Meet DEB: Andrea Porras-Alfaro and Lynn Christenson

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Andrea Porras-Alfaro

Name: Andrea Porras-Alfaro, Population and Community Ecology Program Officer

Education: Ph.D. University of New Mexico, M.S. University of Puerto Rico, B.A. Biotech Eng. Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica.

Home Institution: Western Illinois University

Tell us about your research: I am a mycologist (study fungi) serving as a visiting Program Officer. I am interested in fungal ecology in general and the interconnections of this field with other areas of ecology. My research has been mainly focused on the diversity and function of mycobiomes and their symbiotic interactions with plant communities in agricultural and natural ecosystems. I am interested in the emergent properties that result from complex microbial interactions and novel fungal consortia with potential to ameliorate the effects of climate change. For example, we are currently studying fungi that can facilitate plant adaptation to extreme conditions including extended periods of drought and high temperatures. In my lab, we use a variety of techniques to study fungi including cultures, bioassays, sequencing, and field experiments. I study root-associated microbial communities in different systems taking advantage of long-term field manipulations in arid systems and grasslands across the US. I am also working on soybean and corn plantations in Illinois, and the symbionts in tropical orchids. I am also very excited about strategies to improve student mentoring and success and increase participation and interactions of students from very different backgrounds.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? The opportunity to serve the broader scientific community, specially, a diverse and talented generation of scientists. I think it is a privilege to be at the forefront of science, innovation, and creativity. I was fortunate early in my career to have mentors who served at NSF and I have always admired their dedication to serve the scientific community in general. Here at NSF, I will be able to see the review process from a different perspective and benefit from training that is already impacting my professional development and career. I am excited to help facilitate the support of high quality science, its impact in society, and a diverse community of researchers and institutions.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? As a Program Officer, I am excited about the opportunity to support new initiatives and facilitate the review process focusing on the primary mission of NSF. I hope to continue my mentoring role by opening new doors for researchers in the different stages of their careers, establish new professional relations, and be of service to the community.


Lynn Christenson with her dogs Rane and Ki

Name: Lynn M. Christenson, Ecosystem Science Program Officer

Education: University of Winnipeg, State University of New York of Environmental Science and Forestry, M.S. and PhD

Home Institution: Vassar College

Tell us about your research:  I am an ecosystem ecologist with a focus on biogeochemical cycling in terrestrial systems. My research includes how climate change and other human activities (forest fragmentation and urbanization) interact with herbivores, plants, and soils to impact nutrient dynamics.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? I wanted to serve science from the ‘other side’ and to gain a better understanding of how basic science gets funded. Or in other words, I wanted to participate in the potential new directions that science can go by encouraging and developing programs for investigators!

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I’m looking forward to meeting other people from other directorates and divisions from across NSF. I like to hear how other scientists/programs think about their questions and approaches. This will help me to think differently about how I ask my own questions and the approaches that I use in my own research.