Past Winners

Apply for this year's Project Grants

Project Grant Application

U-M PKP Project Grant Past Winners:


  • Stephanie Hall

  • Minki Kim


  • Sahin Acikgoz

  • Alex Lu


  • Calli VanderWilde

  • Harry van der Laan


  • Abishek Rajkumar $2,500

  • Yael Braunschweig $5,000

  • Elana Goldenkoff $5,000

  • Aritra Sasmal $2,500

  • Nikita La Cruz $5,000


Lisa Walsh


Lisa Walsh is a PhD candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology but her research relates to how humans affect the natural history of mammals. Understanding how species’ distributions are affected by climate change is critical for both conservation and disease control, as numerous Michigan mammals harbor diseases transmissible to humans and livestock.

In her Project description, Lisa wrote “The Virginia opossum is an omnivorous mammal found from Nicaragua to the southern Midwest of the United States. In the last fifty years, it has spread as far north as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and this expansion of its normal habitat was originally credited to climate change. Opossums starve when temperatures are regularly below -4°C, so biologists now propose that urbanization and farms facilitated opossum winter survival in the form of alternative food sources, but no data has been collected to address this hypothesis.” Lisa’s project will collect and weigh opossums this coming fall and winter and evaluate their diets. Field collection sites will include both forested, natural habitats and those modified by humans, including farmland and suburbs.


With an evolutionary history in the tropics, opossums are ill-equipped to survive harsh winters in temperate North America, but opossums have spread as far north as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the past 50 years. Biologists have proposed that urbanization and farms facilitate opossum winter survival in the form of alternative food sources, but no data has been collected to address this hypothesis. My project’s goal is to collect data to directly examine this hypothesis. By using a combination of genetic tools and dissection, my PKP project will allow scientists to better understand the ecological drivers that might exacerbate the effects of climate change.

If you trap opossums or spot opossum roadkill, please email Lisa at

Michelle Fearon


Michelle Fearon is a PhD candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology whose Project is entitled “Changing perspectives: How pollinator communities influence honey bee virus pathogen prevalence.” Three RNA viruses are rapidly spreading among European honey bee colonies and some native pollinator species but little is known about how the pollinator community influences honey bee health. Theory predicts that increased pollinator species richness will reduce pathogen prevalence in honey bees, and increased overall pollinator abundance will increase honey bee pathogen prevalence.

The objectives of Michelle’s proposal are (1) to provide the first analysis of how honey bee viral prevalence changes with pollinator community context in an agricultural environment, and (2) to evaluate how pollinator species richness and overall abundance change honey bee health. Honey bees are important pollinators of many fruits and vegetables, and the loss of this species will significantly impact the production of these crops.


Agricultural intensification has altered the composition of pollinator communities, changing species interactions and the spread of diseases. Three RNA viruses, Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), Sacbrood Virus (SBV), and Black Queen Cell Virus (BQCV), are rapidly spreading among European honey bees (Apis mellifera) and native pollinator species within these altered communities. However, the relationship between pollinator community composition and increased virus prevalence has not been analyzed. Disease ecology theory predicts that (1) increased pollinator species richness will reduce virus prevalence, and (2) increased total pollinator abundance will increase virus prevalence. To test these hypotheses, during summers 2015 and 2016 I collected a total of 5,010 pollinators from 14 agricultural sites in southeastern Michigan, with varying pollinator community compositions. I’m using Reverse-Transcription Polymerase Chain Reactions (RT-PCR) to test ~1,200 Apis mellifera, Bombus impatiens, Peponapis pruinosa, and Lasioglossum spp. for the presence of DWV, BQCV, and SBV. Preliminary results indicate that Apis mellifera has the highest virus prevalence, but Bombus impatiens, Peponapis pruinosa, and Lasioglossum spp. have higher prevalence than expected. I will test the relationship between virus prevalence within each species along independent gradients of pollinator community species richness and total abundance. These results will provide the first analysis of how virus prevalence changes in multiple pollinator species depending on the surrounding community composition.

