Research News

Record number of Vanderbilt grad students score prestigious NSF fellowships

NSF logoThis year a record number of Vanderbilt Graduate School students have won prestigious National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships.

The NSF fellowships are highly sought after because they provide qualified students with three years of support, including a $30,000 annual stipend, a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance that goes to the university, special international research and professional development activities as well as access to the foundation’s supercomputer network.

According to NSF, the program “recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines” and has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, including U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.

“This is a spectacular result,” said Dennis Hall, vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School. “Given that we had so few fellowship recipients as recently as 2008, our progress has been amazing. [rquote]Vanderbilt students are stepping up and demonstrating that they can compete successfully for these valuable fellowships.”[/rquote]

This year 22 graduate students have qualified for the fellowships. Sixteen of the new fellows are current Vanderbilt Graduate School students and six are new incoming first-year graduate students. That compares to 10 fellows in 2011, 10 in 2010 and 12 in 2009. Before that the number of recipients was in the single digits, according to Steve Smartt, the Graduate School’s associate dean for academic services.

Twelve of the new fellows, or more than half, are studying engineering. Other fields of study include biomedical sciences, psychology, political science, chemistry, physics and neuroscience.

This coming fall semester, the campus will have a total of 47 new and continuing NSF fellows enrolled.

According to Hall, the growing number of NSF graduate fellows on campus reflects the increasing quality of the graduate students that Vanderbilt is attracting. Since 2001, the number of applications to Vanderbilt’s Graduate School programs has been growing steadily and this year broke the 8,000 mark for the first time. This has increased the Graduate School’s ability to draw top-quality students from across the nation.

There are some additional factors involved as well.

The fellowship is unusual in that the students must apply directly to the foundation. As a result, officials don’t even know how many students apply each year. However, in the last few years, the Graduate School has begun taking various measures to encourage students to apply, including holding special workshops that describe the program’s manifold benefits, help students determine if they qualify and familiarize them with the application process and deadlines.

This year’s Vanderbilt fellows are:

Name Baccalaureate Institution Field of Study Current Institution
Beavers, Kelsey Ross Georgia Institute of Technology Materials Research – Biomaterials Vanderbilt University
Brewer, Bryson University of Southern Mississippi Engineering – Mechanical Vanderbilt University
Caldwell, Brittany Catherine University of Tennessee Knoxville Engineering – Biomedical Vanderbilt University
Cox, Michele Ann University of Maryland Psychology – Neuropsychology Vanderbilt University
Doydum, Ozlem Ayzit Temple University Psychology – Developmental Vanderbilt University
Estes, Beth Ann University of Central Arkansas Social Sciences – Political Science Vanderbilt University
Evans, Brian Connor Case Western Reserve University Engineering – Biomedical Vanderbilt University
Fyfe, Emily Ruth University of Notre Dame Psychology – Developmental Vanderbilt University
Gilbert, Hunter Bryant William Marsh Rice University Engineering – Mechanical Vanderbilt University
Lacy, Monica Elaine University of Dallas Physics and Astronomy – biophysics Vanderbilt University
Poltoratski, Sonia Stanford University Psychology – Cognitive Neuroscience Vanderbilt University
Poole, Kristin Marie Trinity University Engineering – Biomedical Vanderbilt University
Schroer, Alison Koelle University of Virginia Engineering – Biomedical Vanderbilt University
Spurlock, Charles Floyd University of the South Life Sciences – Medicine, Rheumatology Vanderbilt University
Swaney, Philip Joseph Pennsylvania State University Comp/IS/Eng – Robotics and Computer Vision Vanderbilt University
Walsh, Alexandra Jule Vanderbilt University Engineering – Biomedical Vanderbilt University
Conley, Rebekah University of Missouri Engineering – Biomedical University of Missouri
Gasser, Benjamin William University of Alabama in Huntsville Engineering – Mechanical University of Alabama in Huntsville
Hoffmann, Rachel Erin University of Tulsa Life Sciences – Molecular Biology University of Tulsa
McAtee, Allison Grace University of Arkansas Engineering – Chemical Engineering University of Arkansas
Tackenberg, Michael Northeastern University Life Sciences – Neurosciences Northeastern University
Wright, Nicholas Western Kentucky University Chemistry Western Kentucky University