Students Earn National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

Fourteen UConn students and alumni have earned National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

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L-R, Brandon D'Agostino, Joshua Dupont, Berk Alpay, Caroline Donaghy

A UConn undergraduate, three graduate students, and 10 alumni have earned National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships (NSF-GRFP).

The oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the NSF-GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding students in NSF-supported disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited institutions in the United States. In addition to a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, plus another $12,000 paid to the student’s home institution, fellows have access to a wide range of professional development opportunities over the course of their graduate careers.

The Graduate Research Fellowships are highly competitive, with annual acceptance rates of about 16% from among more than 12,000 applicants.

“The NSF-GRFP is the oldest and arguably most prestigious award of its type,” says Vin Moscardelli, Director of UConn’s Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships. “The number of UConn undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni who were recognized in this year’s competition is a testament to the hard work and commitment of UConn’s outstanding students and faculty.”

The number of recipients from UConn has been on the rise over the years, with an average of 5.75 recipients from 2012-2015, and now an average of 11.5 in the years since.

“It is wonderful to see UConn students selected for this prestigious and increasingly competitive award,” says Rowena Grainger, the STEM Fellowships Advisor in the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships. “With the NSF-GRFP’s focus on broader impacts, students are not only recognized for their academic and scholarly promise but their commitment to making an impact beyond their research endeavors. In applying for the NSF GRFP, students have the opportunity to clarify their goals, improve their writing skills, and manage the critical application feedback process. These are skills that they will continue to build on in their graduate careers and beyond.”

The undergraduate recipient is:

Berk Ata Alpay ‘21 (ENG, CLAS), of South Windsor, who is graduating this spring with a dual degree in computer science and math. Alpay began his research career at the UConn’s Eversource Energy Center and interned at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin, Germany, during the summer of 2019.

Alpay is currently conducting computational biology research in the Aguiar Lab at UConn and the Marks Lab at Harvard Medical School. He has published two papers under the guidance of his mentors – professors Emmanouil Anagnostou, DavidWanik, and Derek Aguiar. Alpay is a STEM, Holster and University Scholar at UConn and he received a Goldwater Scholarship in 2019.

Alpay is deciding between starting his doctorate in systems biology at Harvard or computer science at Stanford in the fall of 2021.

The three graduate student recipients are:

Caroline Donaghy, a first-year graduate student in the chemistry department within the Angeles-Boza research group at UConn. She received her Bachelor of Science in chemistry at Appalachian State University.

Donaghy started research her sophomore year of her undergraduate career exploring the disciplines of optics, quantum mechanics, and biochemistry to utilize biophysical chemistry techniques to study various biological systems. Some of the research Donaghy conducted has been published in ACS: Omega.

While at Appalachian State, she worked under Samuella Sigmann, the former chair for the American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Health and Safety. Donaghy was the Department of Chemistry’s stockroom technician, where she became well versed on the major paradigms in building better chemical health and safety.

Upon joining the Angeles-Boza research group at UConn, she has started projects studying the antioxidant applications for a class of peptides, as well as exploring potential use of antimicrobial peptides in the design of a safe, green pesticide. She will continue these projects working with undergraduate student Nichali Bogues ’22 (CLAS).

Brandon D’Agostino ’20 (ENG), of Milford, is a first-year graduate student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. D’Agostino’s foray into academic research began in the summer of 2019 via a NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) fellowship in Professor Omer Khan’s Computer Architecture Group at UConn.

Since his initial stint that summer, D’Agostino has remained engaged in research with Khan as a research assistant. D’Agostino contributed to IRONHIDE, a secure multicore architecture that efficiently mitigates microarchitecture state based side-channel attacks in microprocessors. That research was presented at the 2020 IEEE International Symposium on High-Performance Computer Architecture.

D’Agostino co-authored OPTIMUS, a security-centric dynamic hardware partitioning scheduler for secure processors, which was published in 2020 at the IEEE Transactions on Computers. He is also a tutor in UConn’s chapter of IEEE Eta Kappa Nu (IEEE-HKN), the electrical engineering honor society.

He has held two summer co-ops in Moog, Inc., an international designer, manufacturer, and integrator of precision control components and systems for aerospace, defense, industrial, and medical applications.

Joshua Dupont ’20, ’21 (ENG) , of Windham, is a first-year doctoral student in the Department of  Mechanical Engineering in the Dynamics Sensing and Control (DSCL) Lab of Professor Jiong Tang.

Dupont earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from UConn in 2020 and will also be earning one in electrical engineering in 2021, which he has pursued concurrently with his graduate studies.

As an undergraduate, Dupont was president of UConn’s Navy STEM Program. Dupont has been involved in a number of research activities, including an internship at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I. In UConn’s DSCL Lab, Dupont plans to explore the synthesis of adaptive piezoelectric metamaterials for arbitrary manipulation and control of vibrations, with applications in energy harvesting, vibration isolation, and structural damage detection.

Ten additional UConn alumni who are now pursuing graduate studies elsewhere also earned NSF Graduate Research Fellowships:

Virginia Blessing ’19 (ENG), who is a graduate research assistant in computer science and artificial intelligence at MIT; Andrea Naranjo-Soledad ’19 (ENG), who is a graduate student in environmental engineering at the University of California-Berkeley; Nataliya Nechyporenko ’15 (ENG), who is currently a robotics software engineer in the San Francisco area; Victoria Reichelderfer ’20 (ENG), who is a graduate research assistant at the University of Colorado; Srishti Sadhir ’20 (CLAS), who is a doctoral student in evolutionary anthropology at Duke University; Alison Salamatian ’18 (CLAS), who is a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Rochester; Samuel Sledzieski ’19 (ENG), who is a doctoral student in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT; Fernanda Sulantay  ’20 (ENG), who currently a doctoral student in chemical engineering at Yale University; Meagan Sundstrom ’19 (CLAS), who is a doctoral student in physics at Cornell University; and Renukanandan Tumu ’20 (ENG), who is a doctoral student in computer science at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Office of National Scholarships & Fellowships (ONSF) is a resource for students interested in learning more about the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and other prestigious scholarships and fellowships that support graduate study in all fields. ONSF is part of Enrichment Programs and is open to all graduate and undergraduate students at the University, including students at the regional campuses. For more information about STEM fellowships specifically, contact Rowena Grainger, STEM Fellowships Advisor.