Pitt | Swanson Engineering
15 Pitt Students Earn NSF Graduate Research Fellowships
Eight Swanson School students received a 2021 award, and two received an honorable mention
The prestigious fellowships provide stipends and other support for outstanding graduate students in STEM fields. Pitt’s prep programs helped this year’s awardees make their application packages shine. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)

Reposted from Pittwire. Click here to view the original story.

Fifteen Pitt graduate students have been selected for the 2021 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), which recognizes outstanding graduate students who are pursuing full-time research-based master's and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The prestigious award provides three years of support for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education. Its overall goal is to recruit individuals into STEM fields and to broaden participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering. 

Since its inception in 1952, the GRFP has supported more than 60,000 graduate students nationwide.

The NSF expects to award 1,600 Graduate Research Fellowships overall. Fellows are provided a $34,000 stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance each year.

Pitt’s 2021 awardees are:

  • Max Franklin Dudek, life sciences—computationally intensive research
  • Zachary Egolf, engineering—systems engineering
  • Hannah C. Geisler, engineering—biomedical engineering
  • Marcela Gonzalez-Rubio, engineering—bioengineering
  • Sarah Clarkson Griffin, engineering—bioengineering
  • Pete Howard Gueldner, engineering—bioengineering
  • Elijah Hall, geosciences—hydrology
  • Sara Jaramillo, psychology—cognitive psychology
  • Caroline Iturbe Larkin, engineering—computationally intensive research
  • Jennifer Mak, engineering—biomedical engineering
  • Karen Y Peralta Martinez, life sciences—organismal biology
  • Kevin Pietz, engineering—bioengineering
  • April Alexandra Rich, life sciences—genomics
  • Paul Anthony Torrillo, chemistry—computationally intensive research
  • Carissa Siu Yun Yim, engineering—chemical engineering

In addition, nine Pitt students were recognized with honorable mentions:

  • Marissa Nicole Behun, engineering—bioengineering
  • Emily Kaye Biermann, physics and astronomy—astronomy and astrophysics
  • Gabriella Gerlach, life sciences—bioinformatics and computational biology
  • Emily Anne Hutchinson, psychology—developmental psychology
  • Kayla M. Komondor, life sciences—developmental biology
  • Rachael Dawn Kramp, life sciences—ecology
  • Patrick John Stofanak, engineering—mechanical engineering
  • Madeline Torres, life sciences—microbial biology
  • Darian Yang, life sciences—biophysics

"It is very exciting that, once again this year, University of Pittsburgh students have been recognized by the National Science Foundation for their excellent work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That the country’s oldest fellowship program supporting STEM applauds the fine accomplishments of Pitt's students is as impressive as it is inspiring," said Joseph J. McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies and interim dean of the University Honors College. "I sincerely congratulate this year's honorees." 

The University offers guidance for students who want to prepare strong applications for these and other awards.

“Students in the Swanson School of Engineering successfully compete every year for NSF GRFP awards, which is a testament to their academic excellence and hard work,” said bioengineering professor Patrick Loughlin. “It is also a testament to the decade-long workshop and efforts by Swanson School faculty to assist graduate students in preparing competitive fellowship applications.”

Loughlin said the Swanson School is joining forces with the University Honors College to expand its efforts with an eye toward further increasing the number of Pitt NSF GRFP recipients.

Pitt Honors scholar-mentor Joshua Cannon said the Honors College’s program includes workshops throughout the summer and early fall, numerous past successful applications to read and learn from, advice on how to structure essays, and detailed reading and reviewing of essays.

Awardee Marcela Gonzalez-Rubio said she felt overwhelmed as she started her NSF GRFP proposal. “Not because I didn't feel ready, but because as a graduate student it was my first time applying for such a competitive and prestigious grant.

“I knew I needed mentorship, advice and new sets of eyes to provide an objective perspective on my proposal as I wanted it to be the best possible,” Gonzalez-Rubio said.

“In my advisor, lab mates, fellow grad students and Pitt's Honors College prep program I found everything that I was looking for and I will be forever thankful for their support in helping me achieve what I consider to be my career's most important milestone so far.”

Said honorable mention honoree Emily Bierman, "The application process allowed me to really envision what I wanted my graduate school experience to look like. After taking time to think deeply about what brought me to where I am today and what I want to accomplish, I feel much more grounded as a graduate student. Pitt's prep program really helped me through that self-reflection. The GRFP application is quite daunting, but I didn't have to do it alone."


Swanson School recipients for the 2021 award include:

Zachary Egolf, a mechanical engineering graduate student, works to develop a nonlinear control scheme for distributive control of robotic swarms. This controller will allow for robust tracking of randomly moving targets. (PI: Vipperman)

Hannah Geisler, a bioengineering undergrad, performed research to investigate the fluid-handling capabilities of a 3D-printed peristaltic pump for application in cell-free protein synthesis systems. The overarching goal of the project was to design a microfluidic system capable of controlled, rapid SARS-COV-2 protein synthesis for downstream production of protein-based COVID-19 assays and therapeutics. (PI: Ruder)

Marcela Gonzalez-Rubio, a bioengineering graduate student, studies how humans learn new ways of walking by using a split-belt treadmill where participants move each of their legs at different speeds. She is interested in quantifying their perception of leg movements once they adjust their walking patterns to this novel environment. (PI: Torres-Oviedo)

Sarah Griffin, a bioengineering graduate student, studies the biomechanics and shoe-rung mechanics of ladder climbing to describe the factors affecting slip risk. The overall goal is to develop new knowledge that can be implemented in the workplace to reduce ladder slip and fall risk. (PI: Beschorner)

Pete Gueldner, a bioengineering graduate student, uses novel experimental and computational techniques to analyze the biomechanics of abdominal aortic aneurysms. The central goal is to reduce the risk of patients by leveraging artificial intelligence tools on large clinical imaging datasets which will aid in the improvement of  the clinical standards as well as overall patient health. (PI: Vorp)

Jennifer Mak, a bioengineering graduate student, develops innovative stroke rehabilitation strategies, involving the use of augmented reality (AR), encephalography (EEG), robotics, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The overarching goal is to address post-stroke sensory processing issues like neglect as well as motor impairments. (PI: Wittenberg)

Kevin Pietz, a bioengineering undergraduate, performed research that involved engineering stem cell-derived pancreatic islets using alginate encapsulation and islet-on-a-chip systems. The goal is to develop a long-term microphysiological culture system for studying type 2 diabetes. (PI: Banerjee)

Carissa Yim, a chemical engineering undergraduate, aims to understand and improve energy efficiency in flow batteries through electrochemistry and molecular-scale structural simulations. This will enable researchers to better harness intermittent renewable energy and address climate change. (PI: McKone)

Honorable Mentions

Marissa Behun, a bioengineering graduate student, aims to better understand the way in which macrophage phenotypes change with age following a skeletal muscle injury. (PI: Brown)

Patrick Stofanak, a mechanical engineering graduate student, works to better understand the impact that winds have on melting ice sheets and sublimation of snow in polar regions. Using fundamental thermal-fluid concepts and numerical simulation, he aims to improve our understanding of how these processes are contributing to sea level rise. (PI: Senocak)

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Kimberly K. Barlow, Communications Manager, Office of University Communications, 4/8/2021

Contact: Kimberly K. Barlow