UConn Students Earn NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

The program supports outstanding students in NSF-supported disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees

Cynthia Webster and Charlotte Chen, recipients of prestigious NSF awards.

Cynthia Webster (left) and Charlotte Chen (right), seen here posing for a photo in front of Wilbur Cross on April 24, 2024, are among the UConn students who earned a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF-GRFP) grant this year. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

A total of 10 students with ties to the University of Connecticut have recently earned National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships (NSF-GRFP). Those 10 include three undergraduates, three graduate students (including two who earned their undergraduate degrees at UConn) and four UConn alumni.

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 $37,000, 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 application for the NSF-GRFP is extremely demanding. To succeed, students must be able to articulate themselves not only as researchers, but as future leaders in their academic disciplines,” says Vin Moscardelli, director of UConn’s Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships. “This year’s results once again reveal the combination of talent, ambition, and support that exists here at UConn.”

UConn’s 10 recipients lead all New England public universities for 2024. UConn has produced at least ten NSF-GRFP recipients in eight of the past nine years. The school also had nine students, five graduate and four alumni, who earned honorable mention laurels in this cycle.

“The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is truly a great achievement,” says Pamir Alpay, UConn’s vice president for research, innovation and entrepreneurship. “It acknowledges our students’ talent and their potential to shape the future of science and technology. More than that, UConn’s GRFP recipients reflect our commitment to excellence and offering outstanding research opportunities to our students. Our students are competitive for the GRFP because of the sustained hard work our exceptional faculty have put into building our research programs and sharing their expertise with our students.”

The three UConn graduate student recipients are:

Lorraine Pérez-Beauchamp ‘23 (CLAS) earned her undergraduate degree from UConn in biological sciences. She is a first-year graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology, and her faculty mentor is associate professor Sarah Knutie. Pérez-Beauchamp is currently performing research in the Galápagos Islands.

Cynthia Webster ’20 (CLAS) is in her second year as graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology, working under the direction of associate professor Jill Wegrzyn. Her research interests reside at the intersection of computational biology, genome evolution, and conservation genetics. In her fellowship, she will build the first pangenome for the butternut, which is endangered due to its low tolerance to a non-native fungal pathogen.

“In graduate school, it’s common to experience imposter syndrome and question whether you’re making a significant contribution to society,” says Webster. “So many talented individuals apply for the GRFP each year, but only a handful are awarded. As a young scientist, this recognition is incredibly validating.”

Bre-Anna Willis is a first-year graduate student in chemistry studying chemical synthesis. Her faculty mentor is associate professor of chemistry Gaël Ung. Willis earned her undergraduate degree in 2023 from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

The three UConn undergraduate recipients are:

Charlotte Chen ’24 (ENG & CLAS) is a senior from Weston, pursuing dual degrees in materials science & engineering and molecular & cell biology.  Her research in the lab of associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering Kelly Burke aims to modify silk films with antibacterial monomers to potentially prevent catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

“Being awarded an NSF-GRFP means that I get a lot more freedom with my doctoral studies– what my research project is, who my research advisors are, and where I want to conduct the research,” says Chen.

She will be a doctoral student at Brown in the fall to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering with the long-term goal of a career in the biotech industry.

Sila Inanoglu ’24 (CLAS) is an ecology major and her faculty mentor is also Knutie. She is a member of Knutie’s lab this year and is working on the group’s Nest Parasite Community Science project. Her research investigates the direct and indirect effects of alpha-pinene, the volatile compound in pine needles, on ectoparasite resistance in tree swallows. After graduation, she will be staying a UConn as a doctoral student in Knutie’s lab.

“Winning the NSF-GRFP feels surreal,” says Inanoglu. “I did not even pursue STEM until my sophomore year at UConn and being awarded the NSF-GRFP has made me realize how far I have come. Being in this field as a student and researcher has been some of the most fulfilling and exciting work I have gotten to do. I am beyond excited to be able to continue my research and scientific outreach goals with NSF’s support.”

Paxton Tomko ’24 (CLAS) is a molecular and cell biology major and her faculty mentor is Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology/Microbiology Geo Santiago-Martínez. In the fall, she will be starting a master’s in oceanography at UConn Avery Point, working with Professor of Marine Sciences Pieter Visscher. Tomko’s research interests are in geobiology and astrobiology and is interested in stromatolites as biosignatures and the role that methanogens play in microbial mats.

The four UConn alumni who earned NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are Brigid Bernier ’23 (CLAS), who is now a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma; Samuel Degnan-Morgenstern ’22 (ENG), who is now a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Jackson Kaszas ’23 (ENG), who is now a graduate student at Rutgers University; and Rebecca Lee ’22 (ENG), who is now a graduate student at the University of Texas.


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 contact Vin Moscardelli, Director of UConn’s Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships.