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USC doctoral student wins NSF fellowship

USC Davis School of Gerontology doctoral student Allison Foertsch
USC Davis School of Gerontology doctoral student Allison Foertsch

Emotions color and control much of what we do. As we age – biologically, psychologically, socially – emotional responses change and grow more complicated.

Exploring this ever-shifting backdrop to human behavior is the passion of USC Davis School of Gerontology doctoral student Allison Foertsch, who recently was awarded a fellowship from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). The program, which awards $30,000 for each 12-month fellowship year, is funded for a maximum of three years.

“This is an amazing opportunity that will enable me to focus on research exclusively,” Foertsch said. “I was so pleased to have been admitted to a great research institute like USC and to work with my mentor, Mara Mather. The addition of this fellowship is more than I could have ever asked for.”

Foertsch completed research stints in the Family Research Lab at the University of San Francisco (USF), the Emotion and Cognition Research Lab at USF, the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Mather’s Emotion and Cognition Research Lab at USC.

For her GRFP-funded research, Foertsch proposed a novel across-the-life span study testing arousal-biased competition theory developed by Mather and graduate student Matthew Sutherland, which attempts to explain how certain stimuli are “chosen” over others to create memories, as well as investigating the effect of sleep on consolidation of these memories into long-term storage.

“Understanding why and how emotional arousal sometimes enhances and sometimes impairs memory, and how this changes across the life span, has wide application,” she said. “The brain is complicated, and learning about it has been fascinating.”

Mather said: “Allie is not afraid to tackle new domains and pushes herself to learn new things. She has an infectious enthusiasm that makes her great at leading a research team. I expect that she will be an influential researcher and educator in her career.”

Achieving goals as a researcher and educator is important to Foertsch, a first-generation college student.

“I believe it is our responsibility as scientists to turn our research into communicable results. I hope to share my research in a way that engages people and motivates them to consider how science can translate into better lives,” she said. “I am truly honored and humbled to receive such a prestigious award. Many thanks to my mentors, my lab mates and collaborators, and my family.”

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