CFAES predoctoral student receives USDA fellowship

Stephanie Langel, a CFAES PhD candidate, was recently awarded the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Predoctoral Fellowship from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The NIFA fellowship is part of the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative, which is the nation’s leading competitive grant program for agricultural sciences. This program awards grants to leaders in research, education and extension to combat childhood obesity, improve rural economies, increase food production, create new sources of energy, mitigate the impacts of climate variability, address water availability issues, ensure food safety and security, and train the next generation of agricultural workforce.

The NIFA fellowship is a fully funded two year grant, which will allow Langel to complete her research at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

Langel is studying the maternal immune response, lactogenic (milk) immunity and neonatal health for her PhD research.

“Through my research, I will strive to optimize vaccine efficacy for gestating and lactating swine to enhance the health and wellbeing of neonatal piglets,” said Langel. “This award will allow me to make scientific advancements and progress in the fields of veterinary virology and immunology. In return, these efforts will aid swine farmers in their ability to control infectious diseases on their farm, promote animal health and secure producer profits.”

Not only will this research fulfill Langel’s PhD requirements, but it will contribute to securing Ohio State’s position as a leader in food and agrosecurity, assist Ohio pork producers at the state level, and increase understanding of the spread of infectious diseases in livestock populations at both the national and international level, said Langel.

Langel is completing her PhD in the laboratory of Dr. Linda Saif, a Distinguished University professor in the Food Animal Health Research Program at OARDC in Wooster, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Langel completed her Ohio State undergraduate degree in Animal Sciences with a minor in Life Sciences in 2011. She then attended Virginia Tech for her master’s degree in the Dairy Science Department studying the adoptive transfer of maternal colostral cells and their impact on immune status and development in dairy calves. Following the completion of her master’s degree, Langel returned to Ohio State to work on her PhD. She spent one year in Columbus before moving to Wooster in 2014 to complete the research portion of her PhD.

While working on her PhD in Columbus, Langel developed a program called Animal Sciences After-School (ASASci), which consists of 15 twenty-minute modules covering a vast array of topics within animal and biological sciences. She also worked with the non-profit after school program called After School All-Stars (ASAStars) to integrate ASASci into their educational programming in Columbus City middle schools. Through her extensive work with ASASci and ASAStars, Langel won Ohio State’s Diversity Engagement Award in 2015. She is currently the President of the OARDC Scholars Association located at the OARDC campus in Wooster.

Langel’s current research is only a stepping stone in the direction she plans to go after receiving her PhD.

“My goal is to become a research scientist studying maternal and neonatal immunity in both animals and humans, and to run a laboratory that explores the mother-infant relationship,” said Langel.

Langel hopes to develop a nationally recognized research program that would allow for interdisciplinary collaborations in both human and veterinary sciences to further the understanding of lactogenic immunity and maternal-infant programming. Additionally, she would work to identify viruses and bacteria, and would collaborate with researchers to study the impact of the milk microbiome and virome on the development of a healthy gut in the infant. — By Katerina Sharp, CFAES Marketing and Communications intern