Past Award Winners who are now Professors
Thais Fernanda Stella de Freitas
Thais was an agronomist with a BSc. degree at the Intituto Rio Grandense in Porto Alegre, Brazil when she received the GRRF Award back in 2011. This award, together with other resources, gave her the opportunity to spend six months at the International Rice Research Institute. She credits the award as being the springboard to the position of Professor at the Federal University of Pampa which she holds today.
Diane R Wang
Assistant Professor at Purdue, received her award in 2010 when she was doing undergraduate work with Susan McCouch at Cornell on rice diversity and genomics. She says: “the funding allowed me to travel to the Philippines for five weeks and work with an IRRI scientist; I ended up returning several more times, and the last research trip was 8 months long. My very first visit to IRRI is what inspired me to apply to graduate school to work on rice and international agriculture, and the rest is history, as they say…
Many thanks to GRRF for the role it has played in my career.”
a 2012 awardee, received the 2020 American Society of Agronomy’s “Early Career Award” which recognizes individuals who have made an outstanding contribution in agronomy within seven years of completing their final degree. The evaluation criteria include significant contributions to teaching, extension, research or professional organizations and institutions. Congratulations to Cameron for receiving this prestigious award!
Cameron worked at IRRI on no-till mechanical transplanting with Roland Buresh and James Quilty. In addition to his research, while at IRRI he gained a more global outlook on agriculture. He especially appreciated linking up with the paddy rice research group of the Global Research Alliance on greenhouse gas emissions and learning about the CGIAR as a potential employer. Following his IRRI experience he earned a U.S. Fulbright Scholar Award which he used to study changes in crop management and sustainability over the previous two decades in Uruguay. He then joined the Crop Sciences Department at the University of Illinois as Assistant Professor. In 2019 Cameron was appointed Assistant Professor of Agronomy and Agroecosystems at the University of California-Davis.
Rui “Tabby” Liu is an Assistant Professor of Weed Science at Washington State University (WSU). She received her award in 2017 while doing her Ph.D. at Texas A&M University. The award supported her participation in a short course called “Rice: Research to Production.” She got to spend three weeks at IRRI to learn every aspect of rice, e.g., breeding new varieties, plant protection, planting & harvest techniques, etc. The course broadened her perspective on rice and allowed her to see the impact of collaborative international research efforts. She also enjoyed meeting classmates and scientists with diverse backgrounds, exploring the beautiful Philippines, and the friendly & welcoming culture.
Currently, her research program at WSU focuses on developing integrated weed management strategies for various specialty crops in the Columbia Basin region of Washington State. Rice is not one of the many crops in this area, but the irrigated environment brings up some similar weed species. She hopes to make a detoured trip to the Philippines someday when she visits her family in China.
Daniela is an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in Grain Crop Production at The Pennsylvania State University. Her group focuses on identifying best management practices for the sustainable intensification of corn, soybean, and small grain crop production.
Award Winners 2013 to 2023
Katheryn Gregerson is a second-year master’s student in the International Agricultural Development program at UC Davis. She received the GRRF Global Rice Leadership Award in 2024 to expand her research on the feasibility of index insurance for rice producers in the Battambang province of Cambodia. For her research work, Kat will be visiting the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. Over the course of 3 weeks, she plans to be mentored by Dr. Alice Laborte to learn more about how remote sensing technologies are used to improve the quality of index insurance products for rice. She will conduct key stakeholder interviews to explore connections between her existing data and the insurance initiatives happening in the Philippines. Lastly, she will facilitate a two-day GenderUp training for the index insurance team at IRRI, promoting more inclusive and responsible scaling of their products. Kat is advised by Dr. Stephen Boucher at UC Davis and will also work closely with Dr. Valerien Pede at IRRI.
Karen Heikkilä received a GRRF grant in 2023 to conduct a baseline survey on hill rice agriculture among the Semai Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia. Similar to Austroasiatic-speaking indigenous peoples in mainland Southeast Asia, hill rice has been historically and culturally important in Semai life. However, with the demise of swiddening among Semai over the past few decades, the current status of hill rice cultivation is unknown. Thus, the aim of the survey is to gather information on past and present hill rice swiddens as well as confirm Semai language terms for rice varieties, growth stages and related material culture. Contemporary processes for storing and exchanging seeds, and planting and harvesting techniques will also be documented.
