Students Earn National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

Three UConn undergraduates, three graduate students, and six alumni have earned National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships (NSF-GRFP).

The oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the NSF-GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding students in NSF-supported disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited institutions in the United States. In addition to a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, plus another $12,000 paid to the student’s home institution, fellows have access to a wide range of professional development opportunities over the course of their graduate careers.

The Graduate Research Fellowships are highly competitive, with annual acceptance rates of about 14% from among more than 12,000 applicants.

“The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is the gold standard when it comes to federally-funded fellowships for aspiring scientists,” says Vin Moscardelli, Director of UConn’s Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships. “These fellowships are investments in both the science and the scientist. This national recognition reflects not only the quality and significance of the research the students are proposing to conduct, but on the potential of these students to make a mark in their chosen fields.”

The number of recipients from UConn has been on the rise over the years, with an average of 5.75 recipients from 2012-2015, and now an average of 11 in the years since.

“The best part of helping students with this and other fellowship applications is, most times after the student hits submit and then I get an email from the student stating no matter the outcome, they are really glad they did this,” says Rowena Grainger, the STEM Fellowship Advisor in the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships. “This is when students recognize the value of the process itself. In applying for the NSF GRFP, among other things, students have the opportunity to clarify their research and academic goals, improve their writing skills, learn to manage the critical application feedback process. These are skills that they will continue to build on in their graduate careers and beyond.”

The three undergraduate recipients are:

Christopher Choi ’20 (ENG), of Storrs, is graduating with dual bachelor’s degrees in history and materials science and engineering. He has been involved in a range of research activities and labs at UConn, focusing on topics from thermoelectrics to archaeological materials. In addition to receiving the NSF-GRFP, Choi is a member of the honors program, a recipient of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fund award, and was one of the student speakers at the 2018 School of Engineering Scholarship Award Ceremony. Choi has been a member of UConn Model UN for four years, serving as a committee director from fall 2017 to fall 2019, and was involved in the Engineering Ambassadors for four years, serving as the group’s president from spring 2018 to spring 2019. In the fall of 2020, he will begin his doctoral studies at Stanford, where he hopes to contribute to biomaterials research.

Ariane Garrett ’20 (ENG), of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. Throughout her time at UConn, she was an undergraduate researcher in the Hoshino Laboratory and benefited greatly from the mentorship of Dr. Kazunori Hoshino. She is a STEM Scholar, Honors Scholar, and University Scholar. Garrett was named a Goldwater Scholar in April 2019. She was the recipient of a Holster Scholarship, SURF grant and IDEA grant from UConn. Garrett interned at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine in Boston during the summer of 2019. She will pursue her doctorate in biomedical engineering at Boston University.

Brittany Smith ’20 (ENG), of Orange, is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with a minor in mathematics. Smith has been involved in a number of research activities, including interning through the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program at the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory in Groton. There she did nanotechnology research with Dr. Ali Gokirmak, and researched wearable biosensors with Dr. Ki Chon. Smith worked on an independent project with two other electrical engineering undergraduate students, during which they developed a robot that shoots candy into a person’s mouth using facial recognition and tracking. This work was published in a paper to the 2019 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers MIT Undergraduate Conference. Smith has been a member of the Women in Math, Science, and Engineering learning community for three years, holding mentoring positions during her sophomore and junior years. She has been an undergraduate teaching assistant, the vice president of the Navy STEM program at UConn, and the treasurer for Eta Kappa Nu, the electrical and computer engineering honor society, and the Women in Math, Science and Engineering clubs. Smith was involved with a number of outreach activities including serving as a UConn tour guide and a member of UConn’s Engineering Ambassadors. She will be pursuing her doctorate this fall at Duke with research focused on the development and application of biosensors.

The three graduate student recipients are:

Rosalie Bordett ’17 (CLAS) of Simsbury, who is a second-year doctoral student in the biomedical sciences graduate program at UConn Health. She received her undergraduate degree from UConn in biomedical engineering with minors in material science and chemistry. During her undergraduate studies, she was both a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation scholar and Health Career Opportunity Program scholar. Bordett received the UConn Chemistry Summer Fellowship and worked at UMass-Amherst under NSF funded project as a researcher. Prior to graduate school as the laboratory manager at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center-Innovation Center, Bordett conducted research on bioinstrumentation. Her graduate research work at UConn Health in Dr. Sangamesh Kumbar’s laboratory in the departments of orthopedic surgery and biomedical engineering is focused on the synergistic effects of physical and chemical stimulation in the regeneration of peripheral nerves. She is a co-author of multiple research publications in the areas of biomaterials and tissue engineering.

Matthew Howell of Boiling Springs, S.C., is a first-year doctoral student in the chemistry department, in the lab of Dr. Alfredo Angeles. Howell earned his undergraduate degree at Wofford College. He is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. Howell has conducted research at the European Bioinformatics Institute, Virginia Tech, and Yale, with published research articles in Genome Research and The Journal of Biological Chemistry. This summer, he plans to continue working with undergraduates Ana Wenc ’23 (CLAS) and Rosanna Airo ’22 (CLAS) in exploring synergy between metals, peptides, and antibiotics as a tool to combat the problem of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Jackson Lautier ’11 (CLAS), is a native of Southington and currently resides in West Hartford. He is a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Statistics and his research concentrates on applications of statistics to economics, finance, risk management, and actuarial science.  He is particularly interested in using statistics to improve access of disadvantaged groups to the capitalist financial system.  Previously to his doctoral studies, Lautier spent more than eight years working Prudential Financial, Inc. as an actuary in various roles, including risk management, investment strategy, and quantitative finance.  He was also an adjunct instructor in the Department of Mathematics at UConn in the 2018-2019 academic year.  Lautier is a fellow of the Society of Actuaries, a Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst, and a member of the American Academy of Actuaries.  Lautier graduated with an undergraduate degree in mathematics/actuarial science from UConn.

Six additional UConn alumni who are now pursuing graduate studies elsewhere also earned NSF Graduate Research Fellowships:

Helen Belato ’18 (CLAS), who is studying structural biology at Brown University; Laurel Gibson ’18 (CLAS), who is studying social psychology at the University of Colorado; Celia Guillard ’15 (CLAS), who is studying social psychology at the University of Pennsylvania; Alexandra Oliveira ’19 (ENG, CLAS), who is studying chemical engineering at the University of Delaware; Nicholas Russo ’18 (CLAS), who is studying ecology at UCLA; and Margaret Webb ’15 (CLAS, BUS), who is studying cognitive psychology at Brown University.

by Mike Enright

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Founded in 1978, the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) focuses on providing high-quality and collaborative undergraduate research, scholarly, and creative activity. Among the many activities and networking opportunities that CUR provides, the organization also offers support for the professional growth of faculty and administrators through expert-designed institutes, conferences, and a wide-range of volunteer positions. The CUR community, made up of nearly 700 institutions and 13,000 individuals, continues to provide a platform for discussion and other resources related to mentoring, connecting, and creating relationships centered around undergraduate research. CUR’s advocacy efforts are also a large portion of its work as they strive to strengthen support for undergraduate research. Its continued growth in connections with representatives, private foundations, government agencies, and campuses world-wide provides value to its members and gives voice to undergraduate research. CUR is committed to inclusivity and diversity in all of its activities and our community.

CUR focuses on giving a voice to undergraduate research with learning through doing. It provides connections to a multitude of campuses and government agencies, all while promoting networking and professional growth to its community.