News Release

University of Minnesota Twin Cities senior awarded a Churchill Scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge

Macy Vollbrecht,
Pictured is U of M Twin Cities student Macy Vollbrecht.

Macy Vollbrecht, a senior majoring in genetics, cell biology and development in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, has been named a Churchill Scholar by the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States. 

The scholarship, worth approximately 60,000 USD, will allow Vollbrecht to spend the 2020-21 academic year at Churchill College of the University of Cambridge. There, she plans to complete a masters of philosophy in plant sciences with an emphasis on plant development. Her research, conducted with Sainsbury Laboratory Director Prof. Ottoline Leyser, will focus on plant plasticity. Particularly, how alterations in cytokinin homeostasis and cytokinin-mediated regulation of hormones affect shoot branching in plants.

The daughter of Erik Vollbrecht and Susan Barry of Ames, Iowa, Vollbrecht began research in genetics with Prof. Maura McGrail at Iowa State University in a National Sciences Foundation program for young scientists and engineers in 2015. She was invited to continue that research the following summer, before she enrolled at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. 

At the U of M, she began working in Prof. Daniel Voytas’ lab in her freshman year. The Voytas Lab has been developing an innovative method to accelerate gene editing in plants using an expression of developmental regulator genes. At the Voytas Lab, Vollbrecht had the opportunity to design and carry out experiments that have been published in Nature Biotechnology.

In addition to her work at the U of M, Vollbrecht:

  • spent a summer in 2017 as a research intern at Recombinetics, a local biotechnology company specializing in gene-editing with agricultural and biomedical applications;
  • spent a summer in 2018 with an undergraduate research program at Cold Spring Harbor Lab in New York, where she studies the connection of immune cells and cancer with Prof. Camila dos Santos;
  • is enrolled in the University Honors Program and is a member of the Women’s Ultimate team;
  • served on the Student Board of the College of Biological Sciences;
  • and, worked as a teaching assistant for biochemistry classes and as a Welcome Week leader.

Volbrecht has been recognized by her department, the College of Biological Sciences and the larger-University with scholarships awarded to top students. These include: the Franklin Enfield Memorial Scholarship; Monica Tsang and James Weatherbee Scholarship; and the Genetics, Cell Biology and Development Scholarship. In addition, she was one of 52 students nationally to be awarded an Astronaut Scholarship in 2019.

The Churchill Scholarship is awarded to fifteen seniors majoring in the sciences, engineering and mathematics at colleges and universities across the United States, making it one of the most selective and prestigious postgraduate scholarships. Vollbrecht is the fifth U of M student in six years to be awarded a Churchill scholarship, following Max Shinn, math and neuroscience; Sammy Shaker, chemistry; Anthony Tabet, chemical engineering; and Merrick Pierson Smela, chemistry and biochemistry.

The Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States was founded in 1959 to offer U.S. students of exceptional ability and achievement in the sciences, engineering and mathematics the opportunity to pursue graduate studies at the University of Cambridge. Nine graduates of the University of Minnesota have previously been named Churchill Scholars. Students at the University of Minnesota who are interested in the Churchill Scholarship or other major competitive awards to fund graduate or undergraduate study, in the United States or abroad, should contact Timothy Jones in the Office of National and International Scholarships at [email protected].



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Timothy Jones

Honors Program, Twin Cities