Maci Mueller chosen for the Neal Van Alfen and James MacDonald Graduate Student Award
Animal geneticist Maci Mueller has been selected as the 2021 recipient of the Neal Van Alfen and James MacDonald Graduate Student Award for the excellent quality of her research, record of scholarly activity, commitment to outreach and service, demonstrated leadership abilities and outstanding communication skills.
Mueller is a third year Ph.D. student in the Animal Biology Graduate Group. She studies advanced breeding technologies to improve cattle production efficiency and sustainability. Specifically, her research is examining the potential to combine the use of gene editing and the isolation of bovine embryonic stem cells to ultimately produce cattle with more desirable genetic traits. The potential editing targets and benefits are many: better animal health and welfare, higher quality animal products for human use and improved sustainability of livestock production through a reduced environmental footprint.
“Maci is an outstanding graduate student, and the most accomplished I have had the pleasure of mentoring in almost 20 years at UC Davis,” said animal genomics specialist Alison Van Eenennaam, Mueller’s major professor. “While her resume serves as a record of her exceptional academic performance and leadership skills, it is her character, motivation to learn and demonstrated commitment to service that make her exceptional.”
Mueller’s involvement with her family’s beef cattle operation in Nebraska has been a major motivator of her research. She experienced firsthand the logistical challenges and increased labor associated with the reproductive technology of artificial insemination, which is currently the most effective method for passing on superior cattle genetics.
She came to UC Davis in 2016 for her master’s degree. She quickly became an integral part of the graduate group with her engaging personality, positive attitude and desire to interact with and help peers.
She is a motivated researcher who readily engages with the public and industry stakeholders. Her stellar performance in the 2017 UC Davis Grad Slam, a competition to communicate research to the public, earned her a nomination by the vice provost of graduate research to present her research at UC’s annual Graduate Research Advocacy Day at the state capitol.
In addition to being the lead author on two publications in academic journals, she is dedicated to further disseminating her research results to a broader producer and consumer audience. She was invited to work with the National Milk Producers Federation to present a webinar, “Polled genetics in U.S. dairy cattle.” For the last four years, she has presented her research at the annual meeting of the California Cattlemen’s Association. In 2018 she earned a graduate student science communication award from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology.
She has balanced her commitment to service and outreach with a heavy and challenging course load, multiple teaching assistant positions and complex research projects, yet still earned a perfect 4.0 GPA during her graduate career.
“Maci’s Ph.D. research could help revolutionize the cattle breeding industry,” Van Eenennaam said. “Ultimately, this could lead to improved breeding strategies that incorporate the application of biotechnology, advanced reproductive techniques and classical breeding strategies that incorporate animal health and welfare while enhancing overall production efficiency.”
The Neal Van Alfen and James MacDonald Graduate Student Award was established to acknowledge the contributions of former CA&ES Dean Van Alfen and former Executive Associate Dean MacDonald. It supports graduate students in the agricultural, environmental or social/human sciences who have a major professor within the college.