May 22, 2017 | By: Whitney Hale

The University of Kentucky Office of Nationally Competitive Awards has announced that 11 of the university's students and alumni have been selected to receive government-funded National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships.

NSF fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees. For the 2017 competition, NSF received over 13,000 applications and made 2,000 award offers.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP) benefits are a blessing to many of the nation's up-and-coming researchers. "The award will fund the remaining three years of my Ph.D. program. It will allow me to focus on research alone, instead of splitting my focus between research and working as a teaching assistant, which should enable me to make faster progress and perform more complicated experiments than I would otherwise," said UK graduate Allison Young, who will use the fellowship for field work in India where she will be studying the foraging behavior and lifespan of three Asian honey bee species.

Fellow UK graduate Elaheh White agreed. She is especially excited about additional funding and programming that is available to her as a recipient. "The fellowship will afford me the financial freedom to conduct my own research: applying machine learning techniques to data used in water resources management models. This project may need supercomputing capabilities, which I am now eligible to apply for through the NSF-supported Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE). The grant also provides opportunities for international research and professional development through Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide and the Graduate Research Internship Program."

UK’s newest NSF fellows and the areas of research they will be pursuing are:

  • Mac Crite, a 2014 agricultural biotechnology graduate from Louisville, Kentucky, who will pursue research in biochemistry at Yale University;
  • Kate Dray, a 2017 chemical engineering graduate from Sugar Grove, Illinois, who will pursue research in chemical engineering at Northwestern University;
  • Andrea Eastes, a 2015 agricultural biotechnology graduate and Chellgren Student Fellow from Mayfield, Kentucky, who will pursue research in cell biology at University of California, San Francisco;
  • Slavina "Slavi" Goleva, a 2016 biology graduate and Honors Program member from Plovdiv, Bulgaria, who will pursue neuroscience research at Vanderbilt University;
  • Manon Lefèvre, a graduate student from Cromwell, Connecticut, who will pursue research in geography at UK;
  • Robert "Bobby" Murphy, a doctoral student from Louisville, Kentucky, who will pursue research in molecular and cellular biochemistry at UK;
  • Laura E. Peterson, a graduate student from Liberty, Kentucky, who will pursue research in physiology at UK;
  • Sarah Schiavone, a doctoral student from Huntsville, Alabama, who will pursue research in experimental psychology (social psychology) at UK;
  • Stephanie Sparks, a graduate student from Annandale, Virginia, who will pursue research in tectonics in earth and environmental sciences at UK;
  • Elaheh "Ellie" White, a 2015 civil engineering graduate from Iran, who will pursue research in hydrology at University of California, Davis; and
  • Allison Young, a 2015 agricultural biotechnology graduate and Honors Program member from Lexington, who will pursue research in organismal biology at Michigan State University.

    The UK NSF Fellowship winners are also excited about other indirect benefits their funding affords them. "I will be able to complete my graduate school studies without my PI (principal investigator) having the burden of paying for my research time. I will also be able to continue my work promoting diversity and inclusion of underrepresented minorities (URM), especially LGBTQ individuals, in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields," Crite said. "Ultimately, I decided to pursue graduate research in microbiology/biochemistry (at Yale) due to my interest in both the field, as well as promoting URM in STEM."

    The NSF GRFP is the country’s oldest graduate fellowship program directly supporting graduate students in social science and various STEM fields since 1952. The program helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the U.S. and reinforces its diversity. The GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based graduate degrees in the U.S. and abroad. 

    UK students interested in the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship may apply through the university’s Office of Nationally Competitive Awards. Part of the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence within the Division of Student and Academic Life at UK, the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards assists current UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These major awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with Pat Whitlow well in advance of the scholarship deadline.

    An information session on the NSF GRFP award will be offered on campus in August for the fall 2017 application cycle. Liz Debski, associate professor of biology and neuroscience, will offer preparation advice based on her background as a reviewer for NSF Graduate Fellow applications.

    All the UK graduates who received 2017 NSF GRFP awards were active in undergraduate research at the university. The UK research mentors who worked with this year’s fellowship recipients are: Rebecca Dutch, professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry; J. Zach Hilt, associate professor of chemical and materials engineering; Daniel Howe, professor of veterinary science; Lindell Ormsbee, professor of civil engineering; and Jeffrey Osborn, professor of biology.


Whitney Hale,; 859-257-8716