Skip to Content

Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs

NSF 2018

UofSC 2018 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Winners and Honorable Mentions


Four current USC students and six USC alumni have been awarded 2018 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships (GRF). Current seniors Mara Cowen, Kayla Gardner, Erica Maissy, Kaitlin McClamrock, as well as alumni Samantha Ervin, Luke Havens, Megan Mitchell, Rachel Smoak, Courtney Swink, and Tibra Wheeler have all been named NSF GRF Fellows. Four other current students, senior Shrusti Patel and graduate students Nicholas Riccardi, Michael Royko, and Wesley Taylor, as well as two alumni, Justin DuRant and Christopher Haycook, were selected for Honorable Mentions in this prestigious graduate fellowship competition.

 The National Science Foundation has awarded 2,000 three-year Graduate Research Fellowships of approximately $138,000 each to outstanding college and university students for the year 2018. Since 1952, NSF has provided fellowships to individuals selected early in their graduate careers based on their demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering.


Cowen will graduate this May from the South Carolina Honors College with a personalized BARSC degree in Developmental Neuroscience. The Carolina Alumni Association Carolina Scholar, she is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa and both a 2017 Amgen and 2017 Goldwater Scholar. Working with Dr. Sofia Lizarraga in the department of Biological Sciences and with Dr. Jane Roberts in the department of Psychology, she has conducted research on different neurodevelopmental disorders including autism spectrum disorders, fragile X syndrome, and Warburg Micro syndrome. Additionally, she worked with Dr. Joseph Dougherty at Washington University in St. Louis during the summer of 2017, studying genes involved in Williams syndrome. Her research has been funded by SURF and Magellan grants, as well as the Irene and Eric Simon Brain Research Foundation, which has resulted in manuscripts and presentations. Cowen is president of IMPULSE, the undergraduate neuroscience journal, and an active member of The Center for Childhood Neurotherapeutics, the Neuroscience Community Planning Committee, and Scholars United. Cowen will begin her doctoral training in neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania this fall with plans of pursuing a career in academia and conducting research on the underlying mechanisms of autism.

Ervin is a 2016 graduate of the University of South Carolina, where she was a Capstone Scholar with a major in ChemistryShe is currently attending graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill.

Gardner will graduate in May from the South Carolina Honors College, where she is majoring in Marine Sciences with a concentration in Biology and a Math minor. She is a McNair Scholar, as well as a 2016 NOAA Hollings Scholar, 2016 Traci J. Heincelman scholar, and 2017 Goldwater Scholar. Gardner is also a recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Freshman Award. She has conducted research on Harmful Algae Blooms at Mote Marine Laboratory through a Research Experience for Undergraduates, at USC in Phytoplankton Ecology with Dr. Tammi Richardson, and Education and Outreach research at NOAA’s Honolulu Office through the NOAA Hollings Program. This research has led to publications which Gardner has presented at multiple regional, national, and international conferences. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi National Honors Societies. Gardner will begin her PhD in Biological Oceanography through the Joint Program and MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute this fall, and plans to pursue a career in research and conservation within an academic or government institution. 

Havens is a 2016 graduate of the South Carolina Honors College, where he was the Mary Meech and Michael J. Mungo Carolina Scholar and majored in Biology.  He has taught the neurobiology lab at USC since 2014 and studied visual processing in the many eyed scallop with both SURF and Magellan funding.  He currently works as a research specialist designing and building equipment for the Speiser Lab on campus.  He will begin work on his PhD in Biology this fall at UNC Chapel Hill, in the lab of Dr. Kenneth Lohmann.

Maissy will graduate in May from the South Carolina Honors College with leadership distinction and a major in Biomedical Engineering, with minors in Neuroscience and Dance. She is a McNair Scholar as well as a recipient of the Magellan Scholarship and a Science Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). Maissy has conducted research in neuroplasticity and Gulf War Illness at the USC School of Medicine, cancer pharmacology and drug delivery at the USC College of Pharmacy, and wearable technology for MS at the University of Virginia Center for Wireless Health through a Research Experience for Undergraduates. This research has resulted in pending publications. She plans to attend the University of California San Diego in the fall, where she will pursue a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences. She hopes to work in the biotechnology industry, specifically focusing on the gut microbiome and metabolism.

