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Meet Our Students

AgBioFEWS Fellows are Ph.D. candidates across multidisciplinary fields of study. In addition to their primary graduate program, Fellows also earn a graduate minor in Genetic Engineering and Society and:

  • Embark on their studies embedded with NC farms, with later opportunities for international internships
  • Collaborate on an interdisciplinary cohort project
  • Take advanced interdisciplinary graduate courses and incorporate AgBioFEWS into thesis

We will be accepting additional applications for the 2022 Fellowship Cohort starting in the Fall of 2021. Contact: for more details. 

See also: AgBioFEWS 2019 Cohort

See also: AgBioFEWS 2020 Cohort

2022 Fellows

Modesta Abugu

Modesta Abugu

Horticultural Science

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisors- Massimo Iorizzo, Craig Yencho
Modesta Nnedinso Abugu is from Enugu State, Nigeria in West Africa. In Fall 2021 Modesta entered the Horticultural Science Department at NC State as a GGI scholar and is interested in using tools of genomics and advanced genetics to improve food security crops and enhance nutrition. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of Nigeria Nsukka where she researched nutraceuticals and the antioxidant properties of some orphan vegetable crops and a Master’s from Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida with her research focusing on introgressing superior flavor volatile alleles into a modern commercial tomato variety.  Before entering graduate school, Modesta was the Program Assistant for the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Nigeria Chapter, where she engaged policymakers, the media, scientists and other stakeholders on the potentials of agricultural biotechnology in promoting food security. She was also part of the inaugural cohort of Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellows program at Cornell University in 2015.  She now helps to lead and advance the communications strategies as well as train other cohorts on grassroots organizing and strategic communications. Modesta is also the managing editor of the African Studies Quarterly, UF, a 2020 Conviron Scholar of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) and a curator of Women in Genomics.

Asa BudnickAsa Budnick

Plant Biology

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor – TBD

Asa will be pursuing his PhD in Plant Biology in the Fall of 2021 as a GGI scholar to develop domain mastery and find a network of likeminded people. Asa graduated with a BS in Biology from Northeastern University in 2018. During his time at Northeastern he worked on Co-op at MIT’s genome sequencing core and at Editas Medicine – a company working on gene editing for human therapeutics. Before entering NC State, he was working as a research associate at an agricultural biotechnology company, Inari Agriculture, in Cambridge Massachusettes. He worked on gene editing technology development for crop improvement as his long-term interest is to work to improve food systems, food security, and food sovereignty while utilizing and building an understanding of plant genetics.

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Eric ButotoEric Butoto

Crop and Soil Science

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor – Dr. James Holland

Eric has spent a good portion of his life in central and east Africa, born in DR Congo and lived in Burundi and Rwanda. He is currently a master’s student in the Crop and Soil Science Department under the advisement of Dr. James Holland. His master’s research compared long-term phenotypic and genomic selection for resistance to Fusarium ear rot and fumonisin contamination caused by Fusarium verticillioides in maize. His research interest is genomic selection, Fusarium verticillioides in maize, quantitative genetics, and environmental factors influencing fungi in maize. He received his B.S. degree in Agronomy (plant breeding and genetics) from Iowa State University. While at Iowa State University, he conducted independent research where he sequenced three photosynthetic genes intending to improve capacity to breed cold tolerant sorghum and increase grain yield and biomass. In the private industry, he has interned at Beck’s Superior Hybrids, Marshalltown, IA, and Dow AgroSciences, Nevada, IA where he gained various skills ranging from creating new breeding material to quantitative trait loci mapping.

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Greg FerraroGreg Ferraro

Agricultural and Resource Economics

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor – Dr. Zachary Brown

Having started with NC State in Fall 2021, Greg hopes to research economic and data-driven analysis of environmental, agricultural, and social policy. He has a long-standing interest in economic development and political science. Greg holds a BS in Finance and Economics from the University of Maryland, an MA in International Political Economy of Development, and an MA in Economics, both from Fordham University. His relevant work experiences include positions as an agriculture Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, as an administrator/field research manager at a social work institute in Haiti, as a fellow at an affordable housing non-profit in NYC, and as a research associate at an environmental NGO in New York. Before moving to North Carolina, he worked for a Cote d’Ivoirian NGO on agricultural information and M&E projects, as part of a Fulbright Fellowship.

