By Stephen Watts
Jacob L. Watts, 22, a 2017 graduate of North East High School will attend the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom as a Churchill Scholar beginning fall of 2021.
The Churchill Scholarship, established by Winston Churchill in 1959, is awarded to only 15 exceptional undergraduate researchers in the country and funds the awardee’s yearlong master’s degree in any subject in the sciences.
As a Churchill Scholar, Watts will pursue an MPhil in Plant Sciences while researching the poorly understood ecological interactions between plant roots traits and fire regimes in prairie ecosystems globally. He will research in the historic Cambridge Botanic Garden established in 1846.
Watts first became interested in plants as a junior at North East High School when he was the “Forestry Specialist” on the school Envirothon team coached by science teacher Philip Sarver and Scout Master John Hallenburg.
While at NEHS he also participated in sports such as cross-country, swimming and track and field, and academic clubs like Science Olympiad and Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Sciences (PJAS). After graduation, Watts attended Colgate University in upstate New York where he continued to foster a strong passion for plant ecology as a student researcher in Eddie Watkins’ Tropical Fern Ecophysiology lab.
As a member of the lab, he has traveled to Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia to study fern ecology, taxonomy and ecophysiology. For his excellence in research, he was awarded the Beckman Scholars Award, which offered a 15-month independent research experience. As a Beckman Scholar, Jacob studied the effects of climate change on an Australian endemic fern species.
Other awards include the Barry Goldwater Scholarship in Mathematics, Science and Engineering, Honorable Mention from the Udall Undergraduate Scholarship and Alumni Memorial Scholarship.
Watts will graduate from Colgate University in the spring of 2021 with a B.A. in biology and a minor in geography.
Watts has published in the Annals of Botany and has a submission under review by the International Journal of Plant Sciences. While at Cambridge in the UK, he hopes to complete compelling research aimed at understanding how plants interact with the surrounding environment and how these interactions might change in a changing climate.
In particular, his project will provide insight into how climate change-induced fires in prairie ecosystems will affect carbon sequestration.
He believes that climate change is the most important issue of the modern day and hopes that his research will help inform policy makers and conservation projects across the globe.
He is the son of North East residents Stephen and Jule Watts.