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Jolly Good Fellow

Wooing top grad students

Anna Estes (right) confers with colleague Lucas Malugu (in hat) of the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute and his assistant as they examine elephant damage to a crop in western Serengeti.

If not for her brother, Anna Estes might be unique among University students. How many can claim to have spent large portions of their childhood in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park?

Says Estes, who has a Jefferson Fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental sciences, “Wildlife conservation is a bit of a family business.” Her father, a behavioral ecologist and zoologist, studies animal behavior. Her brother, Lyndon, is also in UVA’s environmental science doctoral program.

Estes has spent a great deal of time in the Serengeti, first with her father and returning later to teach ecology and conduct research. Her current research focuses on elephant ecology. “She has a tremendous amount of life experience, especially related to her work,” says her doctoral adviser, environmental sciences professor Hank Shugart.

Estes’ background made her a particularly attractive graduate-school candidate. Schools compete for top students, and UVA and the University of California-Berkeley sought to woo her with aid packages. The Jefferson Fellowship led her to consider UVA—not well-known for its wildlife conservation programs—“much more seriously,” Estes says.

Starting this fall, the pot will be further sweetened for Jefferson Fellows. Annual stipends will increase from $18,000 in the humanities and $25,000 in the sciences to a flat $30,000, renewable for up to five years. Also, fellows will be able to apply for up to $7,500 in research support, compared to $3,000 previously.

The funding boost makes the Jefferson Fellowships “arguably the most substantial in the country, particularly in the humanities,” says Doug Trout, director of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation graduate program. There are now 27 fellows in residence, but Trout anticipates having more than 30 next year, with a goal of about 65 by 2012.

Current students aren’t eligible for the increased stipends. Still, Estes appreciates the Jefferson Fellowships’ other benefits. The Jefferson network gives her access to nontraditional sources of funding to support her fieldwork, including a way to receive tax-deductible donations. Fellows receive a lighter teaching load, which is handy when your research takes place across the Atlantic. And the Jefferson Scholars Foundation hosts many events—social and academic—throughout the year. A mini-conference in students’ second years gives them a chance to present their early research to their peers.

“Everyone there goes the extra mile to try to help us out,” Estes says, “and it’s very, very appreciated.”