Primarily a pilot endeavour, the survey will aid in refining questions of interest, testing observations and conclusions from the literature on indigenous hill rice cultivation, improving information elicitation techniques, and planning for future research on the Semai indigenous subsistence economy and no-till agricultural practices.
Dr. Heikkilä is affiliated as a postdoctoral researcher with the Department of Environmental Sciences and the Orang Asli Archive at Keene State College, New Hampshire. She obtained her PhD in Geography from the University of Helsinki. Her dissertation dealt with oral tradition and indigenous geographical knowledge as expressed in Semai ancestral toponyms and narratives.
Uzezi Okinedo is a Biology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She received the GRRF Global Rice Leadership Award in 2024 to support her research on heat stress response in rice. Uzezi will be working in collaboration with IRRI-India under the supervision of Dr. Pallavi Sinha to evaluate the relationship between rice grain gene haplotypes and heat stress response using lines from the 3K rice panel. She will perform controlled environment experiments and a multi-environment evaluation of rice lines with representative grain gene haplotypes in the regions of Hyderabad and Varanasi. Uzezi aims to identify superior rice grain gene haplotypes resistant to heat stress based on yield performance and grain trait stability across environments. She will be phenotyping grain traits using a computer-vision-based quantitative phenotyping protocol developed by her lab at UMass Boston. Uzezi hopes that the findings from her research will be beneficial in assisting breeding efforts for high-quality heat-tolerant rice varieties. She envisions that this work will in the long run facilitate farmer’s adoption of elite rice cultivars, especially in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa where warming is expected to be higher than the global average in subsequent years. Part of Uzezi’s research is supported by an IRRI-USAID sandwich scholarship for Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) in the United States.
Raj Upreti received a Global Rice research Leadership award in 2022 to assist in his study of the value chain for high quality rice in Nepal. Nepal is a net importer of cheap rice and also exports a modest amount of high-quality rice. A better understanding of the value chain and market potential for high quality rice will generate a better understanding of the potential for farmers in the hills of Nepal to increase their income from that source.
Mr. Upreti is a second-year student in the MPA in Development Practice Program (MPA-DP) at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs studying under Glenn Denning. He received a Master of Business Administration from Purbanchal University and a Bachelor of Science from Tribhuvan University in Nepal.
Yumino Sasaki received a 2022 Global Rice Leadership Award to support a research exchange visit to work in plant immune receptor structure and function. Yumino is a 2nd year PhD student in plant pathology at Cornell conducting her dissertation research in molecular plant pathology advised by Adam Bogdanove.
Yumino will use her award to work abroad with experts in the structural biology of plant disease resistance proteins and to conduct fieldwork to understand the current strains of bacterial blight and bacterial leaf streak in Madagascar, activities that will advance her research in ways not possible at Cornell. The Madagascar field research will help establish the potential for effective deployment of rice engineered to resist bacterial rice diseases in West Africa.
Francis Akitwine, a second-year PhD student in soil science at Iowa State University’s Department of Agronomy, received a 2022 GRRF award to attend the Rice: Research to Production course at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and learn about the Nutrient Manager tool from IRRI scientists.
Francis’ doctoral study focuses on understanding the soils of Uganda’s Kamuli District, which heavily invests in rice production. He anticipates gaining insights into how to use smart fertilization to increase rice output sustainably particularly Nutrient Manager, a tool developed by the IRRI to optimize fertilizer use in rice production. By interacting with the scientists who created this tool, he will gain a deeper understanding of how to apply it in research and to create useful solutions to maximize fertilizer use and raise crop yields.
Juan Camilo Velásquez Rodríguez
Juan C. Velasquez received the GRRF award in 2022. He is a Ph.D. student in Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science (CSES) at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He studies under Dr. Nilda R Burgos in the CSES, and they are exploring the resistant evolution to auxin herbicides in Echinochloa colona (junglerice) under heat and drought stress. Junglerice is one of the most problematic weeds in rice, mainly because of its rapid seedling growth, adaptability to flooded and non-flooded soil, variable seed dormancy, variable maturation period, and high seed production.
