2017 Way Klingler Young Scholar Awards Recipients

Way Klingler Young Scholar Awards support promising young scholars in critical stages of their careers. The awards of up to $32,000 are intended to fund $2,000 in operating costs and to cover up to 50 percent of salary to afford the recipient a one-semester sabbatical.

2017 recipients

Dr. Jennifer Evans
Assistant professor of biomedical sciences

Dr. Jennifer Evans, assistant professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Health Sciences, believes that collaboration and teamwork are the keys to building a strong research lab.

Evans likes to work closely with colleagues in her department, including fellow Young Scholar Award winner Dr. Murray Blackmore. Together, they are developing new genetic tools that will reveal how brain circuits regulate daily rhythms like sleep. Evans and Blackmore were awarded a $1.7 million National Institutes of Health R01 grant to support this work.

"This is a new and exciting direction for us," Evans says. "We're creating tools that will target specific types of cells so we can better understand the role each plays in the body's 'clock.' Since the brain clock regulates nearly everything in our body, understanding what makes it tick is important for human health."

With these new tools, Evans and her research team will be able to label, manipulate or even eliminate these cells in order to see what effect that has on brain function and daily behavior. Evans says the sabbatical that accompanies the Young Scholar Award will allow her to spend more time in her lab developing these new tools and working with her research team.

"Discoveries in my lab are made possible by the hard work of a number of critical people, including a post-doc, two grad students, a technician and several undergraduate research assistants." she says. "This award will allow me to provide them the mentorship and support that will help them succeed, which is very important to increase our rate of discovery."

"This is a critical time in my research, and it's wonderful that Marquette has a mechanism like this because it will really help me build my research program," Evans says. "It's really an honor."

Dr. Nicholas Heck
Assistant professor of psychology

For Dr. Nicholas Heck, assistant professor of psychology, receiving the Young Scholar Award means that he'll have more time to make research his top priority.

"Specifically, it'll help me take the data my lab has been collecting over the past two-and-a-half years and begin to get it analyzed and prepared to submit as part of a larger grant application," Heck says.

Heck's research looks at the results of stress specific to a person's sexual orientation and gender identity, as opposed to more general forms of stress.

"This is important, because we know that there are critical health disparities that exist among lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals and their heterosexual counterparts," Heck says. "It's often posited that those disparities are the result of stress specific to identifying as a lesbian, gay or bisexual person."

Heck and his team, which includes 10 undergraduate and three graduate research assistants, are working to develop and validate a method for exposing LGBT individuals to a low level of stress that is specific to their sexual and gender minority statuses.

"Our field is in a place where we're starting to develop tailored interventions for LGBT people to help them cope with stressors that are specific to their sexual orientation or gender identity," Heck says. "One of the ways we might know whether those interventions work is by looking at individuals who have been exposed to them and seeing if we can identify specific psychological or biological processes that are associated with experiencing those forms of stress."

Dr. Jier Huang
Assistant professor of chemistry

Dr. Jier Huang, assistant professor of chemistry in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, has set out to develop new strategies for tapping the promise of solar energy through the development of light-activated catalysts that convert light from the sun into chemical energy.

"Simply put, the goal of my research is to develop new, efficient materials that can be used in solar power," Huang says.

Since 2013, when Huang formed the Huang Lab group, she and a team of researchers have used the advanced physical methods to understand the processes of converting solar power to fuel, detect the properties of the materials and determine which factors control the efficiency of the conversion. They have collected significant experimental results that require extensive data analysis.

During her sabbatical, Huang will have time to analyze the results within the framework of a new model she is developing. "I also intend to initiate new research projects, which are challenging but critical to addressing energy crisis and environmental issues," she adds.

In February, Huang received a $555,636 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to help fund her research. The CAREER grant is the foundation's most prestigious award in support of junior faculty.

Dr. Brooke Mayer
Assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering

Dr. Brooke Mayer, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering in the Opus College of Engineering, encourages her students to embrace the importance of being lifelong learners. As one herself, she knows the value in challenging herself to learn from colleagues, students and experts outside of Marquette.

"I am incredibly fortunate to have an academic career at Marquette, where I am surrounded by colleagues and students who are eager to consume and apply knowledge, and who understand that there is always more to learn," she says.

As one of four recipients of the Way Klingler Young Scholar Awards, Mayer plans to spend the semester as a visiting scholar at the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University.

At ASU, Mayer plans to train on laboratory protocols for microbes that she has not yet worked with in her own research program. "My goal is to implement these laboratory protocols in my own research lab at Marquette to broaden my research portfolio to encompass additional emerging pathogens," Mayer adds.

In April 2016, Mayer received a $500,000 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to study how to remove and recover phosphorus from water. This latest award will also give Mayer the opportunity to work with a group of phosphorus recovery experts at ASU, including Dr. Bruce Rittmann and Dr. Treavor Boyer. Together, they will pursue new nutrient recovery research opportunities, including identifying and collaborating on research proposals and writing articles for peer-reviewed journals.