15 Pitt Students Earn NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

A person in a white lab coat and blue gloves uses a pipetteFifteen Pitt students have been selected for the 2021 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), which recognizes outstanding students who are pursuing full-time research-based master's and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Celebrate these achievements and more during Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week, April 5-10.

The prestigious award provides three years of support for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education. Its overall goal is to recruit individuals into STEM fields and to broaden participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering. 

Since its inception in 1952, the GRFP has supported more than 60,000 graduate students nationwide.

The NSF expects to award 1,600 Graduate Research Fellowships overall. Fellows are provided a $34,000 stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance each year.

Pitt’s 2021 awardees are:

  • Max Franklin Dudek, life sciences—computationally intensive research
  • Zachary Egolf, engineering—systems engineering
  • Hannah C. Geisler, engineering—biomedical engineering
  • Marcela Gonzalez-Rubio, engineering—bioengineering
  • Sarah Clarkson Griffin, engineering—bioengineering
  • Pete Howard Gueldner, engineering—bioengineering
  • Elijah Hall, geosciences—hydrology
  • Sara Jaramillo, psychology—cognitive psychology
  • Caroline Iturbe Larkin, engineering—computationally intensive research
  • Jennifer Mak, engineering—biomedical engineering
  • Karen Y Peralta Martinez, life sciences—organismal biology
  • Kevin Pietz, engineering—bioengineering
  • April Alexandra Rich, life sciences—genomics
  • Paul Anthony Torrillo, chemistry—computationally intensive research
  • Carissa Siu Yun Yim, engineering—chemical engineering
     

In addition, nine Pitt students were recognized with honorable mentions:

  • Marissa Nicole Behun, engineering—bioengineering
  • Emily Kaye Biermann, physics and astronomy—astronomy and astrophysics
  • Gabriella Gerlach, life sciences—bioinformatics and computational biology
  • Emily Anne Hutchinson, psychology—developmental psychology
  • Kayla M. Komondor, life sciences—developmental biology
  • Rachael Dawn Kramp, life sciences—ecology
  • Patrick John Stofanak, engineering—mechanical engineering
  • Madeline Torres, life sciences—microbial biology
  • Darian Yang, life sciences—biophysics
     

"It is very exciting that, once again this year, University of Pittsburgh students have been recognized by the National Science Foundation for their excellent work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That the country’s oldest fellowship program supporting STEM applauds the fine accomplishments of Pitt's students is as impressive as it is inspiring," said Joseph J. McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies and interim dean of the University Honors College. "I sincerely congratulate this year's honorees." 

The University offers guidance for students who want to prepare strong applications for these and other awards.

“Students in the Swanson School of Engineering successfully compete every year for NSF GRFP awards, which is a testament to their academic excellence and hard work,” said bioengineering professor Patrick Loughlin. “It is also a testament to the decade-long workshop and efforts by Swanson School faculty to assist graduate students in preparing competitive fellowship applications.”

Loughlin said the Swanson School is joining forces with the University Honors College to expand its efforts with an eye toward further increasing the number of Pitt NSF GRFP recipients.

Pitt Honors scholar-mentor Joshua Cannon said the Honors College’s program includes workshops throughout the summer and early fall, numerous past successful applications to read and learn from, advice on how to structure essays, and detailed reading and reviewing of essays.

Awardee Marcela Gonzalez-Rubio said she felt overwhelmed as she started her NSF GRFP proposal. “Not because I didn't feel ready, but because as a graduate student it was my first time applying for such a competitive and prestigious grant.

“I knew I needed mentorship, advice and new sets of eyes to provide an objective perspective on my proposal as I wanted it to be the best possible,” Gonzalez-Rubio said.

“In my advisor, lab mates, fellow grad students and Pitt's Honors College prep program I found everything that I was looking for and I will be forever thankful for their support in helping me achieve what I consider to be my career's most important milestone so far.”

Said honorable mention honoree Emily Bierman, "The application process allowed me to really envision what I wanted my graduate school experience to look like. After taking time to think deeply about what brought me to where I am today and what I want to accomplish, I feel much more grounded as a graduate student. Pitt's prep program really helped me through that self-reflection. The GRFP application is quite daunting, but I didn't have to do it alone."

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