Six graduate students earn fellowships

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Lana Koepke Johnson | Agronomy and Horticulture

Six Department of Agronomy and Horticulture graduate students were honored with fellowships by the Agricultural Research Division and the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at the Distinguished Fellowships and Awards Luncheon on Oct. 10.

Those honored include Karen Da Silva, Srikanth Kodati, Jaspreet Kaur Sandhu, Jasprinder Singh, Osler Ortez and Hannah Stoll.

Da Silva, doctoral student specializing in plant pathology, received the Hardin Distinguished Graduate Fellowship. This fellowship is awarded to an outstanding graduate student and supports research in plant physiology with particular emphasis on genetic mechanisms influencing plant responses to stress conditions.

Da Silva’s research aims to elucidate the genetic mechanisms of hormonal signaling pathways of maize under the subsequent attack of two important pests: Goss’s wilt bacteria and fall armyworm. Understanding plant defense mechanisms can improve our ability to predict the outcome of plant-mediated interactions involving multiple biotic stressors and ultimately to improve crop production while significantly reducing our dependence on pesticides.

Sydney Everhart, associate professor of plant pathology, and Joe Louis, associate professor of Entomology, are Da Silva’s advisors.

Kodati, Sandhu and Singh received Widaman Distinguished Graduate Fellowships. This award is for graduate students with high scholastic merit and research potential conducting basic research in agriculture.

Kodati, doctoral candidate specializing in plant pathology, is also advised by Everhart.

His research focus is on seedling diseases caused by soil borne fungi, mainly focusing on characterization, diversity and pathogenicity of the genus Rhizoctonia from different cropping systems of Nebraska. He is also working to characterize the chemical composition of extracts from the pathogen and testing their phytotoxic activity on host plants.

After graduation, Kodati plans to continue conducting research on the management of major fungal diseases and provide the information to farming communities.

Sandhu, doctoral student specializing in plant breeding and genetics, is advised by Harkamal Walia, associate professor of agronomy and horticulture, Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute Faculty Fellow and Heuermann Chair of Agronomy.

Understanding the physiological and molecular responses to transient heat stress during early seed development in rice is the focus of Sandhu’s research. She is integrating genomics, transcriptomics, epigenetics, and image-based phenotyping approaches to discover the genes regulating thermal sensitivity.

Sandhu’s career aspirations are to pursue a teaching and research-oriented career in the field of plant molecular physiology.

Singh, doctoral student specializing in plant breeding and genetics, is advised by Paul Staswick, professor of agronomy and horticulture.

Singh’s research focus is working to decipher the role of a tertiary amine plant growth regulator, BMVE, in improving the growth and development of crop plants. This is an extension of previous work done by Kamterter Inc., a Nebraska seed treatment company, that suggests BMVE enhances crop productivity in the field. The aim is to understand the physiological and molecular mechanisms responsible for this response.

Upon completing his degree, Singh’s goal is to continue in academia conducting high-quality research in the field of genetics and plant molecular biology.

Ortez, doctoral student specializing in crop production, was awarded the Farmers National Company Fellowship. Ortez is advised by Roger Elmore, professor of agronomy and horticulture, and Justin McMechan, assistant professor of entomology.

This fellowship is awarded to full-time graduate students pursuing majors or specializations in Master of Business Administration with specialization in Agribusiness, Agricultural Economics in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agronomy. Preference is given to students who have expressed a desire to pursue a career in the area of farm management following graduation.

Ortez’s research focuses on studying and isolating factors responsible for ear formation issues and its subsequent losses in corn. In recent years, corn ear malformation issues have affected crops in Nebraska and other areas in the U.S. Such malformations can result from unknown genetic, environmental and management conditions.

Ortez also placed first in the graduate student online poster session at the 2019 Water for Food Global Conference held at Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln. The student poster session recognized current research focused on the local and global dimensions of water for food innovation. Ortez’s poster was titled “Ear Formation Issues in Corn: a Field Survey.”

Upon completing his degree, Ortez plans to work in close collaboration with researchers, industry professionals, growers and communities in designing efficient farming methods using current technologies, implementing sustainable production practices, expanding training and promoting outreach opportunities to meet the challenge of feeding our growing population.

Stoll, doctoral student specializing in plant breeding and genetics, was awarded the Al Moseman International Fellowship Award and a Milton E. Mohr Fellowship. She is advised by P. Stephen Baenziger, professor of agronomy and horticulture and Wheat Growers Presidential Chair.

Stoll’s research involves studying female flowering characteristics key to the success of hybrid wheat breeding. In addition to research, Stoll works with Don Lee, professor of agronomy and horticulture, in teaching the undergraduate genetics course. Stoll’s career goal is to integrate her passions for plant breeding, agriculture and teaching into an academic position as a professor.

The Al Moseman Fellowship is awarded to graduate students in the department with interests in international agriculture and world food development with an emphasis on plant breeding and genetics.

The Milton E. Mohr Fellowship recognizes outstanding graduate students in the sciences of biotechnology and engineering based on their academic performance and potential for accomplishments in their specific field.

For more information on these awards, visit and

Karen Da Silva.
Karen Da Silva, right, and Archie Clutter, ARD Dean. Greg Nathan | University Communication
Jaspreet Kaur Sandhu
Srikanth Kodati, right, and Archie Clutter, ARD Dean. Greg Nathan | University Communication
Jaspreet Kaur Sandhu
Jaspreet Kaur Sandhu. Greg Nathan | University Communication
Jasprinder Singh
Jasprinder Singh, right, and Archie Clutter, ARD Dean. Greg Nathan | University Communication
Osler Ortez
Osler Ortez, right, and Tiffany Heng-Moss, CASNR Dean. Greg Nathan | University Communication
Hannah Stoll
Hannah Stoll, right, and Tiffany Heng-Moss, CASNR Dean. Greg Nathan | University Communication

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