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National fellowship supports tomorrow’s engineering leaders

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program logo on an abstract gold background.

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program supports students who show promise to become research, teaching and innovation leaders. This year, fellowship awardees include students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, while others from universities across the country decide to come to the Fulton Schools to pursue their graduate research. Graphic by Lucas Schneider/ASU

June 17, 2020

Every year since 1952, competitive graduate students from all over the country apply for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Those selected fellows can choose to attend any accredited U.S. university to conduct their research. 

As they have for years, the NSF selects graduate students from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University to participate in the prestigious program, many of whom elect to remain at ASU because of their previous research experience, access to award-winning faculty and the wealth of experiences they gain by conducting research in one of the nation’s most comprehensive engineering programs. Fellows from universities across the country choose to come to the Fulton Schools to fulfill their fellowship for the same reasons.

In the fall, approximately 15 students will be conducting their NSF GRFP fellowships at the Fulton Schools, conducting research on a variety of engineering and STEM education topics.

The NSF GRFP fellows are seen as budding experts who “can contribute significantly to research, teaching and innovations in science and engineering.” The five-year fellowship program funds graduate students with a three-year stipend of $34,000 plus a $12,000 allowance for education costs.

The financial support and freedom to choose the institution best suited to them is crucial to enabling many students to focus on their research, often on advanced experimental topics, and relieves the need of maintaining a separate job outside the university during their graduate studies.

The ASU Graduate College administers the award for fellows who attend ASU and provides a $750 allowance per tenure year to support their research, in addition to funding for tuition, fees and health insurance.

To further assist ASU students applying for the NSF GRFP program, the ASU Office of Distinguished Graduate Fellowships developed a one-on-one advising and mentorship service to help students produce successful applications for the program.

Students chosen for the highly competitive program tend to go on to be highly successful in their careers. These students become professional and academic engineers who improve society through technological innovation and other advances that enhance national security and economic well-being. 

Graduate Research Fellows come to ASU for innovative research opportunities

Marion Bellier, who studies water desalination, came to ASU for graduate school after earning a bachelor’s degree in nanoscience from Virginia Tech.

“Finding a great mentor was key in my search to pursue my graduate studies and I was lucky to find a wonderful adviser, Francois Perreault,” Bellier said.

Perreault, an assistant professor of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the six Fulton Schools, was impressed by Bellier’s work and encouraged her to apply for the NSF GRFP one year into her graduate degree. Bellier wasn’t sure about her chances, but made the decision to apply a mere 15 seconds before the deadline. It paid off.

“Being named an NSF Graduate Research Fellow has shown that my previous research has not been insignificant and has given me unexpected recognition,” Bellier said.

Rachel Gorelik will be starting her graduate studies in materials science and engineering at ASU in the fall, after completing her bachelor’s degree in materials engineering from the University of Arizona. She was attracted to the Fulton Schools because of the many ongoing projects in innovative and fundamental research.

“The materials science and engineering faculty in particular have an emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration within their work, which was a significant part of my original decision to major in materials science and engineering,” Gorelik said.

With the fellowship, Gorelik says she looks forward to dedicating her time as a graduate student in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy to interesting and meaningful research that can advance the fundamental knowledge of energy storage.

Taking his Fulton Schools foundation to Stanford

Justin Huxel, who graduated from ASU in May with a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering, took advantage of research opportunities as an undergraduate that honed his skills in preparation for graduate school.

The summer before Huxel transferred to ASU from Central Arizona College, he participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates program in which he studied silicon processing for photovoltaics applications at the Nanotechnology Collaborative Infrastructure Southwest, the largest center for research, education and outreach on the societal aspects of nanotechnology in the world, which is based at ASU.

When he enrolled in the Fulton Schools, Huxel participated in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, conducting photovoltaics research with renowned solar energy researcher Zachary Holman, an associate professor of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering.

Being named an NSF Graduate Research Fellow is a recognition of Huxel’s determination, hard work and accomplishments.

This fall he will continue his research on perovskite solar cells at Stanford University to experience a different part of the country — out of the heat of the desert Southwest — and take advantage of Stanford's leading materials science research program.

Graduate Research Fellows see opportunities to advance research at ASU

ASU biomedical engineering graduate student and Graduate Research Fellow Jarrett Eshima began conducting biomarker research during his first year at ASU with Barbara Smith, a biomedical engineering assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering.

Eshima developed his research skills through work in the Smith Laboratory, through his Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative experience and as part of his biomedical engineering capstone project. His lab work, which included independent research and leadership roles, resulted in two research publications for which he is the lead author and three conference presentations. 

These accomplishments inspired a passion for research that Eshima believes was key to winning a GRFP fellowship.

“Throughout my undergraduate studies, I had many opportunities both in the laboratory and classroom to tackle problems and questions beyond my knowledge,” Eshima said. “The ability to work logically through unexpected challenges has proven to be a highly valuable skill in a research setting.”

He chose to conduct his fellowship at ASU because of “the overwhelmingly positive research environment in Dr. Smith’s lab and the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering in general.”

Like Eshima, ASU electrical engineering graduate student Brent Wallace was inspired to pursue research by an excellent mentor. Wallace founded an ASU rocketry organization in his first year at ASU, which sparked his love for designing and controlling high-performance vehicles, but he didn’t know much about the engineering behind this passion.

Once he met Armando Rodriguez, a professor of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, “the rest was history.”

“I visited the office hours of Dr. Rodriguez looking for answers,” Wallace said. “That was one of the most important conversations of my professional career.”

Rodriguez’s mentorship was the main reason Wallace chose to stay at the Fulton Schools for his fellowship.

“Dr. Rodriguez is the one who fostered my love of research and pulled all-nighters to help me craft a winning application,” Wallace said. “I owe my success to him and the ASU faculty. The choice of ASU was a no-brainer.”

Read more about the research conducted by some of the 2020 NSF GRFP engineering fellows and the opportunities the fellowship provides on Full Circle.

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