Benjamin Li


Benjamin Li is a senior in Neuroscience with a minor in mathematics, whose proposal explained “For more than 200 years it was believed that image-forming vision was fully explained by rods and cones, our traditional photoreceptors. However, in 2002, a third, novel class of photoreceptive ganglion cell was characterized. Called the intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cell (ipRGC), it is a subset of ganglion cells that mediates subconscious, non-image-forming visual responses such as the pupillary light reflex, neuroendocrine regulation, and circadian photoentrainment.” Working in the lab of Dr. Kwoon Wong, one of the researchers who discovered the ipRGC, Ben will investigate the quantitative properties of ipRGCs, capitalizing on the unique dataset and methodological capabilities of that lab, and almost perfectly marrying his passions in neuroscience, mathematics, and computer science. He hopes it will lead to new understandings and research directions for ipRGCs, the retina, and neuronal networks in general.


Image-forming vision—vision typically associated with the luscious redness of an apple or ear-to-ear smiles of a loved one’s birthday celebration—is received by rods and cones, the only known photoreceptors for over two hundred years. Recently, scientists have characterized a third retinal photoreceptor called the intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cell (ipRGC). ipRGCs influence circadian rhythms, pupillary light reflex, and other forms of subconscious, non-image-forming vision. I have been working with Dr. Kwoon Wong’s lab at the University of Michigan since the spring of 2014 to study how ipRGCs respond to light and their implications in driving therapies via subconscious neural pathways.

Jennifer Angell


Jennifer Angell is a first-year medical student and a member of the Global Health and Disparities Path of Excellence where students are mentored by physicians who are leaders in the field. She is currently working on multiple research projects in the U-M Ob/Gyn Department.

To introduce her individualized project, Jennifer wrote “Fistula is prevalent in many parts of the world where access to high-quality delivery services are not available.” In recent years there has been upwards of 15,000 obstetric fistula repair surgeries reported on the Global Fistula Map. A modest amount of these are performed by Sister Priscilla, the only Ob/Gyn at her hospital in rural Uganda.

With her Project Grant, Jennifer will work with Sister Priscilla’s patients to: 1) Collect socio-demographic and obstetric factors in order to better understand the antecedents of developing obstetric fistula in this population; 2) Develop a rich understanding of the social implications of obstetric fistula so that in the future targeted interventions may be used in conjunction with reconstructive surgery to aid a full social reintegration; and 3) to collect baseline data on patients who could be followed in future years to assess the progress of and potential barriers to social reintegration.


Birth injuries, such as obstetric fistula, are injuries sustained by a mother during labor, often due to delayed or limited access to appropriate obstetric care. These birth injuries leave women incontinent of urine or feces and can have extremely negative social consequences. Holy Family Virika Hospital in rural Western Uganda holds quarterly surgical repair camps for women with such injuries so that they may regain control of their lives. Investigators conducted in-depth interviews with the camp’s participants to identify social, cultural, and health system root causes of these injuries, as well as the social consequences that result with the hopes of reducing future incidence and aiding reintegration.

Monica Choo


Monica Choo is a senior in Biomolecular Science with a minor in Medical Anthropology. In her project description, Monica stated: “Virtually every country in Latin America suffers from mosquito illnesses, including the Dengue and Chikungunya viruses, the recently emerging Zika virus, and also malaria which caused 438,000 deaths worldwide in 2015 alone. As seen by the sky-rocketing mosquito illnesses in Latin America recently, previous mosquito vector control strategies have largely failed overall. Many studies have repeatedly pointed out that without vigorous community efforts, mosquito prevention programs will seldom succeed.”

Monica has been carrying out an independent health project in Sudzal, a rural town in Yucatan, Mexico, and has already completed the first three phases: to educate the population in mosquito illnesses and prevention; to document their perception and behavioral patterns; and to evaluate the efficacy of the education module. She only asked for modest financial help from Phi Kappa Phi to complete the fourth phase of her project: invigorate community engagement in mosquito control efforts. Our funding will allow her to purchase mosquito screens for the five public schools of Sudzal, which will protect 388 students and 41 workers. Monica is also engaging the community in fund-raising to support installation of the screens and other prevention efforts. Monica further stated: “We must realize that community collaboration and population empowerment are crucial factors in alleviating any health issues.”


The Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) has been rapidly spreading throughout Latin America, utilizing pre-existing vectors to quickly infiltrate the immunologically naïve populations. With the current rise of the Zika Virus, there is an urgent need for more rigorous vector control efforts to prevent further Zika breakout. We designed a community-based education module on CHIKV and mosquito prevention and presented it to the local residents in a rural town called Sudzal in Yucatan, Mexico. The residents’ knowledge of CHIKV and mosquito prevention was tested via a questionnaire before and after education, and chi-squared test was performed to determine the efficacy of the presentation in increasing their knowledge. The education presentation has proven to effectively educate the local residents in several critical methods of mosquito prevention, increasing the average test scores by 67% post-education. These include applying repellent, staying hydrated during recuperation, and cleaning water containers inside the house to eliminate breeding sites (p < 0.001). Furthermore, the questionnaire captured the residents’ behavioral patterns regarding CHIKV and mosquito prevention and identified cultural, ecological, and socioeconomic factors hindering effective implementation of vector control.

