his doctorate in biology and society in fall 2021 and was awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2017. 

He worked closely with Brownell and Cooper to complete research on how science communities can create more inclusive environments for students with disabilities, coauthoring a number of research articles on the topic. 

His research culminated in a dissertation that examined the challenges students with disabilities encounter in evolving higher education learning environments. By presenting his findings from a number of studies, Gin argued that institutions need to consider modifying student accommodations to better support students with disabilities.

Gin has now accepted a position as assistant director of STEM education at Brown University’s Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. 

Dominique Perkins

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Life Sciences


Philosophy graduate discusses changing course, a future in law

April 20, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Colleen Price was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, and always enjoyed learning. So earning a degree was always part of her plan. She loved reading, chemistry and math and found it hard to decide on a major at first.  Photo of Colleen Price Colleen Price will earn her bachelor’s in philosophy with a concentration in morality, politics and law. Download Full Image

“I originally started at ASU back in 2014 as a double major in English literature and journalism, hoping to be a book editor. However, after only one semester, I didn’t feel that I would be able to make a meaningful impact in the world through that role.”

She took a hiatus from school for a couple of years and focused on trying to figure out what she wanted to do. Ultimately, she decided she wanted to pursue a career in the legal field and chose to earn her bachelor’s in philosophy with a concentration in morality, politics and law from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

While earning her degree, Price joined the Undergraduate Philosophy Club and took on a leadership role in the club. 

“It was great to be able to foster an environment that allows students to come together and discuss fascinating topics in a philosophical context,” Price said. “It was also so much fun putting together a conference highlighting undergraduate work and hosting esteemed UCLA Professor Tyler Burge for his keynote address on the lower representational mind.”

She recommends for other students to participate in the club either as a member or in a leadership position.

“As an officer of the Undergraduate Philosophy Club, Price is talented at summarizing various points made by other students,” said philosphy Professor Joan McGregor. “She is also good at bringing in interesting points at various stages in conversations during club meetings.”

Price will be graduating this semester and was asked to share her experience at ASU and had the following to say:

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

Answer: While I was on a hiatus from school, after deciding an English literature and journalism double major was not for me, I watched a Netflix documentary called “When They See Us.” It is based on a true story, and the atrocities that were performed under the guise of the “law” are hard to stomach. I was disturbed but compelled, and it lit a fire inside me to pursue a career as a criminal defense attorney and hopefully ultimately work on criminal policy reform. I thought that majoring in philosophy with a concentration in morality, politics and law would be the best way to prepare myself for a career in that field. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I think the thing that surprised me the most, especially studying philosophy, was how many different viewpoints can be expressed on a single issue or topic of discussion. It was really interesting to interact with people who hold drastically different viewpoints but are willing to analyze and provide support for those viewpoints in a logical and thoughtful way. I think this experience was great preparation for law school and work as an attorney.  

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I honestly chose ASU because it was convenient and affordable and I really wanted to stay in the Valley. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I think my time as a research intern with Professor Michelle Saint provided the most important lessons during my time at ASU. Working throughout the semester on gathering and synthesizing complex information in a digestible way was extraordinarily impactful and provided a great foundation for future legal research projects I will encounter.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The best piece of advice I would give to those still in school is to believe in yourself and persevere. There are times where it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just persevere, and take care of yourself along the way, you can achieve anything you set your sights on. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I was online for most of my time at ASU and my favorite place to study was my office at the law firm I work at. The views are exceptional and I really enjoyed attending virtual classes in that office and studying there on my lunch breaks or when there was down time.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I will be attending ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law as part of the JD class of 2025. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: If I had $40 million to try to solve one problem, I would bail out as many people as possible that are awaiting trial on non-violent offenses. I strongly believe that the cash bail system undermines equal protection and due process and should be subjected to much higher scrutiny.

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies