Paige Hansen, a master’s student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) at the University of Kansas (KU) and a graduate student researcher for the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS), has been selected to be a 2018-2019 Madison and Lila Self Graduating Senior Fellow. The Madison and Lila Self Graduating Senior Fellowship is a prestigious award that recognizes outstanding undergraduates who are entering a graduate degree program at KU immediately after completing their bachelor’s degree and who exhibit "the potential to make significant contributions to society that are beyond the bounds of normal expectations.” Selected Fellows also have demonstrated “individual achievement in leadership and scholarship” and possess “the ability to envision and attain goals that require exceptional energy and tenacity.” As part of the award, Paige will receive $10,000 of support for one academic year and will participate in monthly professional development programs covering topics such as “leadership, effective mentoring relationships, conducting and communicating research, grant preparation, public speaking, policy advocacy, networking, and preparation for today’s labor markets and evolving industries."
Paige is from Brookings, SD and graduated from KU in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor's degree (BS) in Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology and a minor in English literature. Her research focus is soil microbial ecology. Paige was first introduced to this field of study in high school when she worked for a family friend who was a research scientist at the USDA North Central Agricultural Research Laboratories. She commented, “I didn’t like it at the time.” However, when she participated in a KU study abroad opportunity as an undergraduate researching “plant-fungal genetics in Bangkok…,” she said, “I ended up really loving the research, especially its potential to help the environment and people.” She added, “This experience also made me realize that there are fun, cool people who are excited about research, and that spending long days in the lab can be fun. I came back to KU wanting to continue to do research 1) that matters to people and the environment and 2) with people who are super excited about their research.” While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Paige developed a novel technique for "quantifying microbial abundance and quantifying fungal response to disturbances such as controlled burns.” She also became interested in "how climate change and land use conversion alters soil fungal and bacterial community composition, both at the soil's surface and deep underground... and how these compositional shifts can impact plant communities and biogeochemical cycling."
This fall, Paige is working in the Sikes Lab with Dr. Benjamin Sikes, Assistant Professor of EEB, Assistant Scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS), and part of the MAPS plant systems research team. Her MAPS research focuses on “how the structure (abundance and composition) and function of bacterial and fungal communities at different soil depths in native prairies, restored prairies, and agricultural fields change in response to alterations in historical precipitation regime.” She explained, “I'm trying to figure out how bacteria and fungi might respond to precipitation changes associated with climate change, and contribute to the ongoing debate on whether microbial community structure or function matters more to healthy ecosystem functioning.”
As an undergraduate, Paige received the following research recognitions: Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (K-INBRE) Fellowship, KU Undergraduate Research Award, KU Undergraduate Biology Research Award, the KU Honors Opportunity Award, the Freeman Foundation Scholarship for East Asia Internships, and the Plains Area Director’s Research Scholarship. She also was involved in the KU Global Scholars Program, the KU University Honors Program, and the KU Undergraduate Biology BioScholars Program. In addition, Paige has presented her undergraduate research at the 6th Annual K-INBRE Symposium, the Argonne Soil Metagenomics Meeting, and the Central Region IDeA Conference. And, Paige has co-authored a paper for publication titled Recurrent fires do not affect the abundance of soil fungi in a frequently burned pine savanna with T. A. Semenova-Nelsen, W. J. Platt, and B. A. Sikes. As for her future plans, Paige said, “I would love to be a professor at a research institution, or do anything that involves soil and microbes and that lets me travel!”
The Self fellows are nominated by their academic departments and are selected based on their “individual achievement in leadership and scholarship, potential to make significant contributions to society, and ability to envision and attain goals that require exceptional energy and tenacity.” This award is the third fellowship endowed by the Selfs at the University of Kansas, joining the Self Graduate Fellowship program for doctoral students and the Self Engineering Leadership Fellowship program for undergraduate students. Eleven students were selected as the 2018-2019 Self Graduating Senior Fellows.