McClamrock will graduate from University of South Carolina in May with undergraduate degrees in Political Science and European Union Studies. Kaitlin is a Capstone Scholar and was a 2017 Mitchell Scholar semi-finalist. She has conducted research in Ireland on same-sex marriage, funded by a Magellan grant, as well as on conflict and peace studies as part of a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates. Kaitlin has made presentations on her research at several conferences, including the largest annual political science conference in the US along with USC’s Discovery Day, where she won first place in oral presentations in 2016. She is actively involved on campus as a University Ambassador and former President of Individuals Respecting Identities and Sexualities. McClamrock intends to pursue a Ph.D. in political science, which she will apply to a career in public service focusing on research, evidence-based policymaking, and serving marginalized communities.

Mitchell is a 2016 graduate of the South Carolina Honors College, where she majored in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. As an undergraduate at USC, she was actively involved both on and off campus, serving as chapter President for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and working with children’s shelters through Project Vida. She was a recipient of the McKissick Scholarship, a SCHC Science Undergraduate Research Fellowship Grant and the Magellan Scholar Award. She also received several awards for undergraduate research poster presentations. Mitchell is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she is a participant in the Signaling and Cellular Regulation graduate training program as well as working with Innovative Experiences to develop science classes for homeschooled children. Her current research is on protein synthesis and molecular machines in bacteria. This researched is aimed at understanding bacterial processes and combatting antibiotic resistance. Mitchell hopes to continue her pursuit of academia by becoming a professor.

Smoak graduated from the South Carolina Honors College in 2016 with undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. As an undergraduate, she was a McNair Scholar as well as the recipient of a DAAD RISE Fellowship, a DOE Student Undergraduate Research Internship, and the South Carolina Society for Professional Engineers Outstanding Senior award. Rachel was also a member of Tau Beta Pi, an Engineering Honors fraternity, and Phi Beta Kappa. Smoak is currently attending the University of Iowa studying for a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a concentration in Sustainable Water Development. She aims to pursue a career in academia.

Swink is a 2016 graduate of the University of South Carolina, where she double majored in Marine Science and Biology. As an undergraduate, Courtney was a Sims Scholar as well as a recipient of a National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research Fellowship. She was involved on campus as an NCAA cross country and track athlete, University 101 Peer Leader, and Treasurer of Students Engaged in Aquatic Sciences (SEAS). She also conducted research on carbon isotopes, sea turtle nesting beaches, and microalgae growth, which she presented at national conferences. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. She is conducting research on the productivity and stability of microalgal ponds, and is involved with several planning teams for education outreach. Swink plans to apply her studies to a career as a DOE research scientist.

Wheeler is a 2016 graduate of University of South Carolina, where she majored in Biomedical Engineering and minored in Mathematics. As an undergraduate, she was a Capstone Scholar, Provost Scholar, and National Achievement Scholar. Wheeler is currently pursuing graduate studies at Cornell University, where she is a Cornell Sloan Diversity Fellow, a Dean Scholar, and a member of Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honors Society and Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. She is working under Dr. Marjolein van der Meulen and Dr. Ankur Singh on a project that intersects orthopedics, biomaterials, and drug delivery, which she has presented at various conferences. She is involved at Cornell as a Graduate Coordinator for the Ryan Scholars Program, mentor for the Graduate Students Mentoring Undergraduates Program, former President of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association, and member of the National Society of Black Engineers and Alpha Kappa Alpha. After graduating with a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering, Wheeler plans to continue research as a professional engineer in the medical device or pharmaceutical industry.

