Aquatic Ecologist Mary Jade Farruggia Wins Graduate Student Prize

Ph.D. Student is Neal Van Alfen and James MacDonald Award Recipient

Mary Jade Farruggia, a Ph.D. candidate with the Graduate Group in Ecology, is this year’s recipient of the Neal Van Alfen and James MacDonald Graduate Student Award for her outstanding academic performance and dedication to service and leadership.

Mary Jade Farruggia
Mary Jade Farruggia

This $7,500 award was established to honor the contributions of former dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Dean Van Alfen, and former executive associate, Dean MacDonald.

“I am very honored to have won this award,” Farruggia said. “To receive recognition for my research and service from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, which houses some of the top programs in the world, is incredibly humbling.”

Farruggia is an aquatic ecologist studying the effects of climate change on freshwater ecosystem structure, function and diversity. Among her research projects, she’s investigating links between climate variability and zooplankton communities in the Sierra Nevada to determine how aquatic animals respond to climate change. She’s also leading a large international interdisciplinary team to detail the effects of wildfire smoke on lakes.

Steven Sadro, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, nominated Farruggia for the award as her major professor. In his nomination letter, he praised Farruggia’s accomplishments, including being selected to the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the Global Lakes Ecological Observatory Network fellowship program.

“MJ is among the most accomplished, dedicated and hardworking graduate students I have met in the nearly two decades I’ve spent in academia,” Sadro wrote. “She is independent, a natural leader, and incredibly curious about natural systems.”

Farruggia has helped promote and advance principles of diversity, equity and inclusivity on campus. She is a member of the DEI task force for the Graduate Group in Ecology, as well as co-chair of the Diversity Committee Outreach program.

She also devotes time to serving her community, including as a program manager for the Kids into Discovering Science (KiDS), which provides hands-on science education to rural elementary school students in Northern California. It’s a role that is extremely important to her because she said the mentorship she received as a student has helped her gain the confidence needed to pursue a career as a scientist.

“Showing young people that studying science and nature is something tangible, exciting and attainable builds the foundation for them to be able to see themselves as a scientist,” she said. “Based on my own experiences, providing diverse groups of young people with experiences, mentorship, and diverse role-models in science is a great way to empower individuals and encourage increased diversity in science.”

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