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UB's NSF fellowship winners at ‘all-time high’

The number of UB students winning prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowships is at an all time high. Photo: Joe Cascio


Published April 29, 2016

“Fellows join a select group of extremely talented scientists and engineers.”
John McGuire, professor emeritus
Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Eight UB students have won prestigious scholarships and awards in this year’s National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), one more than all the awards given to students in the rest of the SUNY system.

The eight UB students include five who are presently UB undergraduates and one graduate student. Two of the winners are UB alumni who are attending graduate school elsewhere.

Fifteen other undergraduate UB students received honorable mention. Both winners and honorable mentions were at “all-time highs,” according to Elizabeth Colucci, coordinator of fellowships and scholarships at UB, whose office has dramatically increased the number of UB students applying for and receiving national and international scholarships.

In recent years, UB students have won up to four GRFP scholarships and an equal number of honorable mentions, according to Colucci. This year’s success is another example of how more UB students are successfully competing for scholarships and fellowships against the top students in the nation’s most prestigious universities.

“It was a banner year for these awards,” says Colucci. “It’s a huge marker for success in which we measure ourselves.”

President Satish K. Tripathi acknowledges how more UB students are successfully competing for prestigious national awards and honors like the NSF Graduate Research Fellowships.

“I want to congratulate each of these outstanding scholars and all of the excellent students who have been nominated to this and other prominent fellowship and scholarship programs this year,” Tripathi says. “Just being nominated to receive one of these highly competitive awards is an honor in itself — a testament to their scholarly accomplishments, dedication and promise, as well as to the key role that our faculty and staff play in guiding and mentoring our students.

“Clearly, these students are taking full advantage of the valuable educational experiences and resources available to them at UB, and they are leveraging these opportunities to open doors that can take them even further,” he says. “As any of our past honorees can attest, these awards will continue to have great meaning as they move forward in their scholarly and professional pursuits.”

As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The reputation of the GRFP follows recipients and often helps them become lifelong leaders who contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching.

Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin and “Freakonomics” co-author Steven Levitt.

“The most important benefits of these fellowships are to the students,” says John J. McGuire, professor emeritus at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, who has served on the National Science Foundation’s Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology Panel since 2001.

Winners receive three years of stipend at $34,000 per year, plus UB receives $12,000 to cover student tuition, according to McGuire. In addition, GRFP fellows can participate in international programs for up to one year and receive extra money to cover the costs.

“Fellows also join a select group of extremely talented scientists and engineers,” says McGuire. Former fellows includes 40 Nobel laureates and 450 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

The GRFP is one of the most prestigious fellowship programs in the U.S., according to McGuire, who said the increase in the number of UB student awards speaks to the high caliber of students attending UB.

“Even placing as an honorable mention in this competition is a great accomplishment,” McGuire says. “It’s viewed in students’ resumes as an indication of great promise in their field.

“The GRFP is, I think, unique in that it funds people, not projects,” says McGuire. “It recognizes those students who have the capacity to be both outstanding scientists/engineers and to be leaders in the broadest sense of that word.

“UB should be proud of the increased number of students here who have exemplified these qualities.”

As far as UB, part of the increase in winners is because some schools and departments are making increased efforts to encourage their students to apply for the fellowship, McGuire says. The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, for example, made a “great showing,” he said, and the school’s efforts should be recognized by the UB administration.

McGuire also praised Colucci for her “tremendous job” over the past few years notifying students about the GRFP and other fellowship programs, organizing workshops and providing encouragement and advice — as well as “the occasional shove.”

“My hope is that in the future more deans and department chairs will identify potential applicants early and assist these students in preparing their applications.”

Dante Iozzo, a senior with a dual major in physics and math, is one if the five UB undergraduates to receive the GRFP award. Iozzo plans to pursue a doctorate in physics at Cornell University, studying mathematical modeling, which involves studying physical phenomenon and describing it mathematically.

“Because of this, I have to not only have detailed knowledge of physics and math, I also have to have a very deep knowledge of computer programming and coding as well,” says Iozzo. “Because there is so much to learn, that is what the NSF is going to help me do.

“The main point of the NSF program is you don’t have to be a teaching assistant for the first couple of years,” says Iozzo. “So I can take the time and just focus on gaining this information and jumping into research. One day I would like to be a professor. I have strong connections with the humanities. And I don’t want to lose that connection. I love teaching and I want to make sure I get that experience teaching. But the first couple of years I can just focus on learning because of the fellowship, and then later be a TA.”

The other five UB students sharing Iozzo’s honor and their fields of study are Ryan Patrick O’Hara, biomedical engineering; Kristina Monakhova, electrical engineering; Andrea M. Martinez, a graduate student in electrical engineering; Geoffrey Fatin, physics and astronomy; and Luke Zakrajsek, electrical engineering.

The two UB grads receiving fellowships and studying elsewhere are Ethan Guthman now studying at the University of Colorado at Denver, and Thomas Effland, currently studying at Columbia University.

Students winning honorable mention are Nathan Catlin, Alec Cheney, Rachel DeMayo, Andrew Harris, Dana Havas, Patricia Johnson, Michelle Karker, Stephanie Kong, Sharon Lin, Francis Mollica, Matthew Morse, Paul Reed, Christopher Reinhardt, Alexandra Van Hall and Lauren Van Gelder.

Iozzo said the support UB gave him was instrumental in his academic success.

“If I could give other students any advice, it would be to really take advantage of this school and try to do as many things as possible,” he says. “What this school really excels in is having a ridiculous amount of opportunities for students. But you have to go out there and engage yourself in them and if you do, it’s amazing.”