Honorable Mentions

DuRant is a 2017 graduate of the South Carolina Honors College, where he received degrees in Biological Sciences and Music Performance. As an undergraduate, he was a NOAA Hollings Scholar as well as a DAAD RISE recipient. Justin plans to pursue a graduate degree at University of Texas at Austin, which he will use to become a change agent in the field of Environmental Engineering.

Haycook graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2016 from University of South Carolina, where he majored in Biomedical Engineering. A Capstone Scholar and Palmetto Fellows Scholar, Haycook was involved in Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society and Theta Tau Professional Engineering Fraternity, through which he helped organize “Pumpkin Chunkin” trebuchet and Rube Goldberg machine-building competitions for elementary and high school students. As an undergraduate, Christopher worked in Michael Gower’s lab researching biomaterial scaffolds, yielding patent applications for his work. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University, where he is conducting research in immunoengineering under Todd Giorgio. Christopher has continued his STEM outreach through “Elementary Engineering” sessions with the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Student Association. Haycook hopes to apply his studies to a career as a Senior Scientist or in research and development in the immunotherapy division of the pharmaceutical industry.

Patel will graduate May 2018 from the South Carolina Honors College with a degree in Biomedical Engineering. She is a Magellan Scholar as well as a recipient of an SCHC Science Undergraduate Research Fellowship and Magellan Mini Grant. Patel has worked as an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Ann Ramsdell’s lab at the USC School of Medicine Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, where she researched left-right differences in mammary development and disease. This research resulted in publications as well as presentation at the 2017 Gordon Research Conference. She will pursue a PhD in Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University this fall. She hopes to ultimately conduct cancer immunotherapy research as a tenure-track faculty at an academic institution.

Riccardi is a 2015 graduate of University of South Carolina, where he majored in Psychology and Sociology. As an undergraduate, he was a Capstone Scholar and Presidential Scholar. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology at USC, where he is a Presidential Fellow. As part of the Desai Lab, Riccardi conducts research on the representation of language and concepts in the brain. His current projects include an fMRI study of memory and a lesion-based study of the effects of brain damage on conceptual knowledge, and previous research on language processing has resulted in publications. Nicholas aims to become a professor at a research university.

Royko graduated from University of Alabama Honors College in 2017, where he received his undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering. As an undergraduate, Royko was a Presidential Scholar and a recipient of a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates award. At the University of Alabama, he was awarded the Engineering Leadership Scholarship, the American Institute of Chemists Senior Award in Chemical Engineering, numerous Outstanding Student awards, and the SEC Dean’s Fellowship. Royko has publications associated with his research as well as presentations at various conferences across the country. His current research involves flame synthesis of catalysts and other nanomaterials. Michael is attending USC in pursuit of a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering, which he plans to apply to a career in either industry or academia.

Taylor is a 2016 graduate of the University of Alabama, where he majored in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry. A Presidential Fellow, he currently attends University of South Carolina pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. At USC, Taylor is performing research under Dr. Jabbarzadeh involving new cancer therapies derived from natural sources. Taylor intends to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry, where he aims to develop and scale up the manufacturing of new lead therapeutic compounds.

The USC NSF Committee is to be commended for their work with these students. The committee is chaired by Michael Matthews (Chemical Engineering), and includes Reginald Bain (Music), Carol Boggs (Earth, Ocean and Environment and Biological Sciences), MVS Chandrashekhar (Electrical Engineering), Shauna Cooper (Psychology), Leigh D’Amico (Education/Program Evaluation), Sharon DeWitte (Anthropology), Jachon Lauterbach (Chemical Engineering), Barry Markovsky (Sociology), Howie Scher (Earth and Ocean Sciences), Todd Shaw (Political Science), Richard Showman (Biological Sciences), Jeff Twiss (Biology/Neuroscience), and Hans-Conrad zur Loye (Chemistry and Biochemistry). 

The Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs identifies and recruits student to apply for nationally competitive fellowships and scholarships, Since 1994 when the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs was established, 99 University of South Carolina students and recent graduates have won NSF Graduate Research Fellowships.