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NSF Graduate Research Fellowships and Goldwater Scholarships Act as Testimony for ChE Education

Katharine Greco

Katharine Greco

Marianne Sleiman

Marianne Sleiman

Two students from our Chemical Engineering Department – Katharine Greco and Marianne Sleiman (currently a Ph.D. student at the University of California Berkeley) – have won prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships. “This is excellent news and testimony to the quality of our students and their education,” said College of Engineering Dean Tim Anderson. Read the announcement from NSF, with a complete list of awardees.

Additionally, Robert Johnston, a junior Chemical Engineering and Physics double major, received a coveted Goldwater Scholarship. Upon receiving his Goldwater Scholarship, Johnston said that “I plan on completing my Ph.D. in physics. Following this I hope to conduct research in particle physics to explore nature’s fundamental symmetries and teach at the university level.” Full list of 2016 Scholars and Honorable Mentions

The NSF named 2,000 individuals as this year's recipients of awards from the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), chosen from close to 17,000 applications. Since 1952, NSF has provided fellowships to individuals selected early in their careers based on their demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering. GRFP is critical to NSF's overall strategy of developing the globally engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation's leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation.

"The Graduate Research Fellowship Program is a vital part of our efforts to foster and promote excellence in U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by recognizing talent broadly from across the nation," said Joan Ferrini-Mundy, NSF assistant director for Education and Human Resources. "These awards are provided to individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements, and they are investments that will help propel this country's future innovations and economic growth."

NSF fellowship awardee Greco grew up in the small town of Saugerties, New York, and was drawn to chemical engineering because this field allows her to combine her love of chemistry with her passion for ecology and renewable energy.

“Studying chemical engineering has given me the opportunity to work on the world’s toughest problems, teaching me the skills and experience I need to develop cleaner, safer, alternative energy sources,” Greco said in 2015. “I started making my impact by joining research labs that focus on green energy, working on pyrolysis for biomass to biofuel conversion, nanofabrication of plasmonic nanodevices for solar energy harvesting, and computational chemistry analysis of molecules used in the proton exchange membrane of hydrogen fuel cells.”

For example, Greco has worked with former ChE Professor Paul Dauenhauer and ChE colleague Wei Fan on biofuels and has co-authored a research paper with them that appeared in Nature Scientific Reports. She also received a Goldwater Scholarship, the University of Massachusetts Chancellor Scholarship, and a John and Elizabeth Armstrong Scholarship. In addition, she was a member of the UMass Marching Band.

NSF fellowship recipient Sleiman is from Greenville, Rhode Island. While at UMass Amherst, Sleiman worked with Professor Shelly Peyton of the ChE department to study methods for using biomaterial systems to quantify how cancer cells respond to drugs when they are placed in environments that mimic a natural in vivo environment. In particular, they are interested in determining the relationship between tumor stiffening and the efficacy of a variety of underperforming chemotherapeutics. She also received a Goldwater Scholarship while at UMass Amherst.

“I am motivated to continue this leading research by using my knowledge to find a novel method to facilitate therapeutics during the drug screening process,” said Sleiman in 2014. “This research will help identify how mechanical and chemical changes in the ECM affect tumor growth and drug resistance, which will improve therapeutic methods, thus furthering cancer drug research.”

A high priority for NSF and GRFP is increasing the diversity of the science and engineering workforce, including geographic distribution, and the participation of women, underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, and veterans. GRFP provides three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period ($34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution). That support is for graduate study that leads to a research-based master's or doctoral degree in science and engineering.

Goldwater awardee Johnston explained, “My physics research involves designing and building particle detectors that will be used at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia. My research specifically deals with designing detector electronics and in the upcoming year I will learn how to use a particle accelerator simulator, named Geant4, in order to make models of the experiment which will determine optimal layout patterns for the detectors we are building.”  

Goldwater scholarships are intended to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. Each competing university nominates its top four students, who are then evaluated by the national Goldwater Scholarship selection committee. The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

In regards to the Goldwater award, Johnston added, “I really can't thank all the individuals who worked on my application with me enough, as well as my adviser, who first urged me to apply for this award. I'm so proud to represent my department, college, and university, and am looking forward to completing my honors thesis in the coming year.”

ChE Professor Jessica Schiffman serves on the University Goldwater-Udall Committee. (April 2016)