Two W&J alums win prestigious NSF Fellowship

Created: May 3, 2019
Last Updated: December 17, 2019

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WASHINGTON, PA (May 3, 2019)—The National Science Foundation (NSF) selected Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) alumni Donté Stevens ’16 and Jordan Hosfelt ’18 as recipients of its 2019 graduate research fellowship.

Donté is pursuing a Ph.D. in biology at the University of California-San Diego. His research focuses on understanding the molecular motor dynein, one of the proteins responsible for moving cellular contents to the right place at the right time. His specific part of the study focuses on a class of dynein interacting proteins called activating adaptors. Understanding the way these proteins work can be utilized in treating neurological diseases caused by genetic mutations.

Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at New York University (NYU). His research involves the development of chemical tools to treat infectious diseases involving bacteria, with a focus on Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Specifically, Jordan is working on strategically using proteins typically expressed by mycobacteriophage-infected cells to degrade the complex cell envelope that makes tuberculosis so difficult to treat. Additionally, he is working toward developing new methodology that will allow macromolecules to permeate bacterial envelopes.

The NSF fellowship recognizes outstanding graduate students pursuing full-time research-based graduate degrees in STEM fields and provides three years of support for recipients. Interested researches may apply for the fellowship twice—once as an undergraduate student and once during their graduate studies.

For both men, this is their second time applying for the fellowship. Last year, Jordan received the NSF’s honorable mention for his fellowship application.

“It’s a great feeling, because it was something I was really hoping to get last year. I was a little disappointed last time, but I was encouraged by faculty to apply again,” Jordan said. “I reflected on my critiques and talked to other fellows in the program while creating my application this year. I think it just shows that persistence is key.”

Both men are hard workers, and highly involved in their communities. Outside of class and lab work, Jordan works with the Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering (ADSE) on diversity in science initiatives, while Donté volunteers in multiple scientific outreach organizations around San Diego, including the Barrio Logan College Institute that serves San Diego’s Latinx population to encourage underserved students to continue their education beyond high school.

That commitment to community involvement stems from their time at W&J, where both were members of the fraternity Alpha Tau Omega. Donté was a member of the Black Student Union and the Latinx Culture Association. Jordan was a Washington Fellow, resident assistant (RA), a Matthew Brown Fellow and a leader in Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (SAACS.)

The two agree that W&J prepared them for rigorous graduate programs and helped with their applications for the NSF fellowship.

“I really attribute most of my success now to W&J, and specifically (Associate Professor of Biology) Dr. (Jason) Kilgore,” Donté said. “He was my advisor while I was there. He put in the effort and time to work with me. There were times I doubted myself but he reassured me that I was able to do it, I just had to work at it.”

Jordan also worked closely with professors at W&J, and still contacts his undergraduate advisor, Professor of Chemistry Michael Leonard, Ph.D., when he has questions or needs support.

“There’s not many people in my program that I feel could say they call up their undergrad advisor and say that they could have a conversation about anything,” Jordan said. “They don’t have that close of a relationship.”

The future is full of possibility for these two graduates. Jordan is still considering the path he would like to pursue after receiving his Ph.D., and Donté is interested in teaching at the college level.

Update: In July, Donté was awarded the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study to support diversity and inclusion in science. 

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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