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Chusyd named 2016 Outstanding Woman Graduate Student

March 17, 2016

Daniella E. Chusyd, MA, graduate student trainee in the Department of Nutrition Sciences and the Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC), has been honored by the UAB Commission on the Status of Women with the 2016 Outstanding Woman Graduate Student Award, which is awarded to women of the UAB and Birmingham communities who have mentored or served other women, taken a courageous stance, or overcome adversity. Ms. Chusyd is an example of all three.

Ms. Chusyd is a natural leader and a role model for other women through her actions and accomplishments. She credits two women in her life with providing her with the vital tools required to be hardworking and determined as well as accepted and respected: her independent-minded mother and Janine Brown, PhD, of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. The maternal inspiration served Ms. Chusyd well when she joined UAB as a PhD student and proposed a major research interest that was considered distinctly out of the norm. Encouraged by her main mentor, Tim R. Nagy, PhD, professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences, and David B. Allison, PhD, distinguished professor and director of the NORC, she successfully spearheaded her research project focused on examining how total fat in body composition relates to reproductive status in African and Asian elephants, with the goal of ensuring that subsequent generations have the ability to see elephants in the wild. Ms. Chusyd then convinced Dr. Brown to provide the necessary expertise in elephant research as well as to join the project.

Ms. Chusyd further displayed initiative and courage to her peers by receiving a grant from the Eppley Foundation for Research when she discovered that no funding readily existed for her study. In addition, she put together a diverse, multidisciplinary team of collaborators to enhance the impact of the project. This project has already created a global impact, expanding the image of UAB and increasing the understanding of a serious crisis to the biodiversity of our planet.

To help bridge the gap between UAB and the surrounding diverse communities, Ms. Chusyd teaches underprivileged high school and middle school girls about science to show other minorities—indeed all those individuals who identify with her, either by race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or life and career goals—that they, too, can turn their aspirations into achievements. “Anything is possible if you are determined and believe in yourself. It is paramount to teach the next generation this lesson, as my mother and Janine taught me. Therefore, I participated in Girls in Science and Engineering Day, mentoring young girls and fostering an environment where science careers are exciting and possible for girls—that STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] is not just for men. It is important that we look toward future generations and break down gender barriers, and mentoring young girls is one way I have done that. I have also given presentations to high school students from low-income households about science, my research, and how to follow their dreams, attend college, and why a STEM career can be exciting,” she says.

Ms. Chusyd received a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from the University of Florida before earning a Masters of Arts in Government from the Interdisciplinary Center Hertzliya in Israel (cum laude honors). In 2015 she was the recipient of the highly competitive Ireland Research Travel Award, and in 2016 was awarded the UAB President’s Diversity Award in the Graduate Student Category. With Dr. Brown, she also received funding this year from the Smithsonian Scholarly Studies Award for Science to further support their research.