Student Spotlight: Doctoral Candidate Receives Prestigious Research Fellowship

Daniel Dawson received the honor from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dan Lawson

Dan Dawson

After two years of waiting, Texas Tech University's Daniel Dawson recently was awarded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science to Achieve Results (STAR) fellowship.

The third-year doctoral student from Orlando, Florida, is studying environmental toxicology through Texas Tech's Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH) and said he first heard about the fellowship through his adviser Chris Salice. The fellowship lasts until August 2016 and provides Dawson with a stipend and tuition so he can conduct his research.

“I'm pretty darn excited about it,” Dawson said. “I applied for it in Fall 2012, but because of federal budgetary issues it wasn't awarded until August 2014, so there was a long period of uncertainty involved. Now that it has finally begun, I'm thrilled.”

Dawson said his research includes building spatially explicit modeling tools used to predict and manage mosquito-borne disease risk. His main goal involves the modeling tools developed from his research becoming useful to organizations responsible for disease vector control.

“Because the fellowship is funded by public dollars and in a program aimed at funding applied research,” Dawson said, “I fully intend for the results of my work to either become or lead to applications that are publically available.”

Transformational Research

The fellowship application process allowed Dawson to formalize his research, and the fellowship itself allows him to focus exclusively on being a student and conducting research. Dawson now has more resources to attend conferences, acquire equipment and deal with other expenses in regard to his research.

Salice, director of the Environmental Science and Studies program at Towson University in Baltimore said it is fantastic Dawson received the competitive, high-profile fellowship. He helped Dawson conceive the overall research objectives and offered editorial and structural guidance, but Dawson was the creative and driving force behind the application and the research.

Lawson's research revovled around building spatially explicit modeling tools used to predict and manage mosquito-borne disease risk.

Dawson's research revovled around building spatially explicit modeling tools used to predict and manage mosquito-borne disease risk.

“Dan will be going to several scientific conferences this year – most students in my lab choose one,” Salice said. “These extra opportunities afforded by the fellowship are excellent for creating new and additional opportunities as Dan's career advances. Dan definitely deserves the fellowship. He has worked diligently and creatively to develop an excellent project.”

The STAR fellowship program began in 1995 and has awarded 1,600 fellowships, according to its website. The goal is to encourage graduate study as well as careers in environmental fields. For Dawson's and other STAR fellowship proposals, click here.

Dawson's current research is an intersection between ecological systems and public health, which he said is a fascinating field of study and something he might like to continue in if the opportunity arose.

“Dan's research has the potential to be transformational,” Salice said. “He is taking a multidimensional approach and will have actual field data with which to test and further refine predictive models. This overall topic is at the forefront of several environmental fields.”

Joining His Wife at Texas Tech

Dawson is treasurer for the TIEHH Student Association. He moved to Lubbock with his wife, Elizabeth Farley-Dawson, in August 2011 because she began a doctoral program through Texas Tech's biology department. He did not originally intend to enter graduate school at Texas Tech. However, due to his work experiences with Texas A&M University's Institute of Renewable Natural Resources and the Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit through Texas Tech, he said he worked with doctoral students and scientists, which persuaded him to enter graduate school.

“In both places I was impressed with their depth of knowledge, research abilities and general zeal for science,” Dawson said. “After a few years working as a state regulator, I also found that I really enjoyed being a researcher again. So, I decided that if an opportunity to get my Ph.D. came along at Texas Tech I should take it.”

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Getting to Know
Dan Dawson
Getting to Know Dan Lawson

Why did you choose Texas Tech?

The credit for my coming to Texas Tech goes to my wife, who came here to get a Ph.D. in biology. I followed, after getting a job with the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in the Natural Resources Management department. My position with the Co-Op unit was a great learning experience but it was temporary, and I decided that the best use of my remaining time at a major research university like Texas Tech was to pursue my Ph.D. A great opportunity came open with the Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH) to study environmental toxicology and I took it.

What is your favorite memory at Texas Tech so far?

All of my best memories involve the company of the good friends my wife and I have made since coming here.

Who is your favorite professor? Why?

My favorite professor is my major adviser, Chris Salice. Chris is an excellent teacher, an innovative researcher and a great mentor. Unfortunately for me and my labmates, he recently left to become the director of the Environmental Science and Studies program at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland. Steve Presley, who is himself a great mentor and academic resource, has since graciously accepted my into his lab and serves as my official adviser. However, Chris still acts as my functional adviser, and I look forward to completing my studies under his guidance.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

My favorite place is where I work, TIEHH at the Reese Center. I don't get to main campus very often, but if I had to pick a spot, I'd pick the small garden area between the Biology Building and the Experimental Sciences Building. It's a nice place to eat lunch and occasionally gets migrant birds passing through it.

What is your favorite Texas Tech tradition?

I think the coolest tradition I've seen is the Masked Rider riding onto the football field.

What do you love most about being a Red Raider?

I'd say what I love the most about being a Red Raider is that I'm part of an excellent research tradition. I've been nothing but impressed by the overall quality of graduate research and research opportunity while at Texas Tech.