Connie Rojas Wins Tracy A. Hammer Graduate Student Award for Professional Development

Connie Rojas, a graduate student pursuing a dual degree in Integrative Biology and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior; has been awarded the College of Natural Science's 2017 Tracy A. Hammer Graduate Student Award for Professional Development. The Tracy A. Hammer Award recognizes and supports an outstanding graduate student with a one-time stipend of $750 for professional development activities.

A first-generation and low-income Mexican-American, Connie has faced many barriers to her success. However, she has thrived due to her relentless determination, as well as grit, hard work, and perseverance. Despite being only in her second year, she has been the recipient of more than ten fellowships and awards during her time at MSU, among them, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, and MSU University Distinguished Fellowship. Most recently, she was awarded the Council of Graduate Students Disciplinary Leadership Award, and a grant from the National Science Foundation BEACON Science and Technology Center to fund her research.

For her dissertation, Connie plans to use field behavioral data, next generation sequencing technologies, and computation tools to study the stability, structure, and functional contributions of the gut microbiome of wild spotted hyenas. She has presented her work at the conference of the Animal Behavior Society and the Society for the Advancement of Chicano/Hispanic and Native American Students in Science, and will be giving an oral presentation of her most recent findings at the first Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior Annual Research Symposium.

Rojas is already proving herself to be not only a top STEM researcher, but also an exemplary leader with a deep commitment to service to the broader community. She manages to excel in her coursework and research, all while participating in a large number of extracurricular activities, most of which are focused on improving the welfare of underrepresented students and increasing their participation in STEM fields. She has been part of many projects as part of her work with the MSU Chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicano/Hispanic and Native American Students in Science; Michigan Indigena/Chicanx Community Alliance; and the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior Graduate Group; including fundraisers for Oaxacan teachers, annual Dia de los Muertos cultural events, research forums, colloquiums, graduate student socials, and many professional development workshops! She is going to continue similar work as a Professor at a research university, and hopefully inspire Latino students to persist despite the obstacles and never give up on their dreams.

Rojas will use this award to fund travel the field, the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, this upcoming academic year.