15 Purdue Engineering students receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

After a long five-month wait since they submitted their applications, 15 current College of Engineering students learned in late March that they were recipients of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) class of 2020. This is the largest group of awardees from the College of Engineering in several years. In addition, seven students received honorable mentions. Across the University, a total of 20 students received the Fellowship, and 14 received honorable mentions. An additional four NSF recipients will join Purdue’s College of Engineering this fall when they begin their graduate study.
Joseph Yount, a first-year Ph.D. student in MSE and Vanessa Kwarteng, a second-year Ph.D. student in ME are two of the College of Engineering's 15 recipients of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) class of 2020. 

Purdue’s College of Engineering 2020 recipients:

  • AAE—Ryan Strelau and Paige Whittington
  • ABE—Kevin Fitzgerald
  • BME—Jennifer Anderson and Katherine Leyba
  • ChE—Takashi Yokokura
  • ECE—Timothy Terlep
  • EEE—Rachel Gehr
  • IE—Xiaotian Wang
  • ME— Brian Acosta, Matthew Blaisdell, Debraliz Isaac-Aragones, and Vanessa Kwarteng
  • MSE—Alejandro Figueroa and Joseph Yount

The honorable mentions:

  • AAE—Hannah Mackin Schenck
  • BME—Sydney Sofronici
  • CE—Joshua Harmon
  • IE—Nathan Geldner and Casey Stowers
  • ME—Amanda Braun
  • MSE—Jessica Lavorata

Many of the students are current graduate students, but Strelau, Fitzgerald, Acosta, Yokokura, Wang, Mackin Schenck, Sofronici, and Stowers are seniors. 

In addition, four incoming engineering graduate students who are starting at Purdue this fall have been awarded the NSF GRFP:

  • AAE – Ruth Beaver (B.S. in Physics, College of William & Mary)
  • ChE – Angel Santiago-Colon (B. Eng. in Chemical Engineering, University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez)
  • IE – Emily Garcia (B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, University of California, Berkeley)
  • ME – Jason Johnson (B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Missouri University of Science & Technology)

The NSF GRFP, established in 1952, is the oldest STEM fellowship program supporting research-based graduate students. In a typical year, thousands of very well qualified students—seniors and first- and second-year graduate students—apply for approximately 2,000 Fellowships. Nearly the same number of honorable mentions are given. The College of Engineering’s newly chosen Fellows join an illustrious group of NSF GRFP alumni, including Google founder, Sergey Brin, and many Nobel Prize winners, including former U.S Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu.

The NSF GRFP provides a three-year stipend of $34,000 per year and a tuition payment of $12,000 per year to the graduate institution the recipient attends. In addition, they have access to “opportunities for international research and professional development,” according to the NSF GRFP website.

Joseph Yount, a first-year Ph.D. student in MSE, said he was skeptical when he first received the email indicating that he’d won. “After reading the email three times over, I started laughing with joy.” Yount says the Fellowship will allow him to ”devote the majority of my time towards research that I am passionate about for the remainder of my Ph.D.” He also expects the Fellowship to “open numerous doors and allow me to expand my scientific network during and after my Ph.D.”

Another recipient, second-year ME Ph.D. student Vanessa Kwarteng, said her shock turned into “a lot of screaming and tears of joy” when she learned that she had won the Fellowship. She saw the email notification on her phone at bedtime and initially debated whether she would be able to sleep if she left it unread. Kwarteng, who worked for several years in industry before attending graduate school, said she waited to apply until her second year at Purdue to “to build up the future story I wanted to tell for my NSF application.”

According to Kwarteng, “It [the Fellowship] will allow me the freedom to explore some other areas within my research scope that I am curious about. I am excited to see how the research, networking and professional development opportunities provided from the fellowship will advance my research.”

Since the NSF GRFP applications are due in late October, early every fall the College of Engineering offers several overview workshops on the NSF GRFP application process for seniors and graduate students, as well as a separate one for sophomores and juniors who are thinking ahead to graduate school. These workshops have been given by professors Dulcy Abraham, CE, Audeen Fentiman, ENE, and Steve Landry, IE; all three are very familiar with the process. In addition, Joanne Lax, Graduate Technical Communications and Professional Development Specialist in the College of Engineering provides a series of workshops to help the students write the two detailed statements required in the application. The Graduate School also holds NSF GRFP workshops for applicants throughout Purdue and provides an incentive grant of $250 for graduate students who apply for prestigious external grants such as the NSF GRFP.