12 UK Students, Alumni Win NSF Research Fellowships

By Whitney Hale

(April 21, 2016) – The University of Kentucky Office of Nationally Competitive Awards has announced that 12 of the university's students and alumni have been selected to receive government-funded National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships. The fellowships award more than $100,000 to use toward research-based master's or doctoral degrees. In addition, four other UK students and alumni received honorable mention recognition from the NSF.

This year's selection of a dozen UK students and alumni for NSF Graduate Research Fellowships is believed to be the largest in the school's history and is four times the number of selections for 2015. To put more of emphasis on the fellowship, Pat Whitlow, director of the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards, hosted an informational luncheon last fall with current fellowship recipients for students interested in the program.

"The goal was to encourage more undergraduate and graduate students to apply for the NSF GRFP because we believe UK students are underrepresented as recipients of this major national award. We are delighted with the strong results we achieved in this award cycle," Whitlow said.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the U.S. and reinforces its diversity. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based graduate degrees in the U.S. and abroad. 

NSF fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees. They also are given opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship benefits are a blessing to many of the nation's brightest up-and-coming researchers. "The NSF Fellowship allows me to pursue my PhD with my full focus on research and education, as opposed to needing to seek financial aid for living expenses," said Cassandra Jean Porter, a UK chemical engineering senior. "In addition, being part of this prestigious group of fellows opens up research and job opportunities for my future."

UK’s newest NSF fellows and the areas of research they will be pursuing are:

· Sarah Barney, a 2014 natural resources and environmental science graduate from Lexington, who will pursue research in ecology at University of Michigan;

· Robert Alan Cass, a mathematics seniorChellgren Fellow and Honors Program member from Lexington, who will pursue research in algebra, number theory and combinatorics at Harvard University;

· Michael Scott Crocker, a 2015 chemical engineering graduate from Bowling Green, Kentucky, who will pursue research in chemical synthesis at Vanderbilt University;

· Matthew Fahrbach, a 2015 computer science and mathematics graduate and Chellgren Fellow from Louisville, Kentucky, who will continue to pursue research in algorithms and theoretical foundations at Georgia Institute of Technology;

· Charles Sanders Fieseler, a 2013 mathematics and physics graduate and Chellgren Fellow from Versailles, Kentucky, who will pursue research in atomic, molecular and optical physics at University of Washington;

· Marc Higginson-Rollins, a 2015 electrical engineering graduate and former Honors Program member from Franklin, Tennessee, who will pursue research in electrical and electronic engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology;

· Christopher Karounos, a 2014 biology graduate and former Honors Program member from Lexington, who will pursue research in ecology at University of Michigan;

· Jessime Murray Kirk, a 2014 chemistry graduate from Wallingford, Kentucky, who will pursue research in bioinformatics and computational biology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill;

· Edward Limin Lo, a UK graduate student in geology from Brandon, Florida, who will pursue research in the paleoclimate;

· Andrew Arthur Nelson, a UK doctoral student in experimental psychology from Spokane, Washington, who will pursue research in social psychology;

· Cassandra Jean Porter, a chemical engineering senior and Honors Program member from Georgetown, Kentucky, who will pursue research in chemical engineering at Yale University; and

· Danielle Coty Schaper, a doctoral student in physics from Covington, Kentucky, who will pursue research in the nuclear field.

The UK NSF Fellowship winners are excited to have funding for their specific research, especially those in fields where funding can be more scarce. "A lot of ecology funding is awarded to scientists researching the negative effects of climate change and biodiversity loss. For a variety of reasons, there seems to be less ecology research specifically exploring solutions to those problems. I am excited at the opportunity this fellowship gives me to research how to leverage our knowledge of ecology to solve environmental issues. Issues that are important not only to our long-term economy but to the survival of millions of people," alumnus Christopher Karounos said. "Thanks to the NSF Fellowship I have the freedom to do my thesis project in Ecuador on Third Millennium Alliance’s reserve where I will research reforestation and agroforestry."

Four other UK students and alumni received honorable mention recognition from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. The other students and alumni receiving recognition are: Shannon Brady, a 2014 biology graduate from Edgewood, Kentucky; Douglas Davenport, a 2015 chemical engineering graduate from Dayton, Ohio; Cyrus Hettle, a current graduate student in mathematics and 2014 classics and mathematics graduate from Lexington; and Samuel Saarinen, a graduating mathematics senior and Honors Program member from Shelbyville, Kentucky

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the country’s oldest graduate fellowship program directly supporting graduate students in social science and various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields since 1952.

The UK Office of Nationally Competitive Awards will host another panel on the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for interested students this coming August. Although details will be announced later in the summer, those interested may email Whitlow at pat.whitlow@uky.edu to be kept up to date on programming related to the fellowship.

Part of the Academy for Undergraduate Excellence within the Division of Undergraduate Education, the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards assists current UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These major awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in any of these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with Pat Whitlow at the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards well in advance of the scholarship deadline.

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