Campus News

Four UB students, alums awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

NSF awardees, from left, Destiny Diaz, Ty Santiago, Hailie Suk, Anthony Taboni.

UB-affiliated winners and honorable mention recipients of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships are (from left) Destiny Diaz, Ty Santiago, Hailie Suk and Anthony Taboni. Not pictured: Meghan Capeling, Matthew Falcone, Emily Bonacquisti and Izzy Starr. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published May 3, 2019

“Winning the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship has served as validation that the work I have put into my research is important. ”
Destiny Diaz, UB senior and recipient
NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Two UB students and two alumni have won the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship awards. Four other UB students received honorable mention.

The UB students join 14 from other SUNY campuses as winners of what is widely regarded as one of the most competitive and respected scientific fellowships in the U.S. The UB students earning honorable mention are among 12 from SUNY institutions to receive this honor.

“The National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowships are the most prestigious award for graduate students doing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees,” says Elizabeth Colucci, director of UB’s Office of Fellowships and Scholarships. “Our office works with rising seniors and graduate students as they apply for this award. 

“Over the past year, we’ve doubled the programming to prepare students to submit strong applications. We target incoming doctoral students with an August program, and then one for rising seniors and graduate students in the spring. Students who have participated in these programs turn in higher-quality applications.” 

Each Graduate Research Fellowship provides three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period, which amounts to a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution. That support is for graduate study that leads to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree in a STEM field.

UB’s four Graduate Research Fellowship winners are:

Meghan Capeling, who graduated from UB in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical and biological engineering, is now a graduate student at the University of Michigan studying biomedical engineering. While at UB, Capeling was an Honors College Presidential Scholar and a 2017 recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. 

Destiny Diaz is completing a BS in mathematics with a minor in Spanish at UB; she will pursue graduate study in cancer science at UB.

Diaz is a recipient of a 2019 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. A Buffalo native, she is a member of the University Honors College and a Prosperity Fellow. 

“Winning the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship has served as validation that the work I have put into my research is important,” Diaz says. “This award makes a difference in my career because it allows me to expand upon my passion for research. I feel very honored and blessed to be named a fellow.

“It means a significant amount to me that my hard work and my research interests are recognized at this level.”

Diaz has conducted funded research through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, an NSF-funded program. She also has participated in research in the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

Matthew Falcone, a 2018 graduate of UB, has won the Graduate Research Fellowship in his first year at the University of Colorado at Boulder after earning an honorable mention for the fellowship as a senior at UB.

A native of West Seneca, Falcone earned a double bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and civil engineering. While at UB, was an Honors College Scholar whose research was titled “Constructability Assessment of Parabolic Solar Troughs for Household-Scale Sustainable Drinking Water Disinfection.” Falcone worked on the Tonawanda Coke Soil Study and travelled to Tanzania to study water treatment. 

Amherst resident Hailie Suk is a UB doctoral student in mechanical engineering. She graduated from UB in 2017 with a degree in environmental engineering and was a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. Suk is an Arthur A. Schomburg Fellow and a SUNY Diversity in Graduate Education Fellow. She participated in a research experience as an undergraduate at UB, monitoring water quality at Lake Erie beaches through microbial source tracking methods. 

Suk says she is “incredibly grateful and humbled” to receive this award.

“The support offered through this fellowship enables me to enhance my research and work toward making a difference in the world through sustainable energy systems,” she says. “As a growing researcher and scholar, I am also grateful for the continued support I have received from my professors and mentors in the school of engineering. I am honored and excited to receive this opportunity and complete my research at the University at Buffalo.”

Suk is currently working with John Hall, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, where she focuses her work on sustainable design life with respect to microgrids and alternative energy systems. Suk was president of Engineers for a Sustainable World and has been a student mentor for several courses in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. 

The four UB students to receive Graduate Research Fellowship honorable mention are:

Tonawanda resident Anthony Taboni will graduate from UB with a BA in mathematics and political science. A UB Honors College Presidential Scholar, Talboni is a recipient of a 2019 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, as well as the Robert Stern Award for the best undergraduate political science paper. He worked as a research assistant with Rachael Hinkle, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, contributing to an analysis of publishing decisions made by U.S. Courts of Appeals. Taboni will attend Princeton University to pursue a PhD in political science, specializing in judicial politics.

Emily Bonacquisti of Orchard Park is pursuing a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences at UB. Bonacquisti is working with Juliane Nguyen, associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, to explore the role of Connexin 43 in nucleic acid delivery using cells and exosomes via stable overexpression using lentivirus. Bonacquisti presented a paper, “Utilizing EXO-Codes to Increase Loading of Therapeutic RNA Cargo into Exosomes,” at a Gordon Research Conference: Drug Carriers in Medicine and Biology.

She graduated magna cum laude from UB in 2017 with a BS in biological sciences. As an undergraduate, she conducted research in the Department of Biological Sciences, completed a Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences (CLIMB) Summer Fellowship and did research at Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.  

Izzy Starr, a second-year UB doctoral student in biological sciences, uses computing to study how microbes living on human skin impact immunity. Starr was also recently awarded the Ada Lovelace Fellowship, a prestigious fellowship from Microsoft Research. Starr is one of the first five students to receive this award, which “aims to increase the pipeline of diverse talent receiving advanced degrees in computing-related fields by providing a research funding for doctoral students from groups underrepresented in computing.”

Starr is an Arthur A. Schomburg Fellow and a SUNY Diversity in Graduate Education Fellow. She graduated from Wellesley College and then spent a year as a Fulbright Research Grantee to Turkey.

Ty Santiago, a graduate of SUNY Potsdam, is pursuing a PhD in chemistry at UB.  As an undergraduate, Santiago did research analyzing the effect of nanocarriers on living tissue. As a second year PhD student, he is working on developing an instrument capable of performing vibrational sum-frequency generation non-linear spectroscopy in both reflection and scattering modes. He also works with his graduate research adviser, Luis Velarde, assistant professor of chemistry, and a local high school to develop hands-on experiments for high school students to inspire them to pursue careers in STEM fields. Santiago is a CLIMB scholar.

Founded in 1951, the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship is the country’s oldest fellowship program that directly supports graduate students in various STEM fields. The research fellowships program was established early in the foundation's history, to encourage the best basic research and ensure a comprehensive research program.

This year, fellowships were awarded to 2,050 students around the country, with more than 1,500 students receiving honorable mentions.