Five MU Engineering seniors receive National Science Foundation grad school fellowships
“Shocked,” “excited” and “happy” are some of the words five University of Missouri College of Engineering seniors used to describe their reactions upon finding out they’d received fellowships from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).
For the five students — three biological engineers, one computer science engineer and one electrical engineer — the fellowships mean more than $30,000 applied annually to their graduate programs.
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.
Rebekah Conley said that she didn’t tell her family when she first applied for the fellowship. She hadn’t expected to receive it the first time she applied.
“I didn’t even tell my family I applied because I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. Once they understood what the NSF was and what the fellowship meant, they were really excited about it,” Conley said.
At Mizzou, Conley studied under Associate Professor John Viator, working on his photoacoustic melanoma detection device, using that research for her senior capstone project. The senior biological engineering major plans to begin graduate work at Vanderbilt University.
“Vanderbilt has a really strong biophotonics research program,” she said. “I want to do something with human clinical trials. I like working with people, patient interaction, and I really like the fact that their research involves the regulation process with the Food and Drug Administration.”
Conley said the financial stability from the fellowship will enable her to get a more fulfilling experience from graduate school.
“I’ll be more able to go to more conferences and even some international conferences,” she said. “That’s something I’ve always enjoyed.”
Another student who worked on the same senior capstone design project, Adam Daily, first came to Mizzou as a pre-veterinary medicine scholar, then after about a year at MU, decided he wanted to concentrate more on human medicine.
“But I really didn’t want to go into medical school,” said Daily, a senior biological engineering major, who said he prefers the research and science behind medicine rather than the practice. He knew biological engineering was the way to go. He also worked in Viator’slab.
Daily will work with University of Texas at Austin Department of Biomedical Engineering chair Nicholas Peppas, on oral delivery of insulin forthe treatment of Type 1 diabetes. Daily also received an additional fellowship from Texas.
“Adam is an exceptional student of our incoming BME class,” Peppas said.“His extremely high GPA and GRE scores, as well as his previous experience impressed the faculty. That’s why he received this extra fellowship.”
Daily said he hopes to make his way to a university administrative position. He’s no stranger to that field. Daily’s grandfather, John Park, was the chancellor of the Missouri University of Science and Technology from 1992 to 2000.
“When I was with my grandfather, I got to see a lot of the behind-the-scenes from that profession, and it really interested me.”
Electrical engineering senior Andrew Haddock spent his undergraduate research career in the computational neurobiology lab of Professor Satish Nair.
“We worked on a model for synaptic plasticity, which is the basis for how individual neurons learn,” Haddock said. “Dr. Nair collaborates with other neuroscientistsaround the country, and we input the data that they give us and study that. This type of model is used when studying the effects of, for example, cocaine on the brain.”
Haddock said he was really happy to learn about the fellowship. He will begin his graduate program at the University of Washington in Seattle. He said the faculty and the topics they are researching appealed to him.
“One of the main reasons I chose Washington is they have a new center called the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering. They have a lot of faculty there, so I’m hoping to join a project there.”
Haddock said the MU Engineering faculty helped him greatly when he was applying for the fellowship him by reading through his application essay and giving him pointers throughout the process.
“It wouldn’t be possible for any of us to get this award without the support and the MU Engineering faculty,” he said.
Computer science, math and statistics senior Dmitriy Karpman had already planned on going to Stanford University. He had been accepted and was making plans for a move.
“The fellowship makes finding a professor to work with much easier because they won’t have to worry about not having the grant money for me,” he said.
Karpman performed his undergraduate research under Associate Professor Ye Duan. Much of his research over the last three years focused on computer graphics and biomedical imaging.
“My first research was on brain structure analysis for autism from MRI images,” Karpman said, adding that his recent research focuses on creating 3-D urban scene reconstruction from LIDAR point cloud and creating a way to automatically combine different point clouds into a larger one.
“I like doing research,”Karpman said.“I’m not sure if I’ll go into academia or industry, but I really think I will do something research-based.”
Duan spoke highly of Karpmann’s accolades. “Dmitriy has been working with me for three years and has already published several papers with me,” Duan said. “He is a TA of my computer graphics class this semester and has done a great job. He is a hard-working and very bright student.”
Sarah Smith will continue her studies in biological engineering at Mizzou when she begins her graduate work with Associate Professor Sheila Grant.
“I decided I was going to stay in Dr. Grant’s lab before I even applied for the fellowship,” she said.
As an undergraduate, Smith said she worked in Grant’s lab on tissue scaffolds, using gold nanoparticles and pig tissue to make tissue scaffold for various tissue scaffold engineering applications, mostly wound healing.
Smith said she hasn’t decided what her next project will be, but knows that after grad school, she wants to work in research and development for industry. She said she appreciated the theoretical knowledge, but preferred actual application of the work she will perform.
Grant said she is looking forward to the research she and Smith will begin in the fall.
“Sarah is just an amazing person. Besides being an outstanding student and researcher, she is actively involved with many clubs and activities that promote science and engineering,” Grant said. “I was excited that she wanted to stay at Mizzou for graduate school. I couldn’t ask for a better graduate student. We will be able to hit the ground running with the research.”
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 the five award recipients, two additional MU Engineering students received honorable mentions from the NSF: computer science grad student Brittany Morago and biological engineering grad student Evan Buettmann.
MU Arts and Sciences students Korey Brownstein, biochemistry, and Desire Buckley, biological sciences, also received fellowships, while Christopher Kassotis, biological sciences, received an honorable mention.
Editor’s note: Computer science doctoral student Brittany Morago was awarded a fellowship in July 2012. Read about her award here.
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.