Preeti Samudra


Preeti Samudra is a PhD candidate in Developmental Psychology. In her Project introduction, she wrote “Writing effectively is a critical skill for academic and professional success. Unfortunately, it is also one that many students struggle with throughout their schooling. Standardized testing in Michigan K-12 schools has revealed that fewer than half of Michigan public schools produce students proficient in English. On the national level, the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress in the United States revealed that 73% of 8th and 12th graders had only basic or below basic writing skills. These stark findings signify a serious problem in the effectiveness of our schools in producing competent writers, and suggest a need for research on writing to inform instructional practices.”

Preeti’s project addresses this need by taking a unique cross-cultural perspective on writing instruction. Specifically, she plans to investigate how writing is taught in elementary schools in the United States and Singapore in hopes of uncovering new and effective ways of approaching writing instruction. Even though English is the second language of many students in Singapore, those students outperform students in the United States. For example, on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, Singapore ranked 3rd of all tested countries on Reading, while the United States was ranked 17th.


Many K-12 students struggle with reading and writing throughout their schooling. The 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress in the United States, for example, revealed that 73% of 8th and 12th graders had only basic or below basic writing skills. My project focused on understanding different ways of teaching writing by interviewing teachers in another country: Singapore. Singapore has consistently outperformed the United States on international reading assessments such as the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment, where Singapore ranked 1st in reading while the United States ranked 24th. Understanding how students are taught in high performing countries may give us new ways of thinking about instruction that may benefit the literacy skills of students in the United States.

Ryan Townshend


Ryan Townshend – Also Co-founder and President of the PKP Student Organization, is a senior in neuroscience and Spanish. In the background to his proposal, Ryan stated: “During embryogenesis, neural stem cells (NSCs) are transient multipotent cells that are programmed to give rise to diverse neural cell types. Recently, studies have shown that NSCs can be derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) in vitro, allowing for in-depth studies of NSCs for the first time. iPSCs are pluripotent cells that are reprogrammed from terminally differentiated cells such as adult skin cells. Since iPSCs can be derived from any viable adults, and can differentiate to become potentially any cells within the body (leading to the genetic footprint exactly belonging to the source individual), iPSCs have strong implications for personalized medicine.”

Utilizing iPSC-derived NSCs from patients with Schizophrenia, Yoon et al. found that proper neural rosette formation is linked to the pathology of Schizophrenia. For his project, Ryan aims to perform detailed cell biological characterization of neural rosette, and investigate whether the regulation of cell polarity is also impaired in NSCs derived from patients with bipolar disorder. If successful, this study will be the first to link the role of cell polarity in bipolar disorder.


We sought to better understand psychological illnesses through further developing a system to study such diseases and to test possible treatment options. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are important for this project because of how they are derived: a skin sample can be taken from a patient and then chemically treated in such a way to re-induce a pluripotent state. This means that the iPSCs have the genetic footprint of the patients from whom they are taken, which allows us to test the patient specific genome and how it causes these illnesses. By culturing iPSCs from patients, we are able to mimic certain conditions in the body to model the psychological manifestation of the illness. We have begun to better define and understand the underlying regulatory mechanisms in this cultured model.

Callie Chappell


Callie Chappell is a master’s candidate in Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology. Her project focuses on isolating new compounds with medicinal properties from natural sources and modifying diverse microbial pathways to develop pharmaceuticals. Working in Dr. David Sherman’s lab, she will specifically investigate the biosynthesis of ambiguines, a category of hapalindole-like natural products which are of broad interest because of their anti-cancer, antibacterial, and insecticidal qualities. Currently, there is no understood biosynthetic mechanism for the natural production of hapalindoles, despite their considerable pharmacological and economic importance.


