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When late news is good news: Doctoral student receives late summer NSF fellowship

A few months after being told she’d received an honorable mention for the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Brittany Morago, a doctoral student in computer science, received an email informing her that she had received an award thanks to additional funding. Morago’s research involves using LIDAR scanning to register 2-D videos with 3-D point clouds.

When writing code, Brittany Morago knows that her first results may not always be her final results. She knows one change can make all the difference in the world. Just as she was preparing for her upcoming semester in graduate school, the University of Missouri College of Engineering student got an email that proved even in life, one change can make a lot of difference.

Morago, a third-year doctoral student in computer science, had applied for a fellowship grant through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) earlier in the year. In the spring, she was told she had received an honorable mention, but on July 23, she received an email telling her that after additional funds became available, she’d received an award.

“I was extremely shocked, probably more so than I would’ve been if I’d received an award the first time,” she said.

Morago’s research with Ye Duan, an associate professor of computer science, uses LIDAR scanning to register 2-D videos with 3-D point clouds. So far, she has used the technology to scan Jesse and Cornell halls and is hoping to make 3-D models of these buildings.

“She is working on creating 4D virtual reality and augmented/mixed reality — like what we see in the movie ‘Avatar’ — by integrating 2D videos and images with 3D geometry captured by the laser scanner,” Duan said, adding that he has “very high hopes” for Morago.

Morago earned her bachelor’s degree in digital arts and sciences from the University of Florida and started her doctorate soon after. After graduate school, she hopes to land a university faculty position. To give her a leg up, she also is studying for a minor in college teaching through the MU graduate school.

“Last spring, I taught half of the Computer Graphics I course for my practicum,” she said.

The GRFP recognizes and provides fellowships for outstanding graduate students who are pursing a research-based master’s or doctorate degree in an NSF-supported field. The fellowships cover up to three years of graduate-level education, which is usable over a five-year period.

Engineering students applied in November for the approximately 2,000 NSF fellowships awarded. Currently, fellows receive an annual $30,000 stipend and up to $10,000 to cover education costs. Budget proposals may increase the cost-of-education allowance to $12,000 for next year.

In addition to Morago, five other MU Engineering graduates received fellowships: biological engineering alumni Rebekah Conley, Adam Daily and Sarah Smith, electrical engineering alumnus Andrew Haddock and computer science alumnus Dmitriy Karpman. Read more about them here. Biological engineering grad student Evan Buettmann received an honorable mention.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.