Alumnus earns National Science Foundation research fellowship

The National Science Foundation has awarded Alex Compton '06 a Graduate Research Fellowship, which provides $30,000 annually for up to three years to students with extraordinary promise in the sciences, mathematics or engineering.

Compton, who majored in biology at Willamette, is pursuing a doctorate in molecular and cellular biology at the University of Washington.

Working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Compton studies interactions between viruses and the cells they infect, particularly the evolutionary "battle" between host antiviral genes and retroviruses such as HIV-1.

Compton was introduced to research at Willamette as a participant in the Science Collaborative Research Program. He worked with Professor Barbara Stebbins-Boaz to study how commonly used herbicides disrupt the normal cell cycle of maturing frog eggs.

He became interested in the mechanisms underlying infectious disease while taking upper-level microbiology courses from Professor Sharon Rose.

"She helped me carry out several independent research projects that centered on microbial ecology and pathogenic mold," Compton says. "The mentorship of Rose and Stebbins-Boaz, along with the research experience I gained under their supervision, helped me obtain a research position at the National Institutes of Health after I graduated."

Outside of his research, Compton was a teaching assistant and tutor in the chemistry department, and he wrote for The Collegian student newspaper.

Compton is still deciding on a career, although he would like to become an undergraduate professor and establish his own research lab.

"The faculty in many departments at Willamette — Spanish, English, biology, chemistry — helped me develop my writing and communication skills, as well as my ability to influence others," he says. "This is critically important for students hoping to make a career in biomedical research. There is no better asset than being able to clearly communicate your ideas to others.

"In my case, I have been successful at achieving research fellowships that fund my projects and pay my tuition because Willamette taught me to speak and write effectively."

For more information on national scholarships for students, visit Student Academic Grants and Awards.