Cecina Babich Morrow ’18, a mathematics and biology double major from Phoenix, has been named a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar for the 2017–18 academic year. Babich Morrow is among 240 undergraduate students nationwide receiving the prestigious scholarship intended to promote careers in the sciences.
The students were nominated by the faculties of their colleges and universities and selected on the basis of academic merit. Two other Kenyon students, Jeremy Moore ’19 and Anu Muppirala ’19, were among 307 students to receive honorable mentions.
Babich Morrow’s scholarship provides her with $7,500 for tuition and other education-related expenses. “I’m excited to have the extra financial support, but it means even more to have my scientific potential recognized. The scholarship validates that I have what it takes for the next step in my career as a researcher,” Babich Morrow said.
Babich Morrow’s work in the research lab of Associate Professor of Biology Drew Kerkhoff is part of a large collaborative research project supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The project uses computational “big data” approaches, called ecoinformatics, to analyze the distribution and evolution of plant biodiversity. Such ecoinformatic methods, she said, “can be a tool for the conservation community to protect the ecosystem,” especially in response to climate change.
Last summer, Babich Morrow worked with Kerkhoff and collaborators from the University of Arizona and Oxford University to develop and test sophisticated new mathematical methods characterizing the diversity of ecological communities and the environmental niches of species.
“What really amazed me was the way Cecina was able to join the conversation of the larger research group,” said Kerkhoff, who is Babich Morrow’s academic advisor. “The other researchers quickly came to see her not just as a student, but as a colleague. Cecina combines a keen mathematical mind with a real passion for understanding how biology works in the real word. She is going to be a great scientist.”
Babich Morrow aspires to earn a doctorate in quantitative ecology and lead academic research groups in ecoinformatics. The integration of math and biology is a growing subfield in ecology, she said. “These math principles have been around a long time and we are just finding ways they can be applied to biology.”
She credits Kerkhoff for introducing her to new opportunities. “I’ve always been interested in math and biology,” Babich Morrow said, “but had no idea that there were people out there, such as Professor Kerkhoff, who combined the two in their research.”
Babich Morrow recently finished her third season as a Kenyon varsity swimmer. “Swim season is when I am most focused on my school work,” she said. “Swimming pushes me to become more efficient with my time, and it teaches dedication, hard work, goal-setting and teamwork, skills that translate really well to the lab.”
Moore, a molecular biology major and music minor from Midland, Michigan, earned honorable mention for his research in the lab of Joan Slonczewski, Robert A. Oden Jr. Professor of Biology, about the development of antibiotic resistance among certain bacteria. He intends to earn a doctorate in molecular biology.
Muppirala, of Apple Valley, Minnesota, is a neuroscience major on a pre-med track. She works in the zebrafish lab of Sarah C. Petersen, Ashby Denoon Assistant Professor of Neuroscience, studying genes involved in the myelination of the central and peripheral nervous systems. She plans to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. dual degree and conduct research in neuroregeneration as a physician-scientist.