The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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ChE Undergrads Earn Esteemed NSF Fellowships

Chemical engineering undergraduates Kathryn Geldart and Sarena Horava have both received one of the country’s most highly sought-after fellowships, the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship, worth more than $40,000 annually for three years. The fellowship is based on each candidate’s overall undergraduate record, including academics, research experience, internships, awards, publications, college activities, and a research proposal based on the kind of work that might be conducted in graduate school. Geldart will use her NSF fellowship at either the University of Minnesota or the University of Wisconsin, while Horava will be attending the University of Texas Austin.

The NSF funding made both Geldart and Horava instantly popular at the universities where they had applied. “On the day the fellowship was announced,” exclaimed Geldart, “we got bombarded with emails from the schools we were considering.”

The NSF fellowship includes a yearly living stipend of $30,000, an annual $10,500 cost-of-education allowance to the institution, built-in international research opportunities, access to the TeraGrid Supercomputer, and an incentive for universities to kick in additional fellowship monies. For example, the University of Texas Austin has already added $9,000 in fellowship support to Horava’s graduate education, while Geldart was offered a similar $10,000 fellowship by a school she chose not to attend.

Besides the dependable source of NSF support, another benefit of the prestigious NSF fellowship is that the two women will be able to pick and choose what kind of research they want to do and in which labs.

“The fellowship makes it so you can essentially work in the research lab of the professor of your choice,” explains Geldart. “People are going to want you there because they don’t have to pay for you.”

Horava adds that “You can work with your professor to develop a new project for yourself. I was talking with one professor the other day, and he said he could make it so I could do a riskier project so, if it works, it would be very high impact. I said, ‘sure, why not?’”

Both fellowship recipients are extremely well-qualified. Geldart carries a 4.0 GPA and has receivedan Undergraduate Organic Chemistry Award (top four of ~360 students), a Chemistry Resource Center Freshman Chemistry Award, and a Claude West Scholarship for Engineering Students. She has done research on production of the anti-cancer compound Taxol® in plant cell cultures in the lab of UMass Chemical Engineering Professor Susan Roberts, and on the pyrolysis of rice straw during a summer project at the University of Colorado. She was also a Protein Purification Intern at Shire Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Horava has earned a 3.9 GPA and has received undergraduate funding from the University Scholars fund, the Engineering Scholarship Fund, the Eric and Charlene Patey Chemical Engineering Scholarship fund, and Commonwealth Honors College Research Assistant Fellowships and Research Grant program. She also did research with Professor Roberts on biomaterial design for tissue engineering, in addition to summer research at the University of California Berkeley on re-engineering bacterial compartments for pharmaceutical and biofuel production,and at the University of Pennsylvania on bioengineering research related to intervertebral disc degeneration and restoration. Horava also has journal publications in Acta Biomaterialia and theE Cells & Materials Journal.   

“These two young women are exceptional students and scholars and represent the future generation of leaders in the field of bioengineering,” says Professor Roberts. “Their intellect, hard work, creativity, and collegiality made it a pleasure to serve as their research advisor, and I am confident that this prestigious fellowship will be the first of many awards to come in their graduate careers and beyond!” (April 2012)

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