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First Life Sciences Graduate Student Council

Sierra Nichols (BIO '24) was faced with a dilemma as the Life Sciences’ representative to BYU’s Graduate Student Society: how was she supposed to be the voice of 300 graduate students scattered across seven departments and an academic center? She started by doing what any Life Sciences student does—research. With the help of associate dean Ben Crookston, what started as simply trying to gather information about the students snowballed into a mission to build a better, more connected graduate community through a student council.

The new Life Sciences Graduate Student Council blends 14 students from various countries, backgrounds, and PhD and master’s programs. They will work together with the faculty and staff running the graduate programs to create a forum to discuss what challenges students face and how to improve the graduate experience. The council will also focus on improving personal and professional connections for students.

“We’ll work hand-in-hand . . . to build a better graduate community where [graduates] feel an identity here [with the college], where they feel valued, and where they have a group they can connect with,” says Crookston. “[We can] create a graduate community that we’ve never had before.”

This ambitious advance for the Life Sciences graduate programs is intended to create a high-quality experience in every way, including mentoring, academia, experiential learning, and cultivating a community of faith, which will help students stand out when they continue with their careers. The first step? Just bringing people into the same space. We can look forward to upcoming activities like graduate-specific formal and casual social events, a Life Sciences graduate research conference, and more initiatives still in development.

The students on the council are Kenneth Carroll, Kai-li Sam Fong, Kate Jaggi, PrithiviRaj Jegannathan, Aubrey Johansen, Sterling Kerr, Brandon Lopez, Camille Nguyen, Sierra Nichols, Brian Petersen, Michael Von Gunten, Isaac Stirland, Jared Steele, and Sidney Sithole.

Get to know your new Life Sciences Graduate Student Council (LSGSC):