The Global Rice Leadership Award will support a project related to his Ph.D., which aims to determine the junglerice resistant to quinclorac and competitiveness with inbred and hybrid rice under heat stress. The principal institution is the University of Arkansas, and as partners, the faculty of Ciencias Agrarias from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá (UNAL), the alliance Bioversity international and International Center of Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the Fondo Latinoamericano para el Arroz de Riego (FLAR). Data from this research will enable us to predict whether junglerice will evolve resistance to new auxinic herbicides quickly, quinclorac-resistant populations will be weedier, weediness will increase with rising temperature, and hybrid rice competes better with junglerice than inbred rice.
Juan finished his BSc degree in Agronomy from UNAL and obtained his MSc at the Universidade Federal de Pelotas, Brazil. He has worked on weed resistance to herbicides, weed physiology, and rice selectivity to herbicides, among other topics in weed science.
Ignacio Macedo spent three weeks at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) doing research and training related to his PhD studies at UC Davis on sustainable rice production systems. Under the supervision of Peter Sprang at IRRI, Ignacio learned about the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) and Performance Indicators for future application in Uruguay and elsewhere in Latin America.
Yasmine Farhat is a PhD student at U. of Washington who completed her 2019 field research in Cambodia with the help of her GRRF Award. Her research addresses the effects of soil chemistry and plant growth conditions on rice nutritional quality. Her experiments include an analysis of how zinc (a micronutrient) and arsenic (a toxin) levels are influenced by irrigation practices and flooding in the Tonle Sap region of Cambodia. During her trip, she completed a second, much more expansive round of field work in Cambodia, processed samples from two different growing seasons to return to the United States and collected important literature source material from local sources. Her results will help clarify the downstream impacts of dam development on the Mekong river on the livelihoods of people living around the Tonle Sap lake.
Ms. Farhart is a 2nd year PhD student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA where she is working with Professors Rebecca Neumann and Soo-Hyung Kim. She holds BSc degrees in Biology and Chemistry from the University of Nebraska, Omaha, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude.
Lina Bernaola is a PhD student at Louisiana State University. She is studying the effects of mycorrhizae (soil-dwelling fungi) on the interactions between rice and disease causing pests, including both insects and pathogenic bacterial species. Specifically, she is evaluating changes in rice gene expression that are linked to mycorrhizal colonization to test her hypothesis that colonization alters plant defense signaling and the expression of defense-related metabolites. She is also investigating the effects of mycorrhizae colonization on tolerance to root injuries. Her goals are to explore how relationships between mycorrhizae and their rice hosts might contribute to pest management programs.
The GRRF Travel and Study Award will support Ms. Bernola’s attendance at the 5th International Rice Congress, which will be held in Singapore in October 2018 and facilitate meetings with the Rice Research Center at MARDI in Penang, Malaysia.
Ms. Bernaola is studying with Professor Michael Stout in the Entomology Department at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, where she also earned an MSc degree in Agronomy and Crop Science. She holds a BSc degree in Biological Sciences from Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima, Peru.
Liberty Galvin is a PhD student in the Horticulture and Agronomy graduate group at University of California, Davis (UC Davis). She is conducting research to determined integrated management practices for reducing pervasiveness of weedy rice in California rice crops.
The GRRF Travel and Study award helped Galvin attend the 2018 IRRI Research to Production short course. Galvin reports that class discussions included the roles of women as key stakeholders in rice value-chains. She learned that “In places like India and Nepal, women are doing much of the transplanting, weeding, and harvesting, all by hand. However, they often are not the landowners or the final recipient of the harvest’s profit. To my surprise many people said that men and boys are heavily involved in field preparation due to the strenuous nature of soil cultivation without mechanization.”
