Biology student wins NSF fellowship

An SF State graduate student has received a prestigious fellowship from the National Science Foundation that will support her research as she completes her master's program and begins doctoral studies.

Photo of SF State student Sofia Prado-Irwin

SF State graduate student Sofia Prado-Irwin has received a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

Sofia Prado-Irwin, a first year master's student studying biology, is one of 2,000 graduate students in the U.S. to receive awards through the NSF's Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She will receive a stipend of $32,000 per year for three years, plus tuition, to support her research into the relationship between skin-based microbes and the amphibians that host them. The award will be effective for the second year of her master's program and carry over to a Ph.D. program.

"The fellowship is a great resource, especially in times like these when funding for scientific research is hard to come by," she said. "I am unbelievably grateful to have received this award and I am incredibly excited to continue my career in ecological and evolutionary research supported by the NSF."

A native of Denver who earned her undergraduate degree at Barnard College in New York, Prado-Irwin's research examines the variations in microbial communities living on the skin of various salamander species, as well as the potential transmission of these microbes from parent to offspring. Her study will be the first to examine these interactions in a fully land-dwelling amphibian. The research will help shed light on the ecology of these host-microbe relationships, including how they may affect disease.

Four former SF State students who are now in doctoral programs also received NSF graduate fellowships:

  • Ka Essoe, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in psychology and is currently a student at the University of California, Los Angeles
  • Bridgett Jong, who graduated in 1998 with a degree in biology, concentration in cell and molecular biology, and is currently a student at the University of California, Davis
  • Armbien Sabillo, who graduated in 2013 with a degree in biology, concentration in physiology, and is currently a student at the University of California, Berkeley
  • David Yale, who graduated in 1998 with a degree in physics and is currently a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara

"The awarding of prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships to five current and former SF State students shows that our University prepares students to succeed in science at the highest national levels," said Dean of the College of Science & Engineering Sheldon Axler. "Our students and the faculty who help educate them can take great pride in this achievement."

The NSF's Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing master's or doctoral degrees at U.S. colleges and universities.

To learn more about SF State's biology department, visit

-- Jonathan Morales