bios submitted by the students, edited for length and clarity

The top of the image reads College of Life Sciences Graduate Student Council in a serif font. On a purple background are thirteen short biographies in white text boxes with rounded edges, written in gold-colored font. In the left top corner of each box is a small picture of each individual. The biographies read as follows. Kenneth Carroll - selfie is of a light skinned man wearing a lab coat with brown hair covering his forehead and part of his rectangular black glasses. Kenneth Carroll is a PhD student in Byron Adam’s lab studying the effect of microplastics on soil. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Arizona State University. His original goal was to research microplastic in the marine environment, but he switched to environmental matrices after his first soil science class. Having been a voice for students as the ASU Life Science ethics representative, he is honored to continue his service to fellow BYU students. Kai-Li Sam Fong - picture is of a medium skinned woman with chest-length, curled brown hair wearing multiple colorful leis. Kai-li Sam Fong is finishing her first year in the Master of Public Health program. She is originally from Hawai’i but spent most of her life in Victorville, CA. That being said, she’s an awful swimmer! She currently works as a research assistant but is interested in pursuing a career in healthcare administration when she graduates. She is excited to be a part of the first-ever LSGSC. Kate Jaggi - picture is of a light skinned woman wearing a white v-neck blouse with curled blond hair just past her shoulders. Kate Jaggi is completing her first year of a master's program in genetics and biotechnology under the direction of Dr. Maughan. She graduated from BYU with her bachelor's in genetics, genomics, and biotechnology. After working with wild Chenopodium species as an undergraduate in BYU's Orphaned Crop Lab, Kate's current research project involves comparing genomes of Eurasian Chenopodium species. Kate looks forward to pursuing a PhD in genetics and genomics. In addition to her interest in genetics, Kate enjoys reading, golfing, and traveling. PrithiviRaj Jegannathan - picture is of a medium skinned man wearing a solid blue shirt with black hair short on the sides and tall on top. PrithiviRaj Jegannathan is from Tamil Nadu, India, and received his undergraduate degree in agriculture engineering in India. He is doing his master’s degree in food science, looking at the shelf life of freeze-dried foods. Aubrey Johansen - picture is of a light skinned woman wearing an off-white sweater with chest-length, curled blonde hair. Aubrey Johansen is from Heber City, and this is her second semester in the Master of Cell Biology and Physiology program. She got her bachelor’s degree in genetics, genomics, and biotechnology at BYU. She loves hiking, boating, reading, and all things animals. She currently works as an andrologist at a fertility clinic in Provo, and is training to be an embryologist. She hopes to use her time on the council to make your crazy graduate lives just a little bit easier! Sterling Kerr - picture is of a light-skinned man wearing a white button down and green tie with brown hair short on the sides and tall on top. Sterling Kerr is a Salt Lake City native who received his biology undergraduate at BYU - Hawaii. He is currently obtaining a master's in environmental science and sustainability in the St. Clair Lab. He hopes to find a career in sustainability and environmental management. His key hobbies include Jiu Jitsu, basketball, eating, and being the best husband ever. Camille Nguyen - picture is of a medium skinned woman with shoulder length brown hair wearing a white blouse and a black polka dot cardigan. Camille Nguyen is a master’s student in the exercise science department. She is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and completed her undergraduate at Saint Francis University and at BYU. Her main focus in graduate school is to become a research coordinator utilizing diagnostic research techniques in understudied populations. Her passions include swimming, playing water polo, and trying new things around where she lives. Sierra Nichols - picture is a close up of a light skinned woman with a long-ish dirty blonde bob wearing a white shirt. Sierra Nichols worked as an environmental science undergraduate in two BYU labs researching plant regeneration after wildfire and local water quality issues. She transitioned to apply her technical expertise to education research, using research to promote equality within education. In her biological science education master’s program, she focuses on the impact of gender on participation and performance. She is also conducting original research on water cycle education and expert consensus. Brian Petersen - picture is of a light skinned man with brown hair very short on the sides and styled tall on top wearing a black v-neck. Due to a love for sport, Brian Petersen pursued a Bachelor of Kinesiology at the University of Toronto, where he explored the promotion of a safe youth sport culture. However, after completing a population health class, Brian realized his strongest passion lies in health promotion. He particularly wants to explore the impact of existing poverty reduction strategies on household food insecurity and their applicability to Canada’s northern Indigenous communities. When not in the classroom, you will find Brian taking care of his honeybees, gardening, or kayaking Ontario’s Trent Severn Waterway. Michael Von Gunten - picture is of a silhouette hanging off a rock overhand with a valley and blue and yellow sunset in the background. Michael Von Gunten has been in the Neuroscience PhD program for 2 1/2 years. He studies drug addiction, with a focus on marijuana, opioids, and LSD. He loves being outside, rock climbing, and playing sports. He also runs ultra-marathons. He just had a cute little baby girl who is now three months old. Isaac Stirland - picture is of a light skinned man with shoulder length brown hair, a handlebar mustache, a black-rimmed circular glasses wearing a blue button down and a white lab coat. Isaac Stirland's peers have lovingly named him "the laziest graduate student" due to his recent history of leaving campus at the drop of a hat in order to ski, hike, climb, and outdoor recreate. Despite this title, Isaac is an involved mentor to multiple undergraduates, an inventor on a recently filed patent, and an author on multiple publications. He is passionate about redefining medical diagnostics and designing new medical tests. Isaac plans to increase his clinical IQ in improving patient outcomes while in medical school. When he isn't 'science-ing' Isaac loves to express his creativity through various art mediums. Jared Steele - picture is of a light skinned man with short brown hair faded on the sides wearing a dark blue hoodie. Jared Steele is a 2nd year PhD candidate in exercise sciences. He currently works under Dr. Hunter, investigating how environmental perturbances alter running mechanics. He is also the coach of the BYU running club when he’s not in the lab or teaching in the classroom. Sidney Sithole - picture is of a dark skinned man with very cropped hair wearing a pink and purple plaid button down. Sidney Sithole, originally from Mutare, Zimbabwe, relocated to the United States in Fall 2022 with his wife and two children to pursue a PhD in microbiology and molecular biology. Having worked in HIV Clinical Trials for over seven years, Sidney joined the Berges Lab, where he focuses on understanding HIV genetics and how HIV develops into AIDS. He enjoys going on nature walks with his family, trying out different cuisines, and working out at the gym. Sidney has a keen interest in public health interventions that address health problems and aspires to be actively involved in academia and healthcare consultancy after graduating.