Augustana Biology Professor Earns $1.2 Million NSF CAREER Award

Posted on: June 28, 2023   |   Categories: Announcements, News & Updates
Carrie Olson Manning AU

This piece by Augustana University was published June 28, 2023.

Dr. Carrie Olson-Manning, Augustana associate professor of biology, has received the National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award. Her award is worth $1.2 million and will provide her with summer research funding for five years, sabbatical support and the funding to hire both a postdoctoral scholar and technician to assist in her research.

The award is one of the NSF’s most prestigious and supports “early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.” Faculty must submit a CAREER proposal thoroughly detailing their research and educational/outreach goals, which is then peer reviewed.

Olson-Manning’s research is centered on milkweeds, which are most commonly known as host plants of the monarch butterfly.

“We study two species of milkweed — one that grows East River and one that grows West River,” Olson-Manning said. “Not only do they grow there, they grow all the way to the coasts. Those two species basically take up the United States, meet here in central North America and then they hybridize, so they exchange genes. So, we’re studying the impacts of that.”

Olson-Manning operates two field sites for her research — one at the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls, and another in Rapid City, South Dakota. At both sites, she plants the two milkweed species and their hybrids to see how they fare in the different environments.

“This is a really exciting opportunity,” said Olson-Manning. “We’ve been hoping to get a postdoc who will play a crucial role in the research. They will also potentially co-teach or teach their own course to build their CV so when they go out on the job market, they’ll be well positioned to get a job at a place like Augustana.”

The postdoctoral scholar is scheduled to be hired in the second year of the grant and will serve Augustana for three or four years. As for a technician, Olson-Manning is hoping to have one on board as soon as possible.

“Undergrads are out there collecting the data, and the technician is helping plan those experiments,” Olson-Manning said. “They are organizing everything and helping to train the undergrads.”

For Olson-Manning, that’s what this award is all about — providing opportunities to her students, asking deeper questions and teaching others.

“This allows me to do experiments that either I couldn’t afford or wouldn’t have the person power to do,” Olson-Manning said. “I got into evolutionary genetics because I love it and I want to know things.

“Another huge passion of mine is teaching science to the public and K-12,” she continued. “So, one of the aims of the grant is to plant milkweed gardens at K-12 schools (throughout the state), then collaborating with the South Dakota Discovery Center to develop curriculum with middle and high school teachers that will be implemented in the classroom so the students can actually go out and collect pods from the garden, do DNA analysis on them and chemical analysis.”

“I found out a little bit later than others…but it was so exciting,” Olson-Manning said. “I ran down the hallway and made a fool of myself.

“It’s really nice validation to know that the scientific community thinks that your ideas are valuable and interesting,” Olson-Manning added. “It also ensures that I can give the most interesting research opportunities to our students.”

To learn more about research opportunities at Augustana, visit