She learned about how no-till and “stale seedbed” techniques from Dr. Virender Kumar may be used in Asian rice systems. She is developing collaboration with Dr. Kumar and one of his graduate students at Utrecht University in the Netherlands to help determine biophysical parameters necessary for germination and emergence of weeds common to many rice systems around the globe.
Galvin studies under Professor Kassim Al-Khatib in the Plant Sciences Department at UC Davis. She obtained her MSc in International Agricultural Development in 2017 from UC Davis, and a BSc in Environmental Sciences with minors in both Soil Science and Agronomy from Oklahoma State University.
Daniela Carrijo grew up “surrounded by a family of farmers in central Brazil.” After completing her BS and MS there she is now pursuing her PhD at UC Davis. She is doing research examining how alternate wetting and drying (AWD) irrigation management affects rice yields, rice root growth, root characteristics, arsenic uptake in grain, greenhouse gases and water use. Her 2017 award enabled her to go to IRRI and gain practical experience on rice as grown in the Asian tropics. She was working under the supervision of Dr. Bruce Linquist.
ASM Faridul Islam
ASM Faridul Islam used his 2017 award at IRRI’s Grain Quality and Nutrition Lab and its Genetic Transformation Lab to advance his objectives of improving the grain quality and nutritional qualities of rice. At IRRI he will gain practical experience in phenotyping rice for various aspects of grain quality, zinc, iron, and antioxidant compounds. He got experience in rice transformation procedures including selecting and treating immature embryo, embryogenic callus culture, agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer, vector construction systems, and promoter selection. This helped improve his capacity to do gene editing successfully and efficiently working with Dr. Michael Thomson at Texas A&M. At IRRI he worked with Dr. Nese Sreenivasulu and Dr. Inez Slamet.
Emily Kraus said this after completing her award-funded work in Cambodia: One of the most important aspects of an opportunity such as this, is to learn and share in the culture of another country. In my short time I was able to learn a few phrases in Khmer, eat many strange and delicious foods, and learn a lot about the religion and beliefs of the Cambodian people.
Emily spent February 2018 with a team of Cambodian and IRRI researchers helping to educate farmers and extension agents about Integrated Pest Management for rice. Emily reports the team interviewed individuals and held focus groups to understand the formal and informal arrangements that affect pest management of farmers in the community.
Kraus’s major professor at LSU is Michael Stout and she has also collaborated with Blake Wilson.
Rui Liu (Tabby)
Rui Liu (Tabby) is a third-year PhD student in the weed science program at Texas A&M. She has focused her studies on the genetic diversity of weedy rice, a serious weed that’s genetically and phenotypically similar to rice, in her Master’s. Now she is working on the ecology and management of herbicide-resistant and other problematic weeds in Texas rice. She seeks to broaden her knowledge to other aspects of rice research and production including breeding, agronomy, and marketing at IRRI. She also is eager to understand productive international collaborations and learn how to be a member of a research community where people from many nations gather with the mission of improving rice production. Her supervisor at Texas A&M is Dr. Muthu Bagavathiannan and she is also working with Dr. Endang M. Septiningsih.
Recently completed his MS at Arkansas State University and is now working with the Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education at ASU. His project goals/objectives are to: 1) quantify and illustrate fluxes in mid-south (USA) rice CO2, CH4, H20, and N20 using eddy covariance and closed chamber flux techniques; and 2) identify possible GHG emissions reduction using innovative irrigation techniques (alternate wetting and drying, and multiple inlet irrigation). His goal from this GRRF grant is to share this experience with rice producers and researchers back in the mid-south through collaborations with Drs. Wassmann and Alberto. He has support from Gregory Phillips, Professor of Plant Biotechnology and Dean Emeritus at ASU, and Arlene Adviento-Borbe, a USDA-ARS Research Agronomist, an Adjunct Professor at ASU, and a 9-year IRRI staffer.
