This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

UB students earn top national awards

Published: April 24, 2008

Reporter Editor

Aaron Krolikowski is only a junior at UB, but this year alone the political science-environmental studies double major has added two national achievements to his list of academic accomplishments. He is the third UB student in three years to win a prestigious Morris K. Udall Scholarship, and he is the first UB student since 1992 to be a nominee and a finalist for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship.


Winners of nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships are, from left, Stacy Pustulka and Kelly Miller, NSF Graduate Research Fellowships; Aaron Krolikowski, Udall scholarship; and Bradley Cheetham, Goldwater scholarship.

“The entire UB community should take pride in having back-to-back Udall winners,” says James Jensen, professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering and a member of the faculty committee that reviewed the applications of UB’s Udall candidates. “Our recent success speaks to the quality of the upper-echelon students at UB. Our best can compete with the best anywhere.”

And Krolikowski is not the only UB student keeping pace with the best and brightest U.S. college students. He is among a growing list of current students and recent graduates who have been awarded nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships.

Last year, UB students or recent graduates garnered a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Defense and seven Fulbright fellowships, in addition to the Udall scholarship.

This year, in addition to Krolikowski, UB’s other national award winners are Bradley Cheetham, UB’s third Goldwater Scholar in four years; Kelly Miller and Stacy Pustulka, who won National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships; and Dale Hess, a geology student who won a Fulbright Fellowship.

And the tally may not be complete—at Reporter press time, administrators in the University Honors College were still waiting to hear if UB nominees had won Department of Defense National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowships and/or another Fulbright fellowship.

Moreover, several other UB students or recent graduates received honorable mention for the NSF fellowship and the Goldwater scholarship this year.

“I know the entire University at Buffalo community is exceedingly proud that these remarkable students have been nationally recognized as outstanding students, researchers, scholars and educators,” says Satish K. Tripathi, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “UB's broad array of transformational educational opportunities, in concert with the caring mentorship of our faculty and professional staff, have greatly facilitated the success of our student award recipients and nominees.

“These students, and their unwavering desire to make lasting contributions to our regional and world communities, demonstrate how disciplinary knowledge learned and appreciated from a global perspective can change their own lives, as well as positively impact the lives of many others,” Tripathi adds.

Identifying UB’s “Scholars of Excellence”—those students who are nominated for nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships—remains a key focus of the University Honors College, according to Hadar Borden, assistant administrative director of the college. Members of the Honors College staff meet with individual departments, as well as with faculty advisors, to identify good candidates for these competitions, get the word out to students about these programs and encourage students to apply.

New to the process this year, Borden says, are faculty committees for some of these scholarships—notably the Udall, Goldwater and Truman scholarships. These scholarship nominating committees were formed to “raise awareness of these awards with faculty, students and staff, and to select students to be UB’s nominees for the various competitions,” she says. The committees also provide recommendations on student recruitment initiatives for the awards, read self-nomination applications, interview potential candidates when necessary, and discuss and select nominees to represent the university in these competitions.

For example, the Truman committee coordinated mock interviews on campus to help prepare Krolikowski for his formal interview for the scholarship. About 15 faculty and staff from across the university participated in the exercise, Borden says, noting that even though Krolikowski did not win a Truman scholarship—only 65 Truman scholars were selected from the 200 finalists who were chosen from the total pool of about 600 nominees—“being selected as a finalist is a great honor and we haven't had a student reach that level of the competition since 1992.”

Truman scholarships are awarded to junior-level college students preparing for careers in public service.

Christopher A. Loretz, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and a member of the Goldwater committee, notes that faculty review committees can offer “a fresh eye” to the pre-application credentials of each student, especially the student’s personal statement of academic and career plans.

“The discussions of the pre-applications are thorough and thoughtful, reflecting the extraordinarily high quality and the diverse and unique experiences of UB’s most talented undergraduates,” Lortez says.

Among those talented undergraduates is Cheetham, one of 321 Goldwater scholars selected from 1,035 candidates in this year’s competition. Loretz says his “strong academic performance, his focused statement of future educational and career goals, and his convincing expression of personal interest and enthusiasm were all certain factors in his success.”

