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Megan Adler, Kaleb Banks and Georgia Eastham

National Science Foundation awards CAS student a Graduate Research Fellowship

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Media Contact: Elizabeth Gosney | CAS Marketing and Communications Manager | 405-744-7497 |

Department of Plant Biology, Ecology and Evolution graduate student Megan Adler recently received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is considered the most prestigious and competitive fellowship for any STEM graduate student. There are approximately 2,000 awardees out of an estimated 14,000 applicants. Awardees receive $159,000 in funding over three years.

Integrative biology graduate student Kaleb Banks received an honorable mention from the NSF, as did Georgia Eastham, a chemistry, biochemistry, and plant and soil sciences  senior and Goldwater Scholar.

Adler, Banks and Eastham were the only students at OSU to receive these distinguished honors for 2024. 


Megan Adler

Adler received her Bachelor of Science  dual degree in biology and plant biology with a concentration in ecology and evolution at OSU. She then worked at ARL Bio Pharma as a microbiologist before going into her master’s as a graduate research assistant.

Her master’s research focuses on the intricate mechanisms through which parasitic plants and hosts communicate during parasitism. Adler does molecular lab work to investigate whether parasitism can induce chromatin changes in hosts and/or parasites. 

In the first semester of her master’s, she worked as a research assistant and focused on her NSF application. Her former adviser, Dr. Saima Shahid — former assistant professor of plant biology, ecology and evolution — helped her in the application process. 

“It was very validating as a scientist to receive this grant, both personally and academically, because it shows me that people like my ideas and want to fund those ideas,” Adler said. “This grant provides me with flexibility in my career and research, as well as the chance to explore more professional development opportunities.”

The grant will allow Adler to delve deeper into the relationship between parasite and host as well as explore the underlying molecular mechanisms in plant-plant interactions. With the support of the NSF funding, she aims to continue her investigations into plant communication, laying the groundwork for future advancements in her field and spreading knowledge of parasitic plants to her community.


Kaleb Banks

Originally from northwestern Illinois, Banks completed his undergraduate studies in wildlife biology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2022. In the fall of the same year, he began his master’s program at OSU under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Reichert, an integrative biology assistant professor. 

Banks’ passion for wildlife conservation traces back to his childhood fascination with catching snakes, turtles and frogs. As he grew up, his interest expanded to encompass the life history, ecology and conservation practices associated with these species. 

“During my high school and undergraduate years, I worked on several reptile conservation-focused projects with endangered species such as the Blanding’s turtle and Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake,” Banks said. “Through these projects, I developed an interest in improving conservation efforts through modeling techniques.”

Banks’ research primarily revolves around leveraging and enhancing modeling techniques to address conservation-related inquiries concerning amphibians, with a particular emphasis on estimating species population size and range. His work predominantly focuses on the threatened crawfish frog, utilizing a combination of frog call surveys and species distribution models to estimate their distribution in Oklahoma. Additionally, he is assessing the efficacy of acoustic spatially explicit capture-recapture methods to estimate crawfish frog population size.

Banks said receiving an honorable mention for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship holds profound significance and serves as a testament to his dedication, perseverance and scholarly achievements, validating the research trajectory he has chosen to pursue.


Georgia Eastham

Eastham, from Davis, California, just committed to MIT where she will start her Ph.D. in chemistry in the fall. 

Eastham said that interacting with the Office of Scholar Development and Undergraduate Research got her on her way to research at OSU.

Alongside receiving an honorable mention from the NSF and being a Goldwater Scholar, she was also selected as a Wentz Research Scholar in both 2021 for phytochemical wheat research and in 2022 for her adaptation of strain-loadable alkenes for biological uses. She was also involved as a McKnight Scholar and Freshman Research Scholar.

“I’ve taken advantage of everything I can at OSU,” Eastham said. “I’ve been very fortunate to get those experiences and have great mentors: Dr. Brett Carver, who is a professor of plant and soil sciences, and Dr. Jimmie Weaver, an associate professor in chemistry. They’ve both been very good at telling me about a presentation opportunity and helping fund a lot of my trips really early on. 

“I didn’t realize this when it was happening, but later I realized I had presented a lot more than other people and it is because of the systems at OSU.”

Aside from her opportunities at OSU, the NSF also funded Eastham’s presentation work at national and international meetings and her research on arsenite and arsenate-induced changes in the lipid profile of Escherichia coli at Montana State University in the summer of 2022.

Currently, Eastham is doing organic chemistry research with Weaver and looks forward to more research in this area in her future.

Story By: Allie Putman, CAS Graduate Assistant |

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