AMES, Iowa -- When Caitlyn Abell received word that she’d won the 2011 Lauren L. Christian Graduate Student Award from the National Swine Improvement Federation (NSIF), she did a double take. The Iowa State University (ISU) student had just recently started her doctoral program in animal science and thought the award was beyond her reach.

“This was a big surprise because my major professor told me most past recipients had finished or nearly finished their Ph.D. and I had just started my program,” Abell said. “I knew he had sent in a nomination, but figured it was just a formality.”

As the award recipient, she received a cash award of $500, a plaque and expenses for attending the annual NSIF conference in Omaha in December. She also gave a presentation at the conference about her work.

As it turned out, Abell is the tenth award recipient from ISU since the annual award was started in 1993. NSIF president Clint Schwab received the award as an ISU graduate student in 2005, and said it is considered among the most prestigious rewards for graduate students in the field of swine genetics.

“For me, it was an incredible honor to be added to the list of recipients – many of whom I looked up to during my graduate career,” Schwab said. “Caitlyn is a great addition to the list of recipients, and is a solid representation of Lauren Christian’s contributions to the field of swine genetics.”

Abell’s major professor, animal science professor and ISU Extension swine specialist Ken Stalder, said he nominated her for the award because of her work with litters per sow per year.

“The objective of her current research project is to determine the economic value of genomic selection for swine genetic companies,” he said. “And she’s already worked on using the litters per sow per year figure to reduce non-productive days of a sow in a breeding herd. Results will help producers make better decisions with their sow herds.”

Already Abell has three referred journal articles and two successful grants to her name, and said she chose ISU for her graduate degree program because of its strong reputation in the animal breeding and genetics program. She has a double major in animal breeding and genetics, and statistics, and hopes to pursue a career with a swine breeding company after graduation.