The Jimmy and Ileen Cheek Graduate Student Medal of Excellence is awarded annually to an outstanding student currently pursuing a PhD who has completed at least four semesters of study.
Joy Buongiorno is ready to take on any challenge—even polar bears. A doctoral candidate in microbiology, Buongiorno used a novel method that promises to solve one of the biggest problems in microbial ecology: simultaneously determining the identity and activity level of an environmental microbe in its natural environment. Her research required working 20-hour days on a remote Arctic island, a frigid place where the sun never set and polar bears were a constant threat. Still, she was always exhilarated to do her work and was never deterred by setbacks. In addition to her research, Buongiorno is committed to science education and outreach, creating novel opportunities to reach underserved populations. She organized UT’s Darwin Day and the Biogeochemistry Symposium. She also founded a local pod for 500 Women Scientists, a national group that advocates for science education and outreach, and she was recently asked to serve on a national leadership team for outreach to rural schools.