2017 College of Biological Sciences Senior Awards

2017 Senior Awards

Ronald and Lydia Baskin Research Award recipient Iris Mollhoff, Undergraduate of the Year Niloufar Mohajerani, College of Biological Sciences Dean Mark Winey, CBS Medalist Felicia Peng and University Medalist Srujan Kopparapu pose during the 2017 Student Awards Reception. David Slipher/UC Davis

Each year, the College of Biological Sciences honors its top undergraduate students for their research contributions. The following students will be recognized during the commencement ceremony on June 16.

University Medalist - Srujan Kopparapu

Srujan Kopparapu, of Folsom, Calif., will graduate with dual degrees; a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. During his freshman year, Kopparapu joined Professor Neil Hunter’s lab in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.

Kopparapu has studied homologous recombination and meiosis in yeast cells, creating mutant strains to gain a deeper understanding of DNA repair.

“I began by learning and performing whatever biochemical procedures were requested of me on a certain day.” Kopparapu said. “By the end of my time here, I had gained a conceptual understanding of how to synthesize procedures into a coherent plan of attack that tackles a specific research question.”

“As I grew more experienced and confident as both a student and experimenter, I pursued both academics and research with vigor, taking more classes while also presenting my own research.”

Kopparapu attributes his success to the organizations and programs he joined as a student, such as the UC Davis chapter of Bhagat Purat Singh Health Initiative, a non-profit organization that provides healthcare screenings for Hindi, Punjab and other underserved populations.

“It allowed me to do further volunteering, service and outreach opportunities in an effort to improve the health and well-being of our community,” he said.

Kopparapu has been active on campus as a member of the Quiz Bowl Club and Regents Scholar Society, and he has worked as a tutor for the Student Academic Success Center. After graduation, Kopparapu plans to attend medical school.

Each year, UC Davis awards the top graduating senior with the University Medal for excellence in undergraduate studies, outstanding community service and the promise of future scholarship and contributions to society. This is the highest academic honor bestowed upon an undergraduate student at UC Davis.

College of Biological Sciences Medalist - Felicia Peng

Felicia Peng, of San Francisco, Calif., will receive a Bachelor of Science in Genetics and Genomics. Peng has conducted research in Professor Bo Liu’s laboratory in the Department of Plant Biology.

She has explored the structural organization of plant cells to gain a better understanding of cell division. Her work helped her determine that she wants to continue in research, and she’ll be applying to graduate school after taking a gap year.

“I really enjoy having experiments to plan and carry out, and Professor Liu’s lab is like a second home to me,” Peng said. “My research experiences confirmed that research is a path I want to continue following, and I know everything I’ve learned will serve me well in graduate school.”

When she graduates, Peng will work as a junior specialist in the Liu Lab, before applying to grad school next fall. Her advice to current undergraduates is to be open to new experiences.

“Don’t be afraid to try new things, and trust that you are capable,” said Peng. “Just make sure you are willing to devote time and energy to research, and constantly try to learn from the people around you in the lab.”

The College of Biological Sciences Medal is a distinguished recognition honoring the top undergraduate of the College, selected from a diverse application pool with recommendations from faculty members.

Undergraduate Student of the Year – Niloufar Mohajerani

Niloufar Mohajerani will receive a Bachelor of Science in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior. Mohajerani was born in Tehran, Iran and moved to the United States in 2012 to continue her education.

She has worked as a research assistant in Assistant Professor Karen Ryan’s laboratory in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior since 2015. In Ryan’s lab, Mohajerani’s research investigated the role of some receptors in the brain, called PPARγ receptors, and whether activation of these receptors helped with improvements of depressive-like symptoms in mice.

In the fall, Mohajerani will begin her graduate program at the University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry. She has been interested in dentistry since high school, where she volunteered with a dentist at a disability center in Tehran. At UC Davis, Mohajerani established the Free Dental Care Club in order to provide dental hygiene education and resources to the shelters and centers in Sacramento and Davis.

“Creating this club showed me how the critical need for dental care transcends borders, making places like Tehran in many ways no different from Davis,” Mohajerani said.

“My advice for students interested in research is to take advantage of all the resources offered by the university and start contacting their professors to express their interest in getting involved.”

The Undergraduate Student of the Year award is given to one outstanding graduating senior in the College of Biological Sciences. The award is given based on three criteria of academic excellence, research activity and involvement in service to the campus or the community.

Ronald and Lydia Baskin Research Award – Iris Mollhoff

Iris Mollhoff of Plano, Texas, will receive a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. After graduating, Mollhoff will take a gap year before applying for Ph.D. programs. During that year, she will serve as a junior specialist in the lab of Assistant Professor Glenn Yiu, Department of Ophthalmology at the UC Davis School of Medicine.

Mollhoff will be researching novel therapies that can be used to treat age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in the United States.

“My research experiences have taught me to become more independent,” said Mollhoff. “Looking back to when I first started in research, I feel much more confident designing and executing experiments on my own.”

In her second year at UC Davis, Mollhoff began research in the lab of Assistant Professor Philipp Zerbe, Department of Plant Biology. She has investigated the function of a newly-discovered enzyme found in root tissues of the medicinal plant Golden Larch. This enzyme is being used to help develop a potential chemotherapy drug, and is the focus of Iris’s senior honors thesis project.

“Being open to new experiences and showing your passion for exploring the world around you are two helpful attitudes to have,” Mollhoff said. “I would advise students to get involved early and perhaps try a couple different laboratories until they find the one that they are absolutely excited about.”

The Ronald and Lydia Baskin Research Award is presented to a graduating senior for excellence in research in the biological sciences.