Record Number of Graduate Students Win NSF Fellowships

May 25, 2010 — Fourteen University of Virginia graduate students will enjoy National Science Foundation fellowships beginning this fall – nearly three times the number of recipients awarded in four of the previous five years.

Additionally, five students who received bachelor's degrees on May 23 won fellowships, two of whom will pursue their graduate work at U.Va.

In each of the past five years, between three and five U.Va. graduate students won NSF Fellowships. This year's increase is "partly due to the increase in awards by the NSF, but the increase in graduate student recipients is greater than the increase in awards … so, we're pleased," said Dave Wolcott, assistant vice president for graduate studies.

NSF fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $30,000, along with a $10,500 annual cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees, a one-time $1,000 international travel allowance and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. or foreign institution of graduate education they choose.

The University sweetened the funding pot to attract four of the budding researchers with "Fellowship Enhancement for Outstanding Doctoral Candidates." The supplement is intended as an add-on to a department's or program's compensation package, which already includes a stipend, tuition and fees, and a health insurance subsidy. The additional support can be from $3,000 to $10,000.

"The fellowship enhancements are designed to assist departments in recruiting top students into their programs," said Roseanne Ford, associate vice president for graduate studies. "It's encouraging to see that departments are attracting excellent students to their programs, who then compete successfully for prestigious NSF fellowships.

"All this helps to raise the visibility of our graduate programs," she said.

Another factor in this year's fellowship increase may be a U.Va. workshop that focuses on the application process. For the third year, Pamela Norris, Frederick Tracy Morse Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and a one-time reviewer of NSF fellowship applications, led the workshop, which was sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research, and co-sponsored this year for the first time with the Center for Undergraduate Excellence.

Norris said she describes the review procedure, "emphasizing that the reviewers are going to be reading around 50 applications over the course of a few days." The clarity and excitement with which applicants describe their experiences and research are vitally important, she said

The applicants should keep in mind that the reviewers will not be specialists in their particular field of research, but rather scientists working in the general area, she said.

"Thus it is important for the applicant to describe the importance and broader impact of the research and to put it into context," Norris said.

For 2010, Congress approved an appropriation of almost $7 billion for the National Science Foundation, an increase of $436 million, or 6.7 percent, over the 2009 appropriation. As a result, the number of fellowships awarded nationally doubled, to 2,000 this year – up from an average of 1,000 in 2005 through 2008. Last year, 1,248 fellowships were given.

U.Va. graduate students with NSF Fellowships include:

•    Jeff Brantley, computer engineering
•    Ross Daniel Collins, systems engineering
•    Alexandra Emelina Coso, systems engineering
•    David Flood, cultural anthropology
•    Neal Patrick Fox, systems engineering
•    Paul Anthony Jensen, biomedical engineering
•    Adam Christopher Nichols-Nielander, inorganic chemistry
•    Soo Jung Shin, biomedical engineering
•    Eric Devin Smith, developmental psychology
•    Chelsi Jean Snow, biochemistry
•    Thomas Talhelm, social psychology
•    Kaycie Kuss Tayler, neuroscience and behavioral psychology
•    Michael Aaron Vedomske, systems engineering
•    Corlett Wood, animal behavior or evolution

Just-graduated U.Va. students receiving NSF Fellowships are:

•    Ben Chrisinger, who was a head Lawn resident and also won the Algernon Sydney Sullivan award. He will pursue his graduate work in urban and environmental planning at the U.Va. School of Architecture.
•    Timothy English, who graduated in mechanical and systems engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, will continue his graduate work there.
•    William Jacobs, an engineering science and physics major and a Goldwater scholar, is headed to Oxford University.
•    Elizabeth Martin, an aerospace engineering graduate, is going to Stanford University.
•    Jen Wilson, who studied biomedical engineering, will pursue her Ph.D. at MIT.

The National Science Foundation, created almost 50 years ago, aims to ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the United States and to reinforce its diversity.

— By Anne Bromley