Kansas State University


Graduate School

Alumni Gift Makes a Difference

The Graduate School has been honored to coordinate the Alvin and RosaLee Sarachek Predoctoral Honors Fellowship and Travel Awards in Molecular Biology for over 15 years. The fellowship and travel awards are possible through generous annual expendable gifts to the K-State Foundation by the late Alvin Sarachek and his wife RosaLee who resides in Wichita.

Dr. Sarachek was a founding member of the Biology Department at the University of Wichita (subsequently Wichita State University) and a 1957 K-State doctoral graduate of the genetics program. Throughout his academic career, Dr. Sarachek served continuously in a variety of capacities with various private and governmental agencies concerned with science education and research. Learn more about the Saracheks.

The Sarachek Predoctoral Honors Fellowship and Travel Awards were created by Alvin and RosaLee Sarachek to recognize doctoral students at K-State who have exhibited excellent research and scholastic accomplishments involving molecular approaches to biological problems. The fellowship currently provides an award of $17,000 to a graduate student enrolled in a PhD program at Kansas State University. Students must provide evidence of effective communication of research results through publications in leading journals and presentations at national and international meetings. Additionally, up to three Sarachek Scientific Travel Awards of $1,000 each may be presented annually. At intervals, the awards may increase due to market conditions.

When RosaLee was asked what inspired the couple to establish the fellowship and travel award, she requested to share Al’s words as excerpted from an interview that was published in the 2006 Ovation (K-State Foundation):

“The Alvin and RosaLee Sarachek Predoctoral Honors Fellowship in Molecular Biology aims to enhance the opportunities for postdoctoral career development of students who have demonstrated outstanding achievements during doctoral studies. After more than a quarter-century of advisory and evaluative work on higher education in science across the country, it became clear to me that the terminal portion of the doctoral program is a particularly challenging time for career development. All sorts of social and economic pressures can interfere with or distract from the optimal postdoctoral choices available to first-rate young scholars. Our honors fellowship program and travel grant awards are intended to help alleviate that burden.”

Since 2002, 19 fellowships have been awarded and have made a significant difference for the recipients. The fellowship has been utilized to support travel for interviews, relocation costs, specialized training not available at K-State, purchase of computers and other technology required to support data analyses, and professional development. Several recipients have returned to their home country used the award to purchase equipment and supplies to establish a modest laboratory needed to continue their research as funds were not available from the university and they wanted to continue their doctoral research and provide opportunities for their students. The recipients are now successful in their fields and are either professors in the U.S. and across the world or working for national and international research institutes or in research and development for major corporations. They all are appreciative of the support that the fellowship provided them as they began their careers.

The most recent fellowship and travel award recipients were selected in April 2020. Konner Winkley, a doctoral candidate in biology was awarded the Alvin and RosaLee Sarachek Predoctoral Honors Fellowship in Molecular Biology. Winkley’s research works toward a quantitative and comprehensive understanding of organ formation. He uses an invertebrate organism that is a close relative of the vertebrates to understand how the cells that make up an organ become the right kind of cell by expressing the right set of genes. He also studies how those cells then build an organ of the correct shape. Winkley has identified a new mechanism to control organ shape that is based on asymmetries in the way that cells divide. This Fellowship given by the generous support of Alvin and RosaLee Sarachek will support Winkley’s transition from graduate school to his postdoctoral research on rare pediatric diseases at Children’s Mercy Research Institute in Kansas City.

Anil Pant, a doctoral candidate in biology, received a $1,000 Sarachek Scientific Travel Award to attend the XXII International Poxvirus, Asfarvirus, and Iridovirus Conference. A goal of Pant’s research is to study the changes in levels of different metabolites of a host cell after vaccinia virus infection and determine if the virus depends on specific nutrients for efficient replication. Pant’s research contributes to the identification of virus-host interactions that could be targeted to develop effective anti-poxviral therapies.

Paula Silva Villella, a doctoral candidate in genetics, also received a $1,000 Sarachek Scientific Travel Award to attend the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Technical Workshop in Norwich, United Kingdom. There, she will receive the 2020 Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum Early Career Award. Silva Villella’s research focuses on identifying genomic regions responsible for wheat resistance to barley yellow dwarf virus, wheat curl mite and wheat blast fungus. Through extensive genome sequencing and phenotyping of cultivated wheat and their undomesticated wild ancestors, she aims to identify novel genes and genetic regions that can be used to reduce the vulnerability of wheat to these diseases and pests.


When RosaLee was asked what she thinks Al would say to alumni who are considering a gift to K-State, she again referenced Al’s previous interview. “Our continuing investments in K-State are a consequence of the educations and careers in science of both my wife and me having centered in Kansas,” Al said. “At this stage of life, we want to give back as substantially as possible to support quality higher education in the state.”

The Graduate School team hopes that graduate alumni will consider how they too can make a difference today and, in the future, while enhancing graduate student experiences. The opportunities and needs continue to increase.

Learn more about the Alvin and RosaLee Sarachek Predoctoral Honors Fellowship and Travel Awards in Molecular Biology and about the donors.