Olivia Winokur: Newly Selected Fellow of Professors for the Future

She's an doctoral student in entomology now,  but look for Olivia Winokur to be a professor engaging in research, teaching and public service.

She's been making her mark in all three since enrolling in 2016 in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Ph.D. program, with a designated emphasis in the biology of vector-borne diseases.

Winokur, who studies with major advisor Christopher Barker, associate professor, Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, School of Veterinary Medicine, is a newly selected fellow of Professors for the Future (PFTF).

This is a program sponsored by UC Davis Graduate Studies “to recognize and develop the leadership skills of outstanding graduate students and postdoctoral scholars who have demonstrated their commitment to professionalism, integrity, and academic service.”

As a fellow, she will receive a stipend of $3000. Traditionally, approximately 12 fellows annually are selected to participate in the yearlong program, launched in 1992.

The PFTF program is designed to prepare UC Davis doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars “for an increasingly competitive marketplace and a rapidly changing university environment,” according to PFTF co-directors Ellen Hartigan-O'Connor, acting associate dean of UC Davis Graduate Studies, and Teresa Dillinger, academic administrator.

During the year, the fellows will receive formal training-in-teaching methods and course design; participate in a seminar course on ethics and professionalism, and meet regularly for roundtable panel discussions to promote their professional development, intellectual growth and leadership skills, the directors said.

The fellows will work on projects of their own design to enhance their graduate or postdoctoral experience and professional development of their colleagues. They summarize their projects in end-of-the-year reports.  (See 2019-2020 fellows.)

Winokur titled her successful proposal, “Addressing Financial Barriers to Participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).”

“Graduate students perform many roles as researchers, mentors, educators, communicators, service leaders, and humans,” wrote Winokur, who is president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association. “Financial insecurity affects students' abilities to perform these roles well, and provides a leg up to students with financial support beyond a graduate student stipend. We know that diversity is important in academia; cultivating talent from folks across the social spectrum leads to innovative and appropriate solutions.”

“Addressing financial barriers to participation in STEM graduate programs will lead to more diverse and inclusive programs,” she wrote. “Further, financial insecurity affects those who enters graduate school in the first place; research experience is often required to be considered for acceptance into graduate school, which unfortunately is often offered in the form of unpaid research internships. This can filter out low-income students early, making academia even more elite than it already is.”

Winokur will collaborate with existing resources on campus to set up a series of workshops to address the issues, focusing on three points: (1) creative ways to fund your research (2) how to support your research mentees—why unpaid labor filters low income and other disadvantaged students, and (3) making your teaching cheaper—how to make education more accessible for low-income and other disadvantaged students.

“I've been interested in applying to the Professors for the Future program for a couple years,” she said. “This year, I feel that I am at a good point in my graduate career to develop my skills through the PFTF coursework and to contribute to the graduate student community through a PFTF project.”

Since 2016, the UC Davis doctoral student has developed her teaching, mentoring, course development, and leadership skills through various courses and programs, “which has led to a basic understanding of my teaching philosophy and pedagogy.” She aims to develop her skills to “further align with my core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom and laboratory.”

Olivia grew up in Laguna Niguel, Calif. where she focused on science at the Dana Hills High School Health and Medical Occupations Academy. She holds a bachelor's degree, 2015, from Cornell University, where she majored in interdisciplinary studies, focusing on the environmental effects on human health.  While at Cornell, she worked as an intern for the National Institutes of Health, working on climate change initiatives for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Fogarty International Center.

Winokur holds a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. She is a two-time recipient of the Bill Hazeltine Memorial Research Award, given annually to an outstanding UC Davis graduate student studying vector-borne diseases.

Winokur, who researches Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, is the co-author of research published in several journals, including PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Her first first-author paper, “Impact of Temperature on the Extrinsic Incubation Period of Zika Virus in Aedes aegypti” was just published in March.  

Since 2017, she has served as a volunteer with the California Department of Public Health's Vector-Borne Disease Section, assisting with hantavirus and plague surveillance by rodent trapping and testing.

Winokur mentors undergraduate students in the UC Davis Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology (RSPIB), founded and directed by faculty members Jay Rosenheim, Joanna Chiu and Louie Yang, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Active in STEM projects, Winokur co-founded GOALS (Girls' Outdoor Adventure in Leadership and Science) in 2017, a program that develops and runs free two-week summer science programs for high school girls and gender expansive youth from backgrounds underrepresented in STEM fields. The girls learn science, outdoor skills and leadership hands-on while backpacking in Sequoia National Park.