Primate Center alumna wins Presidential Award

President Barack Obama named Claudia R. Valeggia, who conducted her Ph.D. research at the California National Primate Research Center, as one of 94 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) Sept. 26. The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Valeggia, now professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of PennsylvaniaClaudia Valeggia, said she was “speechless” on hearing the news. “It’s such a great honor, and it’s such a big push for my research.”

Valeggia was chosen as a PECASE recipient for her work on key life history transitions, and for developing educational programs for indigenous people, promoting student training, and aiding hospitals to help determine infant feeding choices.

Originally from Argentina, Valeggia earned a Master’s degree from UC Davis in 1995 and a doctorate in Animal Behavior in 1996. At the Primate Center, under the direction of Professor Sally Mendoza, she investigated female reproductive biology, and the effects of pair-bond and social context on male-female interactions in titi monkeys (Callicebus moloch).

Mendoza said that the novel endocrine and immune assay techniques that Valeggia developed with nonhuman primates at the Center continue to contribute to the current work on characterizing the neurobiology of the pair bond in titi monkeys. An excellent example of translational research, Valeggia has been applying these techniques to her research on reproductive transitions in human populations.

Reflecting on Valeggia’s time at the CNPRC, Mendoza said, “I am proud of the accomplishments of all of my students, but Claudia is one of the best students I have had the opportunity of mentoring and I am in awe of the importance of the work she is doing for the women populating her study groups in the US, Central and South America.”

After leaving UC Davis Valeggia went to Harvard University as a postdoctoral researcher, and then in 2005 to the University of Pennsylvania, where her research focuses on the interactions between human reproductive biology and the ecological and cultural context in which it develops. She concentrates on how the interplay between biology and culture takes a central role in interpreting reproductive patterns.

Valeggia’s work with indigenous populations in Argentina and Guatemala, and with women in the U.S., has added an exciting interdisciplinary component to her research program that provides insights into reproductive processes in culturally changing populations.

Valeggia publishes her work in both Spanish and English to make it accessible to the local people and health organizations.  She has joined forces with health agencies to facilitate delivery of information and health care.

A number of UC Davis faculty have won the award since it was established in 1996. The include: Ilke Arslan, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science; Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra, assistant professor of plant sciences; William DeBello, professor of neurobiology, physiology and behavior, Center for Neuroscience; Valerie Eviner, assistant professor of plant sciences; Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi; Tonya Kuhl, professor of chemical engineering and materials science; Kwan-Liu Ma, professor of computer science; Zhongli Pan, associate adjunct professor of biological and agricultural engineering; Naoki Saito, professor of mathematics; and W. Martin Usrey, associate professor, neurobiology, physiology and behavior, Center for Neuroscience.

(Contributed by Kathy West, California National Primate Research Center)

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