A junior studying mechanical and aerospace engineering, Cheetham plans to pursue an advanced degree in the field and to conduct research and teach space systems and space resources at a research university. A recipient of a NASA Space Grant Fellowship, he currently is researching engineering problems associated with returning to the moon. He will participate in the prestigious NASA Academy at Goddard Space Flight Center this summer.

Loretz explains that the objectives of the Goldwater program intersect that of the university: to engage more undergraduates in practical science and engineering research on campus.

The university also is collaborating with John McGuire of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, who can offer an insider’s view of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship process and perhaps give UB students an edge when applying for the fellowships. McGuire, a researcher in the RPCI Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics who reads NSF fellowship applications in the areas of biochemistry, biophysics and biostatistics, is willing to work with students to ensure that they present the best fellowship application they can.

“I know the kinds of things they (readers of fellowship applications) are looking for on an application—things that are not so apparent from the application,” McGuire says. He’s prepared a powerpoint presentation on the application process, and plans to conduct a workshop in late summer or early fall for students interested in submitting applications.

In addition, UB will host a National Association of Fellowship Advisors - Summer Regional Workshop this summer. The idea in hosting the workshop, Borden says, is to “increase our footprint in the fellowship and scholarship arena, and to establish relationships with other fellowship and scholarship advisors.

This year’s scholarship and fellowship winners are a varied group.

Krolikowski was selected as this year’s Udall scholar on the basis of his commitment to a career in the environment, his leadership potential and academic achievement. His work focuses on environmental justice, a social movement that aims to reduce the amount of environmental burdens, such as pollution, industrial contamination and crime, found in poor communities. His activities range from working on an irrigation system in Tanzania to developing a Western New York’s first environmental justice guidebook as an honors intern at UB’s Regional Institute.

Last year’s Udall winner from UB, Kelly Miller, continues to receive accolades, this time as a winner of a 2008 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. The fellowships support highly qualified students pursuing graduate study leading to research-based master’s or doctoral degrees in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Miller, a senior environmental engineering student, has been engaged since her freshman year in research and activism regarding world-wide water quality issues. She has worked to perfect a low-cost sand filter that would make cleaner drinking water in Third World countries and has given presentations for the World Water Forum. After graduation, Miller plans to work for six months with Greenpeace's Project Hot Seat Campaign as a field organizer and will enroll in the master’s program in engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in fall 2009.

Stacy Pustulka, who graduated from UB in December 2007 with a B.S. in chemical engineering and a minor in biotechnology, is UB’s other NSF fellow. She and Miller are two of 913 fellows selected from an applicant pool of 8,581. As an undergraduate, Pustulka performed research in the areas of tissue engineering and metabolic engineering. She received a Dean’s Fellowship and a James C. Meade Graduate Fellowship from Carnegie Mellon University, where she will begin her Ph.D. studies in chemical engineering this fall, focusing on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Recent UB graduates who join Miller and Pustulka as NSF Graduate Research Fellows are Christine Balonek, ’07, who is studying chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and Nicholas Polanto, ’00, who is studying ecology at Penn State. Balonek received honorable mention in the fellowship competition last year as a UB undergraduate. Receiving honorable mention in the competition this year were Michelle Kline, ’06, physical anthropology, UCLA; Zachary Lochner, ’07, electrical and electronic engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology; Stephanie Manka, ’03, ecology, University of Missouri-Columbia; and Stephan Pfetsch, ’07, computer engineering, Rice University.

Fulbright recipient Dale Hess is a doctoral student in the Department of Geology. His research projects involves the use of two distinctly individual disciplines—till micromorphology and geospatial analysis—to study the behavior of the ice sheet that covered Ontario approximately 10,000 years ago. He will work out of the lab of John Menzies of Brock University, a leading expert in the field of micromorphology.

Two UB students received honorable mention in the Goldwater competition. They are Sabrina L. Peczonczyk, a junior chemistry major, and Jacob Weiner, a junior studying chemical engineering and mathematics.

Stefani Bardin, who will graduate from UB next month with an M.F.A. in filmmaking, is a Fulbright alternate. She also was an alternate last year. Matthew Boeckmann, a graduating senior in history, is awaiting word on his Fulbright application for a teaching assistantship in Germany.