Juan Zuluaga ’20 Awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Monday, April 06, 2020

Juan Zuluaga ’20, a senior biology major who has conducted undergraduate research under the guidance of Assistant Professor of Biology and Marine Biology Raymond Danner, has been selected to receive a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

The fellowship program provides up to three years of support for graduate education, including a $34,000 annual stipend plus $12,000 per year toward the cost of his graduate work. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program receives more than 12,000 applications each year and selects about 2,000 students.

Zualaga’s research will focus on thermoregulatory behavior in least terns, exploring how beach nesting birds cool off during hot summer days while nesting on exposed sand. Because least terns “live and function right on the limits of their thermoregulatory capacity,” he said his research will provide an opportunity to learn how birds will be affected by a warming world.

His interest in avian biology began when he volunteered with a bird rescue group in Charlotte and solidified while taking classes at UNCW.

“The experiences that have prepared me most for graduate school are, without a doubt, the research that I have been involved in,” Zuluaga said. “This has involved learning field methods, such as learning to catch birds, holding birds safely, radio tracking birds, and honestly, things as simple as learning more bird species. Research has also provided me with the equally important opportunity to learn other skills, such as communicating ideas, reading into past research on a subject and, especially, writing.”

Zuluaga will graduate in May and plans to do his graduate work at UNCW. He is in the process of completing a departmental honors undergraduate thesis under Danner’s supervision. UNCW’s Strategic Plan emphasizes applied learning experiences and scholarly research.

“This fellowship is a really exciting achievement and opportunity for Juan and our UNCW community,” said Danner. “Juan is taking every available opportunity to learn and explore. He is on an excellent trajectory in science and education, and he is a great colleague and mentor to students. I look forward to seeing more of his great accomplishments.”

-- Tricia Vance


Juan Zuluaga freeing a bird from netting and preparing to band the bird with a tracking device.

Juan Zuluaga '20 frees a bird from netting set up on Masonboro Island last summer to capture birds for banding with a tracking device.

Juan Zuluaga holds a radio telemetry tracking antenna on Lea-Hutaff Island.

Juan Zuluaga '20, on Lea-Hutaff Island, holds an antenna that is part of a radio telemetry system to track the movement of coastal birds.