Biologist Jordan Ward wins NSF CAREER Award

Grant supports research project driven by undergraduates through a program to support junior transfer students

Jordan Ward
Jordan Ward (photo by C. Lagattuta)

Jordan Ward, assistant professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology, has received a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support his work with undergraduate researchers to investigate the biology of spermatogenesis, the process by which stem cells in the germ line differentiate to become sperm.

Ward’s lab uses the worm C. elegans as a model organism to study gene regulation in animal development. In particular, he is interested in the control of gene expression by transcription factors and the regulatory pathways driving the remarkable series of events that transform germ cells into sperm. The work funded by the CAREER Award is designed to identify conserved regulators of spermatogenesis across species and also novel genes that promote unique aspects in nematodes, which can shed light on the evolution of spermatogenesis.

This research project is tightly integrated with Ward’s efforts to improve retention of underrepresented students in science and to promote undergraduate access to meaningful research experiences.

“This research will be driven by undergraduates through a program I developed to support junior transfer students,” Ward said. “I teach an upper division molecular biology course (Biology 101) that is a required core class for our biology majors, and I found that junior transfer students were doing more poorly than their non-transfer counterparts, a trend also observed in other classes. We’re realizing that these students can slip through the cracks.”

Ward’s program, called DREAM (Developing Researchers, Educators, and Mentors), involves recruiting four junior transfer students annually (the DREAM team) to perform research on spermatogenesis in his lab. The DREAM team will also get training to mentor incoming junior transfer students the following academic year, conducting small-group, peer-led tutoring during Ward’s class.

Ward will connect with incoming junior transfer students when they arrive on campus to tell them about his research and become a point of contact for them. The DREAM program aims to increase retention and academic success of junior transfer students, involve them in research, create community, build identity, and help them navigate their journey to a UC Santa Cruz biology degree.

The CAREER Awards are NSF's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. The award provides $675,000 over five years to support Ward’s research, education, and outreach activities.

Ward earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in microbiology at the University of Alberta and his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of London. After doing postdoctoral research at UCSF, he joined the faculty at UC Santa Cruz in 2016.