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National Fellowships and Scholar Programs

Twelve South Carolina students recognized by the National Science Foundation, six receive Graduate Research Fellowship

“Certain things can’t happen from your living room,” says Jaquan High, a senior at the University of South Carolina and a 2021 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship winner. Though the year 2020 certainly put getting out and getting things done to the test, South Carolina students, including High, have remained strong as they pursue their passions – outside the living room. 

High was named one of four South Carolina students and two alumni to receive the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, along with another six named honorable mentions. For his PhD studies in geological sciences, High intends to carry forward the work he began in his first research project on campus, an analysis of benthic-sediment biota. In 2019 he won the NOAA Hollings Scholarship and participated in the Woods Hole Partnership Education Program, gaining research experience spanning the disciplines of geology, ecology, oceanography and biology. He is grateful for the guidance of professors Claudia Benitez-Nelson and Joe Jones, as they have been “instrumental in [his] growth as a student and developing scientist.” 

"My research experience at UofSC taught me that if you take each new opportunity head on, you never know where it might take you," says Hunter Damron, NSF GRF winner, Carolina Scholar and Honors College senior studying computer science and mathematics. Damron’s research is in underwater robotics and discrete mathematics; he hopes to pursue a career as a software developer. With the help of this prestigious fellowship, his innovative research has opened the door for further study and exploration. "My experience in undergraduate research was an adventure leading from one open door to another,” says Damron about his time at South Carolina. “The NSF GRF is both a culmination of that adventure as well as the beginning to another."

Damron has gained extensive research experience at South Carolina. In 2018 he presented at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) in Madrid, Spain, an experience that solidified his passion for research and opened the door for opportunities like the NSF fellowship and his DAAD RISE fellowship in Germany (2020). Damron has been awarded the McNair Junior Fellows Research Grant and SCHC Science Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Grant and the CRA Honorable Mention for Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher. The NSF GRF opens the door for Damron to pursue the possibility of a PhD in theoretical computer science. Damron is grateful for the guidance and support of professors Ioannis Rekleitis, László Székely and Maria Girardi.

David Hansen is an anthropology MA/PhD student at South Carolina. Hansen received his bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University in 2015. As well as winning the NSF GRF, Hansen is a former Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (Kyrgyzstan 2018), Gilman Scholarship recipient (Singapore 2014) and graduate teaching assistant at South Carolina. His current bioarcheological research examines the impact of the 14th century Black Death on Christian communities in northern Kyrgyzstan. “As evidenced by our current global health crisis with COVID-19, it is more crucial now than ever to have a clear understanding of past pandemics and the ways that diseases are transmitted in a globalized world,” Hansen says. “Bioarcheology provides a wealth of knowledge about the ways biology and sociocultural factors intersected in the past, and I am happy to be part of a department that produces research connecting these past experiences to modern public health contexts.” 

With his first year in the anthropology master’s program at South Carolina under his belt, Hansen is prepared for continued research in bioarcheology with his advisor, Sharon DeWitte and collaborator at the University of Stirling, UK, historian Philip Slavin. He is proud to offer special thanks to DeWitte, who assisted with his application to the NSF GRF program. 

“UofSC gave me a space to develop my passion for electrochemistry research and its applications to the next generation of renewable energy technologies,” says Hailey Boyer, UofSC alumni and PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. “If it wasn't for the mentorship, guidance, and patience of my professors at UofSC, I would not have had the research background I needed for graduate school.” Boyer was a Capstone Scholar and SC Honors College Student who graduated from the South Carolina in 2020. Boyer’s research in chemical engineering at South Carolina focused on electrochemical modeling, giving her the lab experience she needed to obtain an internship at the National Renewable Energy Lab (Colorado) in 2018, an experience which motivated her to pursue graduate study and apply for the NSF GRF. 

In 2017 Boyer began work with professor Sirivatch Shimpalee and former professor John Weidner. While working in the lab with Shimpalee, Boyer learned how to use computational fluid dynamics software. “This was to help prepare me for [the] semester-long internship I did at the National Renewable Energy Lab where I used CFD to model an electrochemical device called an electrolyzer,” Boyer explains. “Without Dr. Shimpalee's preparation, I wouldn't have been able to develop the model that I did.” After receiving her PhD, Boyer hopes to become a professor and mentor young scientists. 

Meagan Lauber will begin the computational neuroscience PhD program at the in the fall of 2021. Winning the NSF GRF will give Lauber the resources she needs to pursue a PhD in computational neuroscience and reach her goal of becoming a professional scientist researching neurodegenerative diseases. 

“I am so thankful for all the people who aided in me earning this award,” says Lauber, an experimental psychology major and SC Honors College senior, “from the knowledgeable staff at the office of [National Fellowships and Scholar Programs] who helped me plan my application and put me in contact with the NSF advisors at [UofSC], my mentors who supported me throughout my journey becoming a researcher, and my co-workers at the Student Success Center Peer Writing Lab who helped me craft a winning personal statement.” Lauber is grateful for the support of professors Jessica Klusek, Lauren Fowler, Matthew Tucker, Jeff Twiss and Ramtin Zand during the NSF GRF application process. 

During her time at South Carolina 2020 graduate Alexandra Patterson, a Capstone Scholar, completed research in five different laboratories across four separate institutions, was named Magellan Scholar, Best Undergraduate Researcher, Presidential Fellow and won the Presidential Achievement Award. Now, Patterson is working towards her PhD in bioengineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. Wining the NSF GRF allows her to pursue this degree and her long-term goal of becoming a tenure-track principal investigator. 

Patterson is grateful for the research mentorship of professor Michael Gower, who worked with her in a study on immune response to biomaterials. “That experience allowed me to synthesize, for the first time, my interest in medicine with the chemical engineering core tenets I had been studying” she said. Professor Gower and professor Kendall Murphy were both highly influential in Patterson’s growth as a researcher by guiding her academically and supporting her application to awards such as Magellan and NSF GRF. 

Honorable mentions for this award are high-achieving students in their disciplines with a history of research excellence. Matthew Waller was an SC Honors College student at South Carolina and graduated in 2020. Waller was admitted to the ecology, evolution, and organismal biology PhD program at the University of Utah in the fall of 2020. John Tierney was an SC Honors College student and 2019 South Carolina graduate. He is now in the biomedical engineering PhD program at Vanderbilt University. Elizabeth Rizor, another SC Honors College student and 2018 South Carolina graduate is now in the Neuroscience PhD program at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Libby Davenport, a Carolina Scholar and Honors College student, graduated from South Carolina in 2020 and is now working on her PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Ian Jef Bongalonta is a senior SC Honors College student. Bongalonta will be pursuing graduate study in chemical theory, models and computational methods at South Carolina after graduation in 2021. Alexander Barth graduated from California Polytechnic State University and is now in the biological sciences PhD program at South Carolina. 

National Fellowships and Scholar Programs was proud to assist these winners and honorable mentions throughout the application process, and would like to offer special thanks to the NSF GRF faculty committee: Mike Matthews, Jeff Twiss, MVS Chandrashekhar, Ramtin Zand, Carol Boggs, Leigh D'Amico, Sharon DeWitte, Jochen Lauterbach, Howie Scher and Hans-Conrad zur Loye. The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awards are for study and research in the sciences or in engineering leading to master's or doctoral degrees in the mathematical, physical, biological, engineering, behavioral and social sciences, and in the history and philosophy of sciences. Funding includes a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, plus $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, for students pursuing graduate education. 

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