Colby used his GRRF award to travel to Seoul, South Korea in February, 2017, where he worked with Dr. Youngryel Ryu and his research group at Seoul National University on the use of remote sensing to develop estimates of plant canopy parameters, especially evapotranspiration, in rice. While there he became familiar with their Breathing Earth System Simulator (BESS), which uses modeling and remote sensing data to provide estimates for evapotranspiration and other parameters. The model is designed to tie in processes between the leaf, canopy, and global scales at high spatial resolutions (up to 1 km2) over a long period of time (~15 years). Colby compared BESS evapotranspiration estimates to eddy covariance data collected from two Arkansas rice fields using different irrigation regimes (Alternate Wetting and Drying and Conventional Flooding).
Colby’s report says:” Working with Dr. Ryu’s group was a great opportunity…I hope to continue studying rice and the effects it has in the global arena. I am incredibly thankful to Asia Rice USA for making this possible.”
Chris (Topher) Addison
Chris (Topher) Addison is a PhD student with Dr. Niranjan Baisakh at LSU working on the development of drought tolerant cultivars and the identification of genes that influence drought tolerance to be used for marker assisted selection. His GRRF funding enabled him to take the Rice Research to Production Course at IRRI.
He reports: “Initially, I assisted with plowing a field using a single blade plow pulled by a carabao. I also learned how to use a hydro tiller to level the planting area to ensure an even spread of irrigation water across the field. Unlike traditional rice planting in the United States, I was surprised to learn that it is common for farmers to hand transplant their entire fields because few farmers have access to transplanting machines. I also learned a great deal about the pests that growers battle in the Philippines. I learned of the golden apple snail infestations that plague the area and can cost farmers millions of dollars.
On his return, Chris said: “My trip was…an amazing experience that not only exposed me to many different aspects of rice production, but also reinforced my desire to pursue a career in international agriculture!”
Mr. Kumar is doing his PhD studies in the department of Crop, Soil, & Environmental Sciences (CSES) at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville with Dr. Andy Pereira as his major advisor. His project, Development and Characterization of Rice Genotypes for Water-Use Efficiency and Drought Resistance, is a collaborative research between University of Arkansas and IRRI. His aim is to screen the USDA rice mini-core collection for water use efficiency and drought resistance related parameters, generate and evaluate the populations (F2, BC1, etc.) from high-yielding, but drought-sensitive and drought-tolerant genotypes, and map QTLs for grain yield and drought-related parameters.
His trip to IRRI will include participation in the International Molecular Breeding Course (28 Sept.-9 Oct.) and a continued stay at the Institute through Dec. 2015 to conduct some research training including work with Dr. Arvind Kumar, leader of IRRI’s rainfed lowland South Asia plant breeding group, for phenotyping of an F2 population (indica x glaberrima) and some other advanced lines. He will also learn other advanced technologies to impose drought in the field.
Anne-Marie Mitchell was supported to study international agriculture and rural development in the West African nation of Benin. As a volunteer, she served as the Rice Programs Manager for the 2015 Food Security Committee. The aim of her project is to reinforce best management practices and to advance simple technologies through the discovery of the most effective tools for weeding rice fields.
Through farmer experimentation, she hopes to determine the most suitable weeding instruments for the southeastern region of the country. With the assistance of the Union of Rice Farmers of the Oueme Plateau (URIZOP), the and otherr farmer groups 20 rice farmers from around the Oueme Department will be chosen to experiment with three different weeding methods: by hand or with a hand tool, with a cono-‐weeder, and using a locally-‐made, ecologically-‐adapted weeder. This equipment is being financed by the GRRF grant.
Before the start of the growing season in October, farmers will be chosen by CCR-‐B and trained on best management principles and surveyed on their perception of rice practices and the overall experiment. As a part of the experiment, farmers will be asked to use 9-‐12 rice plots, using 3-‐4 plots per weeding method. Post-‐surveys will be conducted at the end of the season (April-May 2016) to evaluate the advantages or disadvantages of each weeding method.
Mr. Sharifi, a native of Afghanistan, is aiming to develop a predictive tool in order to support improvements in rice breeding, production, quality, and management. To this end, he is evaluating the effects of environmental factors (such as temperature, photoperiod sensitivity, and field management practices, including irrigation practices such as the alternate wetting-drying system) on rice growth and development.