Natural products—complex chemicals produced by microbes, plants, and other organisms—have long been known to have medicinal effects. By combining techniques used by biologists, biochemists, and synthetic chemists, scientists can harness the natural power of these compounds. In addition to identification, scientists seek to produce these compounds in mass quantities. Currently, many important anti-cancer drugs, insecticides, and other economically-relevant compounds are produced using toxic and wasteful processes. By studying the mechanisms by which organisms produce similar compounds, we can modify bacteria and other organisms to cheaply and sustainably produce critical chemicals. I am researching a biosynthetic pathway in cyanobacteria that produce a series of compounds with known anti-cancer, antibacterial, and insecticidal qualities.

2015 UM Chapter Project Grant Winners


  • Bryan Syverud - $5000 (Biomedical Engineering)


  • Anna Forringer-Beal - $4000 (Anthropology & Women’s Studies)

  • Ryan Thomas - $5000 (Biomedical Engineering)

  • David Schafer - $3000 (Honors Individualized Major: Peace, Conflict & Human Rights Studies)

  • Brennan McMichael - $3000 (Bimolecular Science)


  • Sarah Ann Knutson

2014 UM Chapter Project Grant Winners


  • Sarah Alsaden - $5000 (Law)

  • Amy Navvab - $5000 (Social Work)

  • Scott Zavada - $5000 (Engineering)

UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT - were awarded $2,500 each.

  • Lena Kremin - $2500 (LS&A)

  • Layne Vandenberg - $2500 (LS&A)


  • Xiao Wang

2013 UM Chapter Scholarship and Award Winners


  • 1st Place ($2,000): Sepideh Ashrafzadeh

  • 2nd Place ($500): Clare Toenisketter

  • SENIOR1st Place ($2,500): Amy Navvab

  • 2nd Place ($1,000): Rachel Ruderman

  • GRADUATE STUDENT1st Place Tie ($3,000): Andrew Wald & Heidi Wong


  • Connie Shi

2012 UM Chapter Scholarship and Award Winners

JUNIOR ($2000)

  • Zhang, Lily

  • SENIOR ($2500)Shi, Connie

  • GRADUATE STUDENT ($3000)Bohl, Michael

2011 UM Chapter Scholarship and Award Winners

JUNIORS ($500)

  • Bies, Katherine

  • Horowski, Meredith

  • Ku, Kelly

  • Lewis, Paul

  • SENIORS ($1000)Janes, Perry

  • Martinez, Kimberly

  • Selden, Chelsea

  • Yang, He

  • GRADUATE STUDENTS ($1000)Iliff, Adam

  • Liao, Hongwei


2010 UM Chapter Scholarship and Award Winners

JUNIORS ($500)

  • Reinhardt, Sarah

  • Stier, Matthew

  • Yang, He

  • Zillioux, Jacqueline

  • SENIORS ($1000)Callender, Kevin

  • Progovac, Ana

  • GRADUATE STUDENTS ($1000)Strickland, Shelley

  • Kron, Michelle

  • Fallahi-Sichani, Mohammad

  • NATIONAL FELLOWSHIP WINNER ($5000)Callendar, Kevin

2009 UM Chapter Scholarship and Award Winners

  • SENIORS ($1000)Field, Katie M.

  • Isaacs-See, Jillian

  • Martin, Katherine Iman

  • Selden, Clare

  • Yun, Jung-In

  • GRADUATE STUDENT ($1000)Dupuis, Catherine Mareva

National Fellowship Recipients from UM

2019 Elana Goldenkoff has been selected as a Fellow and will receive $8,500!

2018 Jonathan Williams has been selected as a Fellow and will receive $5,000!

In 2015, Sarah Ann Knutson, our third consecutive winner, received a $5000 national fellowship. Read more about Sarah on our News page at . Sarah is currently studying Archaeology and History at Cambridge University in England.

In 2014, Xiao Wang received a $5,000 national fellowship, one of only 51 at this level awarded annually. See more about Xiao on our News page at Xiao is currently studying medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

In 2013, Connie Shi became the first University of Michigan student to receive a prestigious $15,000 Marcus Urann national fellowship. Named for the founder of Phi Kappa Phi, there are only six fellowships at this level awarded annually. See more about Connie on our News page at Connie is currently studying medicine at Harvard University.

In 2011, U-M student Samuel Burns received a $5,000 national fellowship.

In 2010, U-M student Kevin A. Callender received a $5,000 national fellowship.

Other national fellowship winners who have received graduate degrees from the University of Michigan are:

Javier Orman, 2007 Fellowship winner, Music

James Reinhart, 2006 Fellowship winner, Medicine

Kevin Haworth, 2003 Fellowship winner, Applied Physics