Student Spotlight: Ashley Stengel

Monday, April 3, 2017

Complex Biosystems PhD student, Ashley Stengel, recently received an honorable mention from the National Science Foundation for a Life Science proposal. 

Her NSF predoctoral application titled, "Ecological Network Dynamics of Soil Microbes in Maize Agroecosystems" earned her the distinction. An interdisciplinary proposal composed of Agronomy/Horticulture, Ecology, Microbiology, and Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, the proposed project aimed to investigate the ecological interactions within the rhizosphere of maize, looking specifically at the role of lignocellulose degrading microbes as drivers of nutrient cycling and further challenging the hypothesis that root exudates are the primary drivers of carbon and nitrogen nutrient availability and thereby identify alternative drivers of microbial community formation that are more linked to root decomposition and turnover.

“Learning to ‘think like a microbe’ and see the biological questions from that perspective have helped me develop an integrative agro ecological framework and a growing bioinformatics toolkit that I look forward to cultivating throughout my PhD and beyond,” she said. “I owe a big thanks to my co-advisors, Rhae Drijber and Joshua Herr for all their help with revisions and project brainstorming, to Sydney Everhart for her guidance and support in preparing application materials, to Amanda Ramer-Tait, Jennifer Clarke, and Melanie Simpson for bringing me on board to the Complex Biosystems Program, and to my cohort mates - Bridget Tripp and Kimberly Stanke - who have challenged me to be a better scientist and communicator, as well as provided friendship and support.”

Excited about receiving an honorable mention, something few enjoy, Ashley is ready for the next step of reworking the proposal for submission saying, “It just goes to show there is always work to be done: rewarding, important, fun work.”

Ashley is a student in the PhD Program in Complex Biosystems for students interested in applying quantitative statistical and computational approaches to data acquisition and analysis in multiple life sciences fields including human health and medical biochemistry, plant phenomics, and host-microbial metagenomics.

For more on the program visit: