More UB Students Winning Nationally Competitive Scholarships, Fellowships

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: May 30, 2007 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It's been a particularly busy spring for Kelly Miller.

On April 27, the environmental engineering major who will enter her senior year in the fall introduced former vice president Al Gore to an audience of high school and UB students before the first of two presentations Gore made in Alumni Arena on global warming and climate change. Her work on perfecting a low-cost sand filter designed to make cleaner drinking water in Third World countries was featured in a video on student research that was shown before Gore took the stage.

The weekend of May 19, she traveled to Calgary to attend a workshop on the technical aspects of Biosand filter programs. After her training in Canada, she left for Honduras, where she will spend about eight weeks observing and evaluating Biosand filter projects in the Central American country.

And in between Calgary and Honduras, she went to Tucson, Ariz., for orientation as the only SUNY representative among 80 Morris K. Udall Scholars for 2007.

Miller is one of an increasing number of UB students who are winning nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships. This year, 10 UB graduate and undergraduate students, or recent graduates, have been awarded scholarships and fellowships ranging from the Udall and Barry M. Goldwater scholarships to Fulbright fellowships and the Department of Defense National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.

UB also has four students who received honorable mention in the competition for National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships and an alternate in the Fulbright competition.

While UB has had some success in these competitions, the university is "ramping up" its efforts to ensure that more students apply for -- and win -- these awards.

"I think this year's result is just the tip of the iceberg," Patrick McDevitt, associate professor in the Department of History, College of Arts and Sciences, and Fulbright adviser, said of UB's eight finalists—and seven winners—in this year's student Fulbright competition. "We have phenomenal talent on this campus, and the more we can encourage students to strive for these types of grants, the more success we'll have."

Satish K. Tripathi, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, attributes UB's increasing success in these national competitions to a combination of more motivated students and more direct outreach to these students from the university, particularly the University Honors Program.

Moreover, more undergraduate students are engaged in research, an important requirement for most of these award competitions.

"Students are becoming more sophisticated," Tripathi said. "They are seeing a connection between their classroom experiences and problems in the world. They have the knowledge, skills and genuine interest to do something about vexing societal problems. With the mentoring of faculty, they are able to do research that can be applied for the benefit of their community and the world."

Josephine A. Capuana, administrative director of the University Honors Program, agreed that more student involvement in research is key to winning these scholarships and fellowships.

"A lot of these scholarships -- the NSF fellowships, the DOD fellowships, the Goldwater and Udall scholarships -- require students to have had an extensive amount of research work," Capuana said. "We're trying to promote research at a much earlier stage in students' undergraduate careers."

Some students, like Miller, develop research interests in high school and continue them at UB, Capuana said. Others, like Goldwater recipient Andrew Paluch, who is completing a double major in chemical and biological engineering and mathematics, connect with faculty and begin doing research early in their college careers, she added.

Paluch spent last summer at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks as part of the National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program. He is one of 317 students out of 1,100 competitive applicants to receive a prestigious 2007 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, awarded to sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue advanced degrees in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.

While at the arctic research center, Paluch developed the first successful technique to determine the pH of solid snow on a molecular level—especially critical because mercury deposition has played a major role in the decline of the polar bear population, prompting Native people to change their way of life. He plans to return to Alaska this summer to continue his work.

Identifying students like Miller and Paluch is a key goal of the Honors Program, Capuana said. The office is working with faculty to find students who are good candidates for these competitive scholarships and fellowships—students who are involved in research and who have high grade-point averages.

"We want to identify these students earlier in their UB careers so we can get them in the pipeline to ensure that they have the kinds of experiences they need to be competitive for these scholarships and fellowships," she said. "We want to go up against the best as one of the best."

Capuana noted that members of the Honors Program staff have been meeting with the 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. Staff then works closely with the candidates to help them prepare a competitive resume, as well as a top-notch application.

Faculty members are critically important to the process, which, Capuana says, must be a "cooperative venture between faculty, students and the Honors Program to put the whole package together."

She pointed out that although many of these competition winners are members of the Honors Program, any UB student may apply for these awards.

McDevitt noted that students may be reluctant to apply "because they sell themselves short."

"However, they'll never know unless they apply. Equally important, the application process is a learning experience itself, even if it's not successful."

In addition to Miller and Paluch, other recent UB "scholars of excellence" --students who have represented UB in nationally competitive scholarship and fellowship competitions – include Danelle C. Schrader, B.S. '06, winner of a 2007 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Defense. Schrader, a 2005 Goldwater scholarship recipient, is pursuing a graduate degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University.

Four UB students received honorable mention in the competition for NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. They are Michael S. Andrle, aeronautical and aerospace engineering; Christine M. Balonek, chemical and biological engineering; Mark J. Cianchetti, a 2006 UB computer science and engineering graduate currently pursuing graduate studies at Cornell; and Christopher L. Wirth, chemical and biological engineering.

The seven UB students and recent graduates who have received 2007-08 student Fulbright grants and the countries where they will serve their fellowships are Benjamin Costello, a doctoral candidate in classics, Cyprus; N. Andrew Walsh, a doctoral candidate in music, Germany; Melinda Wright, a graduating senior, Burkina Faso; graduating senior Karen Corey, Germany; Jason Almonte, a graduating law student, Canada; Roderick Salisbury, a doctoral student in anthropology, Hungary; and Elias Rotsos, a doctoral candidate in anthropology, Greece. Stefani Bardin, a doctoral candidate in media study who plans to study filmmaking in Germany, is the alternate.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 27,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.