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Graduate student Ericka Reed awarded Gilliam Fellowship by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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16 August 2017

Ericka Reed at the lab benchEricka Reed, a doctoral student in biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State, has been selected to receive the Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The fellowship is intended to prepare a diverse and highly-trained scientific workforce to be leaders in their fields.

“I was overwhelmed with joy upon learning I'd been selected to receive the 2017 Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study!” said Reed. “The training and support I will receive from HHMI will foster my development as an independent researcher. This will enable me to not only make significant contributions to my field of research, but will also put me in a position to help others overcome some of the challenges I have faced as a graduate student.”

The Institute selects graduate students from underrepresented groups in the sciences who are pursuing scientific careers and who demonstrate a commitment to the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the sciences. Winners receive an annual award that includes a stipend and a training allowance for up to three years. The award program also provides mentorship training to the student’s adviser.

“Having the opportunity to train Ericka in my lab has been one of the biggest highlights during my time here at Penn State,” said Tim Miyashiro, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and Reed’s adviser. “The determination that Ericka exhibits when conducting her experiments is truly inspiring, and we are so grateful to HHMI for their support of this talented young scientist.”

Reed’s research focuses on how bacteria communicate with each other through a signaling process called quorum sensing. Bacteria use quorum sensing to communicate information about how densely packed the bacteria cells are and, in response to this information, to adjust gene expression. This process allows bacteria to coordinate group behaviors, such as swarming, biofilm formation, antibiotic resistance, and virulence. To understand the molecular process behind quorum sensing, Reed uses microbial genetics and fluorescent microscopic imaging techniques to study populations of Vibrio fischeri -- a microbe that uses quorum sensing to activate bioluminescence -- in its natural host the Hawaiian bobtail squid -- a marine species that uses the microbe’s bioluminescence as a form of defense.

Reed was named a Sloan Scholar by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in 2016 and received the Bunton-Waller Fellowship from the Penn State Eberly College of Science in 2014. She is dedicated to improving the graduate student experience and has participated in numerous events through Penn State and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students to represent and mentor graduate students. Through these organizations, she has also worked to recruit minority students interested in pursuing graduate degrees in STEM fields.

“In the beginning of my graduate studies, I always felt a step behind and struggled to catch up," added Reed. “Receiving this fellowship has shown me that all things are possible with faith and persistence.”

Prior to starting her graduate degree program at Penn State in 2014, Reed completed a bachelor of science degree in chemistry at the University of West Alabama.

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