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NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program Recognizes A&S Students, Alums

By Whitney Hale

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 13, 2020) — The University of Kentucky Office of Nationally Competitive Awards has announced that five students and alumnae have been selected to receive government-funded National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships. In addition, six other UK students received honorable mention recognition from the foundation. Included among the recipients are College of Arts & Sciences alumni and current undergraduates. 

NSF Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees for a research-based master's or doctoral degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) field. Annually, the NSF awards approximately 1,500 fellowships from an applicant pool of over 12,000.

“I am sure I am only starting to imagine the opportunities in front of me thanks to this fellowship,” recipient Stephen Parsons said. “The stability provided by the fellowship will allow me to commit to long term, difficult problems in my existing research that have the highest impact. I am already looking forward to the partnerships I will be able to build, both inside UK and with other institutions. Since our research work is multidisciplinary, these relationships are critical to our success.”

Parsons has been working with Brent Seales’ team on the digital restoration of ancient artifacts, particularly focusing on the Herculaneum scrolls. As part of this research, he helps scan the scrolls using X-ray microtomography and then develops algorithms to analyze the resulting data in hopes of revealing hidden text. This will be one of the primary targets of Parson’s research under this fellowship.

Another recipient, James Tyler Nichols, is the leader of the Kentucky Re-entry Universal Payload System project.

“This award is allowing me the opportunity to have freedom in my doctoral research. I will be able to forge my own path in research and learning while attaining my Ph.D.,” he said. 

UK’s newest NSF fellows and the areas of research they will be pursuing are:

Almasalkhi said the award will fund research that is very personal to her, connecting her new California residence and her old Kentucky home.

“My research focuses on migration,” Almasalkhi said. “I was born in Louisville, but my parents had immigrated from Syria. I grew up with an acute awareness that my family was unique, and I felt a bond with others of immigrant background. Kentucky's vibrant immigrant community was ‘my’ community, even if our families came from different places. My experience of Kentucky has been very different from what most people outside the Commonwealth might expect, and that led me to be interested in the experiences of immigrants in 'unorthodox' destinations.

“For my current research project, I interviewed established members of the Syrian immigrant community in Louisville and in Los Angeles to compare and contrast how those two settings shape their civic and political engagement.”

Six other UK students received honorable mention recognition from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. The other students recognized were:

  • Pasama Cole-Kweli, an anthropology doctoral student from Chicago.
  • Hannah Dvorak, a 2020 chemical engineering graduate from Suamico, Wisconsin.
  • Angela Jones, a 2020 biology and chemistry graduate, Lewis Honors College member and Chellgren Fellow from Attica, New York.
  • Kyle Rawn, a doctoral student in psychology/developmental, social, and health from Knoxville, Tennesse.
  • Rebecca Westwick, an entomology doctoral student from Austin, Texas.
  • Maya Woolfolk, a 2020 biology graduate, Lewis Honors College member and Chellgren Fellow from Prospect, Kentucky.

The fellowship program has suppored graduate students directly since 1952. It is a critical program in the National Science Foundation's overall strategy to develop a globally engaged work force to ensure the nation's leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation. A hallmark of GRFP is its contribution to increasing the diversity of the STEM work force, including geographic distribution, as well as the participation of women, underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities and veterans.

The Office of Nationally Competitive Awards, part of the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence within the Division of Student and Academic Life, assists UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with the office well in advance of the scholarship deadline. Staff is available for virtual appointments to discuss opportunities for the 2020-2021 academic year and beyond.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.