Nine Students Win National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship recipients (from left) Justin Svegliato,  Kaitlyn Suarez, Robert Enright, Priscilla Hernandez and Luis Aguirre. Not pictured: Leigh Hamlet, Tannuja Rozario and Emil Samson. (Will Kazmier photo)
NSF Graduate Research Fellowship recipients (from left) Justin Svegliato, Kaitlyn Suarez, Robert Enright, Priscilla Hernandez and Luis Aguirre. Not pictured: Leigh Hamlet, Tannuja Rozario and Emil Samson. (Will Kazmier photo)

For the third consecutive year, UMass Amherst has finished as the third leading institutional producer of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship recipients among Massachusetts colleges and universities. Nine UMass representatives—including seven graduate students and one undergraduate—have won the fellowships in the 2017-18 competition, placing the university behind only Harvard and MIT in the statewide rankings.

Three-year awards providing an annual stipend of $34,000 to recipients and a yearly $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to their graduate institutions, Graduate Research Fellowships support the master’s and doctoral training of academically talented students pursuing careers in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This year’s cohort of 2,000 Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) awardees was selected from an applicant pool comprised of more than 12,000 students. The fellowship program’s application success rate of 16.7 percent makes it one of the most competitive graduate-level funding initiatives in the country.

The 2017-18 NSF Graduate Research Fellows are:

  • Luis Aguirre, graduate student, organismic and evolutionary biology

  • Shelby Cox, undergraduate, mathematics and statistics

  • Robert Enright, graduate student, polymer science and engineering

  • Leigh Hamlet, undergraduate, civil engineering

  • Priscilla Hernandez, graduate student, sociology

  • Tannuja Rozario, graduate student, sociology

  • Emil Samson, graduate student, chemistry

  • Kaitlyn Suarez, graduate student, geosciences

  • Justin Svegliato, graduate student, computer science

“I am thrilled that UMass graduate students have played a decisive role in propelling the university to an excellent showing in this year’s Graduate Research Fellowship competition,” said Barbara Krauthamer, dean of the Graduate School. “Their terrific performance in a highly selective application process vividly illustrates the high caliber of students who are drawn to UMass for graduate study. I congratulate all of our new Graduate Research Fellows on their outstanding work in being chosen for this highly prestigious honor.”

Although sociology was the lone academic department with multiple GRF recipients—students from that department claimed two awards—almost all of the successful UMass applications shared a common feature. Of the seven winning proposals submitted by UMass graduate students, six were strengthened with assistance from the Graduate School’s Office of Professional Development (OPD).

“The results of this year’s GRF competition serve as an unequivocal endorsement of the Graduate School’s investment in catalyzing student success through the Office of Professional Development,” Krauthamer said. “Prior to the fall GRF application deadline, OPD offered a wide array of programming—such as information sessions, peer-review application workshops, and one-on-one coaching sessions—designed specifically to ensure that UMass students submitted highly competitive proposals for the award. This strategy clearly paid off.”

According to Krauthamer, the Graduate Research Fellowship competition results also demonstrate that a second major UMass investment in graduate student success, the Graduate School’s Research Enhancement and Leadership (REAL) Fellowship program, has begun to reap significant dividends for the university. A recruiting and career development initiative serving underrepresented students in the social sciences, humanities and other related disciplines, the REAL program provides enhanced financial support and professional development opportunities to recipients.

“Although the REAL program was launched less than two years ago, it has already achieved one of its principal goals by attracting dozens of stellar graduate students from diverse backgrounds to UMass,” Krauthamer said. “I was delighted to learn that second-year REAL fellow Tannuja Rozario and first-year REAL fellow Priscilla Hernandez, both of the sociology department, have won Graduate Research Fellowships. And I am confident that additional REAL fellows will experience similar degrees of success in other national fellowship competitions as their UMass careers evolve. By excelling in these competitions, REAL fellows will not only improve their career prospects, but they will also significantly elevate the university’s reputation as a leading public research institution.”

Although GRF recipients were only recently announced, Krauthamer emphasizes that graduate students interested in applying for the 2018-19 award should begin planning now to participate in the upcoming OPD GRF workshop series, which will begin on May 15 with an overview of successful proposal strategies.  “The spring and summer are an ideal time to begin strategizing for assembling a GRF proposal,” Krauthamer said. “Initiating an application now will afford students ample time to develop their materials and benefit from the immense expertise offered by the Office of Professional Development. As recent experience shows, OPD is a vital resource for helping students thrive in a fiercely competitive external funding environment.”

This story was updated April 20 to include Shelby Cox, who name was inadvertently omitted in the original story.