When Weston Testo ’12 arrived at Colgate in 2008, little did he know that he would form an exciting and professional bond with James “Eddie” Watkins, an assistant professor of biology hired that same year.

Thanks in part to their research and publication partnership, Testo received a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). By all accounts, the award is the single most prestigious early-career accomplishment for a young biologist.

The award provides Testo with a three-year $30,000 annual stipend, a generous cost-of-education allowance to his graduate institution, and other resources. Next year, Testo will begin a PhD program at the University of Vermont where he will work with David Barrington, one of the world’s leading authorities on fern evolutionary biology.

Remarkably, three recent Colgate biology majors received NSF Graduate Research Fellowships this year. Testo, however, is the only one to receive the award while still an undergraduate.

Watkins said: “I’ve never put up an undergraduate student for this because it is hypercompetitive with most awards going to early career graduate students. Wes is unique. Over the years I have watched him grow into a creative, critical thinking, engaged scientist. He is an inexhaustible student with a brilliant future ahead of him.”

Testo has worked in Watkins’ lab since his freshman year, studying many aspects of fern biology. They spent two summers together in Costa Rica and traveled widely while engaged in their research. One of the hallmarks of this collaboration has been Testo’s primary research on an endangered fern that grows in the region.

“Thanks to Wes’ keen eye and attention to detail, I think we know why this species is endangered,” Watkins said.

Testo, a writing and rhetoric minor, is lead author on two of the three peer-reviewed journal papers he worked on with Watkins. A fourth in now under review with two more papers to be submitted this semester. He has received many other honors including an undergraduate student research award from the Botanical Society of America and a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship honorable mention.

Colgate’s other 2012 NSF grant recipients are: 

Adam Pellegrini ’10, a PhD candidate in ecology at Princeton. While at Colgate, he traveled widely: twice to Costa Rica with biology professor Catherine Cardelús, and to Mongolia for paleoecology research with professor Constance Soja. Now, he is in South Africa studying the long-term effects of fire treatment on ecosystems of the savannah, thanks to a Mellon Foundation grant to professor Lars O. Hedin at Princeton. This summer he’ll work on a comparative study in the Brazilian cerrado.

Peter Minchella ’08, who entered the doctoral program in international nutrition at Cornell in 2011. After graduation, he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Central Mozambique, teaching chemistry and running a program that promoted HIV prevention through public art. His current research focuses on the protective effects provided by the BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) vaccine against tuberculosis. At Colgate, he was a molecular biology major and a member of the men’s basketball team.