Celebrating Five Years of the Mack I. Johnson Research Award for Outstanding Graduate Student

  • Pictured here is Mack I. Johnson, the award's namesake, longtime CSUN administrator and professor of biology. Photo courtesy of Gail Johnson.

  • Maria Akopyan, one of two winners of the Mack I. Johnson Research Award for Outstanding Graduate Student, poses with her two mentors, professor Rachel Mackelprang and professor Jeanne Robertson. Photo by Tim Karels.

  • Malachia Hoover, co-recipent of this year's Mack I. Johnson Research Award for Outstanding Graduate Student, poses with her mentor, professor Jonathan Kelber. Photo by Tim Karels.

The Johnson family, along with the College of Science and Mathematics, recently hosted a reception honoring the fifth annual awarding of the Mack I. Johnson Research Award for Outstanding Graduate Student at the Orange Grove Bistro on California State University, Northridge’s campus.

The award was established by Gail Johnson to honor the legacy of her husband, Mack I. Johnson, associate vice president of Graduate Studies, Research, and International Programs and professor of biology. Johnson worked at CSUN for 25 years and was an ardent supporter of research excellence and friend of the College of Science and Mathematics. He was best known for his compassion for students, his many accomplishments in academic administration and his commitment to supporting student and faculty researchers.

The Mack I. Johnson Research Award for Outstanding Graduate Student is the most prestigious award given to a graduate student in the College of Science and Mathematics.  It is presented annually to an outstanding graduate student who has excelled academically, demonstrated extraordinary research abilities and has been accepted into a Ph.D. program in the sciences or mathematics.

In the history of the award, there have been only two years in which there were two recipients. This year was one of them. Special Assistant to the Dean and biology professor Robert Espinoza said that the committee couldn’t decide between the applicants because they were both outstanding.

“All of them were saying ‘[this is my choice], but I could be swayed the other way.’ There wasn’t a clear consensus,” Espinoza said. “This year, both applicants were very strong, so we went to Gail and she said we should give the award to both of them.”

One co-recipient of this year’s award is Malachia Hoover ’14 (Cell and Molecular Biology), who earned her M.S. in Biology this year. Hoover said that winning this award serves as validation of all of her hard work.

“I’ve been [at CSUN] for a long time,” Hoover shared. “It feels good to be honored by faculty and staff as I graduate and start the next chapter of my life.”

This fall, Hoover will pursue her Ph.D.in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford University with all costs covered by a scholarship.

The other co-recipient is graduate student Maria Akopyan, a Matador who completed her M.S. in Biology with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Akopyan said this award reminds her of the friends and family she’s made at CSUN.

“It’s more than just monetary,” Akopyan said. “Receiving this award reminds me that I belong to the CSUN community — that I have people who support me.”

Akopyan will begin a Ph.D. program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University in the fall on a full scholarship.
Past recipients of the award are now pursuing doctoral degrees at University of Pennsylvania, University of Memphis, Rutgers University, Yale University, and the University of California, Davis.

Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, Jerry N. Stinner, said that “the Mack I. Johnson Memorial Research Award for Outstanding Graduate Student is the perfect tribute to everything Mack stood for. To have such a big impact on the lives of students is exactly what he would have wanted.”

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