University of Virginia Graduate Students Secure Esteemed NSF Fellowships

May 6, 2008 — Three top University of Virginia graduate students have earned prestigious National Science Foundation fellowships.

Justin Henriques, David Hondula and Isabelle Stanton are among a select group of 913 students nationwide who were awarded financial support through the NSF's Graduate Research Fellowship Program. This funding is highly competitive and is geared toward students in the early stages of graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Fellows receive three years of funding to support their research endeavors, which includes a tuition payment as well as a $30,000 annual stipend.

"This year's fellows are addressing highly relevant social and environmental problems through their research," says Roseanne Ford, associate vice president for research and graduate studies. "Their extraordinary scholarship brings U.Va. recognition, but more importantly, it may have significant, practical applications for society."

The fellows and their resaearch:

Justin Henriques, Systems and Information Engineering (Adviser: Garrick Louis)

Henriques, a master's student in systems and information engineering, is working to create a decision support model to assist developing communities in determining appropriate and sustainable technologies to ensure safe drinking water and sanitation services. Henriques' research will build on Capacity Factor Analysis, a systems analysis technique developed by his advisor, associate professor Garrick Louis. Since 1.1 billion people lack access to safe water, and over 2.4 billion lack access to safe sanitation services, this is a significant global challenge.

The NSF review panel commended Henriques on his technical background, demonstrated commitment to the application of his engineering training for the greater good, and his well-presented research statement. In the words of one reviewer, "This application is the embodiment of all the core and guiding principles of the Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Extraordinary vision and commitment to service and the transformation of society."

David Hondula, Environmental Sciences (Adviser: Robert Davis)

Hondula, a master's student in atmospheric science in the Department of Environmental Sciences, is investigating the impacts of weather and climate on the respiratory health of residents of Washington, D.C.

"I think one of the strengths of David's proposal is that declining respiratory health is an emerging environmental problem," said professor Robert Davis, Hondula's adviser.

Hondula will examine the interrelationships between the many environmental causes of respiratory distress, including weather, pollution and pollen. "This is an important project because conditions like asthma and bronchitis are related to a wide variety of both indoor and outdoor factors," Davis said. "Uncovering the interactions between these factors requires a talented researcher like Dave who not only has a strong atmospheric science background but also interdisciplinary interests that go beyond that training."

Hondula says his ultimate goal is to create a predictive model that will alert the public to the onset of high-risk events up to 48 hours in advance.

Isabelle Stanton, Computer Science (Adviser: Nina Mishra)

Doctoral candidate Isabelle Stanton's computer science research is working to address privacy challenges brought on by online social networking — including interactions through instant messaging, e-mails, and Web sites like Facebook.

She is developing algorithms that allow representations, or social graphs, of who interacts with who to be released while still preserving user privacy. Stanton's findings may have tremendous practical value in a wide variety of fields, from sociology to marketing.