Jennifer Abrams and Kevin Morano
Jennifer Abrams found her life’s work would center on scientific research thanks to opportunities provided by the Scholars Academy and faculty mentors in the Department of Natural Sciences at UHD.
Abrams graduated from UHD in 2007 and moved directly into a microbiology doctoral program at the UT Health Science Center in Houston. This week she won a three-year $33,000 fellowship from the American Society for Microbiology to support cutting-edge research into the molecular causes of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s and Parkinson’s. She was one of seven students to win the national award.
Abrams said she found out about the award while at home one night reading email. “I was very surprised,” she said. “Honorable mentions had already received their letters, so I wasn’t expecting the ASM’s Award letter.”
Abrams said her success started at UHD.
“UHD is a smaller school and it provided me with a great deal of interaction with professors,” said Abrams as she reflected on her success. “My faculty at UHD really cared about getting students to the next step in their careers.”
As an undergraduate member of the Scholars Academy, Abrams had a paid research stipend working with associate professor of natural sciences Phil Lyons on a field project at Sheldon Lake State Park. “We looked the fungi populations in native land, farmland and restored farmland,” she said. “All three environments existed there and we used DNA sequencing to identify more than 1,000 varieties.”
Lyons remembers Abrams as a very talented student who really connected with the research opportunities at UHD. “Her work was funded through the National Science Foundation Grant and you could tell she enjoyed it,” he said.
Abrams also credited associate professor Lisa Morano and assistant professor Jerry Johnson, both in the Natural Science Department with opening doors and taking a special interest in her academic progress.
Morano said that she coordinated all summer research programs the year Abrams worked at the state park. “She was just a fantastic student and we encouraged her to go into a Ph.D. Program,” she said. “I am so proud of her. She is a really talented student from our school and it is great to see her doing so well.”
Of course, little did Morano know that Abrams would eventually end up working with her husband in the Texas Medical Center? Abrams conducts her research in Kevin Morano’s laboratory in the UT Health Medical School. His laboratory is using a yeast model to learn more about neurodegenerative diseases.
“I never talked to him until I started my Ph.D. work,” Abrams said.
Johnson remembers Abrams as a student who enjoyed challenges. “She looked at assignments and tough projects as being beneficial,” he said. “She also was motivated. We selected her to go on our New York City trip that explores alternative careers in science. She was always very positive and it’s great to see her accomplish this.”