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Kansas State University students, alumni among newest NSF Graduate Research Fellows

Friday, April 14, 2017


MANHATTAN — Five current Kansas State University students and two alumni are among the National Science Foundation's 2017 Graduate Research Fellows and honorable mentions.

Victoria Fitzgerald, master's student in geology, Manhattan; Diane Collard, senior in chemical engineering, Olathe; Jordann Brandner, doctoral student in psychology, Bismarck, North Dakota; and Robert "Kent" Connell, doctoral student in biology, Cleveland, Tennessee; are among 2,000 students nationwide to receive the three-year fellowship, which includes a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 for tuition and fees. Samantha Sharpe, doctoral student in biology, San Rafael, California, received an honorable mention.

"The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is one of the most prestigious recognitions for graduate students in STEM fields," said Beth Montelone, senior associate vice president for research at Kansas State University. "The fact that five current K-State students were awarded fellowships or honorable mentions speaks volumes about the excellent training that our students earn as they work with faculty mentors to produce outstanding research results all across campus."

The fellowship supports and recognizes outstanding graduate students conducting science, technology, engineering or mathematics research at accredited U.S. institutions.

"We are excited that so many K-State students are in the NSF's Graduate Research Fellowship, or GRF, program," said Michael Herman, associate dean of Kansas State University's Graduate School. "Including the K-State students already in the program, there will be eight K-State 2017 GRF students — up from three students just two years ago. This is a testament to our students' hard work and an emphasis that the Graduate School — along with the offices of Research and Sponsored Programs and Nationally Competitive Scholarships — has placed on helping and encouraging students to apply."

Fitzgerald is researching the timing of former Lake Bonneville's regression. The lake covered all of western Utah 15,000 years ago. With guidance from Joel Spencer, assistant professor of geology, Fitzgerald is trying to constrain a timeline of the lake's evaporation by analyzing the sediment in gypsum sand dunes in Knolls, Utah. This may provide researchers with a better understanding of modern climate change and help scientists improve gypsum dating techniques for both terrestrial environments and gypsic landforms on Mars. The daughter of Raul and Belinda Rios, Runge, Texas; wife of Thomas Fitzgerald; and mother of two daughters, Fitzgerald is a graduate of the University of Texas, Austin and Kenwood High School in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Collard has been involved in many undergraduate research projects at Kansas State University, including ways to slow frost on airplane wings and air conditioning units, under guidance from Amy Betz, assistant professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering; and drug delivery methods for brain and skin cancer treatments, under guidance from John Schlup, professor of chemical engineering. She has been accepted into graduate school at Purdue University, where she will start her research on energetic materials for chemical rockets. The daughter of Daniel and Karen Collard, Olathe, she is a graduate of Olathe Northwest High School.

Brandner is researching why some heterosexual men perceive friendliness from women as sexual interest. Her major advisor is Gary Brase, professor of psychological sciences. She is interested in understanding if the misconception is because of a bias to perceive a woman as flirting or if it is a decreased ability to read female cues. The daughter of Daryl Brandner and Connie Roemmich, Bismarck, North Dakota, she is a graduate of Bismarck High School and North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota.

Connell is researching how soil microbial community variation around plant roots affects the transfer of soil carbon to the atmosphere. His major advisor is John Blair, university distinguished professor of biology. The son of Robert and Kim Connell, Cleveland, Tennessee, Connell is a graduate of Cleveland High School and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Sharpe is researching grass adaptation to human-altered environments with guidance from Loretta Johnson, professor of biology. She is comparing populations of native grass found around an abandoned lead and zinc mine in southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma to understand how it is better able to tolerate heavy metal contamination in the soil than other grasses away from the mine. The daughter of Stuart Sharpe and Jennifer Lipson, San Rafael, California, she is a graduate of San Rafael High School and Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota.

Joshua Ames, 2015 bachelor's degree graduate in biology from Lenexa and now a graduate student University of Illinois, Chicago, also received the fellowship.Amie Sommers, 2014 bachelor's degree graduate in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology from Manhattan, received an honorable mention.

Kansas State University undergraduates and first-year graduate students interested in applying for the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship or other nationally competitive scholarships should contact Jim Hohenbary, director of nationally competitive scholarships, at 785-532-3422 or jimlth@k-state.edu.


Jim Hohenbary



News tip

Lenexa, Manhattan and Olathe, Kansas; San Rafael, California; Bismarck, North Dakota; and Cleveland, Tennessee

Written by

Stephanie Jacques

At a glance

Three graduate students, one undergraduate student and one alumnus are among the newest National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows. One current graduate student and one alumna were honorable mentions.