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Jill FurgursonJill Furgurson

Forestry and Environmental Resources

Ph.D. Student | College of Natural Resources | Advisor – Dr. Jason Delborne

Jill will start her Ph.D. program in the Fall of 2022. She holds an M.S. from the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State, where she conducted research pertaining to the sustainable use of natural resources, specifically those used in traditional Cherokee artforms. She also holds an M.A. from the Department of Geography at the University of North Carolina. As a research trainee at the Carolina Population Center and member of the Spatial Health Research Group, she evaluated the impact of various social, spatial and environmental risk factors on disease incidence. Broadly, Jill is interested in the combined use of spatial analysis and social science methods as an integrated approach to addressing issues related to emerging biotechnologies aimed at improving human health and the environment. Her research interests are guided by a framework of inclusive governance that incorporates the complex mix of historic, sociopolitical and cultural factors that impact society and environmental sustainability.

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Amanda Mainello

Amanda Mainello

Plant Pathology

Ph.D. Student | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences | Advisor – Dr. Jean Ristaino

Amanda is at NC State pursuing her Ph.D. in plant pathology by developing tools to detect oomycete pathogens on nursery crops under the guidance of Dr. Jean Ristaino. Amanda found her interest in plant pathology by first realizing her curiosity about food systems could become a career path. Amanda majored in Biology and Public Policy as an undergraduate at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and developed an interest in agricultural policy. After graduation she took a position at The Center for Food Safety, a non-profit in Washington, D.C. focused on sustainable agriculture issues. Between writing policy comments and communicating with the public about the state of American agriculture, Amanda had the opportunity to see how scientists could influence policy. She was motivated to get back into lab after realizing the value of her scientific skills and identifying gaps she could fill in this space. Amanda then spent three years in Happy Valley, isolating and identifying bacteria that magically turn potatoes into mush as part of her Master’s work at Penn State University.

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Nolan SpeicherNolan Speicher

Communications, Rhetoric and Digital Media

Ph.D. Student | College of Humanities and Social Sciences | Advisor – TBD

Nolan Speicher (pronounced spike-er) grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and earned his B.S. in neurobiology at the University of Iowa in 2015. Before pursuing graduate education in communication, he worked as a science writer and digital marketing analyst for Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT), a global manufacturer of custom nucleic acids. In 2019, after four years at IDT, he moved to Raleigh to pursue the M.S. in communication at NC State. During his time here, he has studied science / environmental communication from a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives, spanning both the humanities and social sciences. In addition to working as a research assistant for Dr. Jean Goodwin, he has worked as a teaching assistant for the undergraduate courses Science Communication and Public Engagement (COM 289) and Public Speaking (COM 110).

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Destiny TysonDestiny Tyson

Crop Science

Ph.D. Student | College of Agricultural Life Sciences | Advisor – TBD

Destiny started her Ph.D. in the fall of 2020 as a Genetics and Genomics Scholar. She is currently working with Drs. Ruben Rellan-Alvarez and James Holland looking at the effect of negative photoperiod regulators on flowering time and how knocking out these genes affect tropical maize’s ability to adapt to temperate environments. She received her B.S. in Genetics and Plant and Soil Sciences with a concentration in Crop Biotechnology from North Carolina State University. During her undergraduate career she has worked under the mentorship of Dr. Jennifer Baltzegar where she looked at population structure in maize weevils collected in Mexico using microsatellites. She had the opportunity to present her research at the 2018 summer and 2019 spring undergraduate research symposium hosted by NC State. In addition to that, she has traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to present her undergraduate research at the 2019 Entomology Society of America conference. Destiny has further gained laboratory experience and developed laboratory skills working in a USDA wheat genotyping lab for Dr. Gina Brown-Guedira. Not only that, she gained field experience during her international internship at CIMMYT in Mexico.

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