When Annie Marie Le, an idealistic and ambitious doctoral student in Yale’s Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS), lost her life in a homicide last September, the Yale community—and the larger world—reacted with grief and dismay.

In the wake of Le’s death, members of many parts of the Yale community came together to forge a scholarship fund that would commemorate her life and exemplary spirit in a lasting way by supporting the work of current graduate students. Soon after, the Yale Corporation established the Annie Le Fellowship to provide assistance to doctoral candidates in the BBS program “whose demonstrated commitment to bettering the world around them and outstanding record and research exemplify the qualities represented in the life and career of Annie Le.”

Two graduate students in the BBS program—Julie Button, a fifth-year graduate student in microbiology; and Jason Wallace, a fourth-year graduate student in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology—have been named the inaugural Annie Le Fellows and will receive funding for the 2010–2011 academic year.

Button, who works in the laboratory of Salmonella expert Jorge E. Galán, Ph.D., D.V.M., the Lucille P. Markey Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis, studies the roles that “chaperone” proteins play in the Type III Secretion System, an appendage used by many Gram-negative bacteria to help them infect a host’s cells by moving factors into those cells that promote the bacteria’s survival and replication. Wallace, a doctoral student in the lab of Ronald R. Breaker, Ph.D., the Henry Ford II Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, studies large, non-coding RNAs that were recently discovered in several species of bacteria, which appear to be important for helping the bacteria survive extreme stress.

In addition to their academic work, both fellows are public-spirited. Button participates in the Hill Neighborhood Mentoring Program, has served on the Graduate Student Assembly for two years, and has sung with the Academia Nuts, the graduate school’s all-female a cappella group. Wallace provides Spanish-English translation for his church and has served as a career mentor for the Boy Scouts of America.

“Annie Le was an exemplary student, and someone who was concerned about the community in which she lived. And so we thought that the fellowship really would emphasize those two qualities—that is, the capacity of someone to really be an absolutely outstanding student, who also was concerned about the larger world in which he or she lives. We thought it was a really appropriate way to commemorate her life and her time at Yale,” says Jon Butler, Ph.D., the Howard R. Lamar Professor of American Studies, History, and Religious Studies. Butler was dean of Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences when Le died, and he oversaw the implementation of the new fellowship.

“Annie came to Yale to study and train as a biomedical scientist,” says Elias Lolis, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and Le’s former doctoral supervisor. “She also cared about people and treated everyone with respect. It is for these reasons that Yale University established this fellowship in her memory.”

An initial $100,000 endowment from the Yale Corporation has been increased by additional gifts from friends and members of the Yale community. In April, the Association of Asian American Yale Alumni, the Association of Yale Alumni, the Yale Alumni Association of Metropolitan New York, the Yale Life Sciences Alumni Association, and several other groups collaboratively organized a benefit concert for the fund in New York City.

After earning her undergraduate degree in cell and developmental biology at the University of Rochester, Le came to Yale for graduate work in 2007. Working in the laboratory of her advisor, Anton M. Bennett, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology, Le was exploring the effects of metabolic stresses on an enzyme connected with mitochondrial function in muscle cells. She planned to devote her life to biomedical research, and had dreamed of having a scientific career at the National Institutes of Health.

“One of the many tragic aspects about losing Annie was that it was only after her death that the Yale community at large learned about her and her wonderful qualities,” says John D. Alvaro, Ph.D., administrative director of BBS. “The fellowship in her name now enables us to identify and celebrate other talented and selfless students, some of the hidden gems among the student body.”

The Annie Le Fellowship will be awarded each year by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, at the recommendation of faculty in the biological and biomedical sciences. To contribute to the fellowship fund, contact Wesley Poling, Ph.D., at wesley.poling@yale.edu or (203) 432-7919.