April 14, 2000 | By: Haven Miller

There are honors, and then there are enormous honors – the kind that earn national attention. When only two out of 256 graduate engineering student awardees in the country win National Science Foundation fellowships in your discipline, and those two attend your university, that's an enormous honor.

Students Grace Danao and Erin Wilkerson in the University of Kentucky's department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering have been named NSF Graduate Fellows. It's one of the top academic honors in the nation.

"It's like going to the NCAA Final Four to use a basketball analogy," said Larry Turner, chair of UK's Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering department. "There are only 850 NSF graduate fellows for the year 2000 in the country, and only three are at UK. We think having two of them in our department says a lot about the quality of our program, our faculty, and our College of Agriculture."

Students wanting NSF fellowships go through a detailed application process. Traditionally, applicants receive guidance from their main adviser, in this case UK faculty members Sue Nokes and Fred Payne for Grace Danao, and Rich Gates for Erin Wilkerson.

"There's a rigorous evaluation of applications, then a number of candidates are divided into two groups, those who receive honorable mention and those receive three-year fellowships," said Turner. "Each fellow receives a sizeable stipend to assist them during their graduate studies."

The fellowships currently provide a stipend of $16,000 per year for full-time graduate study. NSF also provides an annual cost-of-education allowance of $10,500 in lieu of all tuition and required fees at U.S. institutions.

Danao will pursue a master's degree while conducting research in either food or bioprocess engineering. Wilkerson is pursuing a master's degree while concentrating her studies in greenhouse systems and controlled plant environment. Another biosystems and ag engineering student, Mari Chinn, is a current NSF Fellow also working in bioprocess engineering.

"Drs. Nokes, Gates, and Fred Payne, our director of graduate studies, have done a tremendous job in helping obtain these well-deserved honors for our students," said Turner.

According to the National Science Foundation, past fellowship recipients completed their Ph.D.s at a higher rate than other graduate students, and won more post-doctoral grants and awards. Eighteen former Fellows are Nobel Prize winners.


Larry Turner 859-257-3000