As a prominent part of his research, he has tested the accuracy of Oryza2000 and CERES-Rice, widely used rice crop growth models, under these environmental variables. The accuracy of these models under varying environmental factors is essential to efficient rice crop management—and consequently yield and profitability—in the face of climate change. Not wasting any time, he has already arrived at IRRI to attend the 2015 Rice: Research to Production Course, which GRRF is funding for him. Particularly interested in crop modeling, he will also be conferring with Tao Li, IRRI’s crop modeler.
Ana Bossa Castro
Ana Bossa Castro, a native of Colombia, who won a 2014 award, is a third-year PhD student at Colorado State University (CSU). Her research project, Defeating Bacterial Diseases of Rice: Novel Resistance Sources for Rice Crops in Africa and Latin America, is a collaborative project among CSU, IRRI, and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia. At IRRI, she is currently participating in the Institute’s 2015 3-week international course, Rice: Research to Production. The course is providing her with a unique opportunity to learn from experts about the latest rice research, as well as the most efficient production techniques. She is also meeting with Hei Leung and Nollie Vera Cruz, IRRI scientists collaborating with her to update them about her bacterial disease research and to discuss future experiments.
Haley Sater, a Minnesota native, who won a 2014 award, is working on her master’s degree at the University of Arkansas. Her research involves obtaining better abiotic stress tolerance in rice. These stresses, especially drought and salinity, limit rice production all over the world. Her time at IRRI earlier in 2015 involved a 3-month research project with breeders there to help close the information gap regarding dual drought and salinity tolerance in rice. She helped develop a method for phenotypic evaluation of the two stresses. This preliminary study provided a foundation for future research into the mechanism for dual stress resistance. It may also be used to help breeders determine which lines might be useful to incorporate into crosses to achieve hardier plant types for growing in drought- and salinity-afflicted areas.
Brad Tonnessen is a Ph.D. student in Plant Pathology at Colorado State University. He received a 2013 GRRF award to work at IRRI for 2.5 months on developing an alternate method to focusing on R genes for disease resistance in rice. His approach involved upgrading the responsiveness of co-regulated DR genes, so total efficiency of the plant defense response is optimized. His goal is to determine how arrangements of DR gene cis-elements known in rice compare among resistant and susceptible varieties and use this information to predict which cis-element sequences improve DR gene action. While at IRRI, he also interacted and discussed with IRRI scientists who are involved in genetic diversity assessment, gene/allele discovery, functional genomics, and rice breeding.
Alice Beban is a PhD candidate in the Department of Development Sociology, Cornell University. She received a 2013 GRRF award to travel to Cambodia to work on understanding the roles land reform plays in livelihood strategies and household power relations of Cambodian rice farmers. She suggests households with sufficient resources will increase investment in rice production and cash crops, while households with high debt and low labor resources will lease or sell the land. Her research in Cambodia during the January-May 2014 involved in-depth interviews and participant observation and community discussions and workshop in Phnom Penh.
Jenna Reeger applied from Penn State University where she was a University Graduate Fellow finishing her first year with Kathleen Brown and Jonathan Lynch in the Roots Lab, studying anatomical traits of rice roots and their genetic controls. Jenna’s work focused on determining the influence of increased percent aerenchyma area and other root anatomical traits on drought tolerance in rice in greenhouse and field trials and comparing anatomical trait development and influence under drought stress between greenhouse-grown and field-grown rice. She attended IRRI’s 2015 Rice: Research to Production Course 10-28 August, she learned the fundamentals of rice production and the key research concepts and methods employed in IRRI’s programs for rice improvement. She will be able to make use of that knowledge in her own research. She hopes to continue conducting drought trials with Dr. Amelia Henry, IRRI’s drought physiologist.
Gabriela Carmona’s work at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) with Dr. Ricardo Oliva’s team on host-microbe interactions to determine how to protect the rice plant against pests and pathogens was cut short by the COVID-19 emergency. Nonetheless she was able to meet international students and gain some familiarity with Dr. Oliva’s Host Plant Resistance Cluster with other research studies and activities. She took advantage of the opportunity to make some new connections and expand her network and build future partnerships among rice scientists in the US, Brazil and the Philippines.