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K-State students receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowship awards

Tuesday, April 23, 2024



MANHATTAN — Eight current and former K-State students were selected or named honorable mention for the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program, a five-year fellowship that includes an annual stipend of $37,000.

The current students selected for the program are Kalea Nippert, senior in ecology and evolutionary biology, St. George; Kale Stahl, senior in applied mathematics and physics, Topeka; Carson Connard, senior in mathematics, The Woodlands, Texas; and Shannon Ruble, doctoral student in psychology, Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, or NSF GRFP, recognizes graduate students pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees in mathematics, engineering, technology or science. Its purpose is to maintain quality, vitality and diversity in the nation's scientific and engineering workforce.

"These exceptional students have been honored with this prestigious fellowship, showcasing not only their academic ability but also their commitment to pushing the boundaries of knowledge," said David Rosowsky, vice president for research. "We are proud of their achievements and anticipate the groundbreaking discoveries and innovations they will lead in the future."

Nippert, who will graduate in May, has been completing an undergraduate research project under Zak Ratajczak, assistant professor of biology, since 2022. Her research is focused on understanding extreme fire effects within woody plant communities and if extreme fire could be used as a management strategy to control woody encroachment occurring throughout global grassland and savanna ecosystems.

"The NSF GRFP will allow me to be fully funded — my tuition will be paid for the duration of my Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina Greensboro," Nippert said. "This will help me reach my goals of getting a Ph.D. and becoming a research ecologist. I am very honored and excited to have the chance to receive the GRFP."

Stahl is researching inverse scattering problems, with Dinh-Liem Nguyen, associate professor of mathematics. The purpose of their research is to develop a stable "imaging functional" for periodic objects.

"The GRF is a very prestigious award, and receiving it will allow me to focus on research and passing my qualifying exams in my first years of graduate school," Stahl said. "I will be attending Purdue University's mathematics Ph.D. program in the fall, and this fellowship will allow me to start research almost immediately. I'm very excited that I will be able to do more research earlier, as research is by far my favorite part of studying mathematics."

Connard, who will graduate Summa Cum Laude in May, is working with Lino Amorim, associate professor of mathematics, on a project focused on developing algebraic invariants for Lagrangian suborbifolds.

"The GRFP will not only allow me to focus significantly more time and energy on research in graduate school, but it will also allow me to live more comfortably due to the generous size of the fellowship," Connard said. "I intend to pursue my Ph.D., and I aim to work in research — ideally in the academic realm — as a career. I am absolutely and completely honored to have received this prestigious distinction, and I have only just begun to reap its benefits."

Connard will attend the University of Washington in the fall to pursue his Ph.D.

Ruble is in her second year studying neural mechanisms of fear and avoidance behaviors in rats and how social interactions impact them. She is conducting her research with Maria Diehl, professor of psychological sciences.

Ruble, who will complete her doctorate in the spring of 2027, said that after she earns her Ph.D., she plans to pursue a career in either academia or science communication.

"The NSF GRFP provides me with an opportunity to conduct high-quality research and communicate the findings through publications and conference presentations," Ruble said. "I will also be able to mentor undergraduates involved in my GRFP-funded work and help them pursue careers in STEM as I would in a future career in academia."

Abigail Schmidt, senior in environmental biology and natural resources and environmental science, Shawnee, was named honorable mention. Her research focuses on how climate extremes, like drought, will impact ecosystem structure and function. Ratajczak, assistant professor biology, is her research mentor. Schmidt will attend graduate school at Utah State University to study savanna ecosystems.

Along with Nippert, Stahl, Connard, Ruble and Schmidt, three recent K-State graduates were also selected for the fellowship or named honorable mention: Reilly Jensen, a May 2021 bachelor's graduate in Spanish and biology, Buhler, who is at Wichita State University, fellowship recipient; Maxwell Harman, a May 2022 bachelor's graduate in biochemistry, Inman, who is now at Michigan State University, fellowship recipient; and Cole Wilson, May 2021 bachelor's graduate in biochemistry, Wichita, who is now at Northwestern University, honorable mention.

Please visit the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program website for more information about the program.

Kansas State University undergraduates and first-year graduate students interested in applying for the NSF Graduate Fellowship should contact Beth Powers, director of Scholar Development and Undergraduate Research and the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships, at bethpowers@k-state.edu.

Media contact

Division of Communications and Marketing


NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program

Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships

News tip

Buhler, Inman, Shawnee, St. George, Topeka and Wichita, Kansas; The Woodlands, Texas; and Parkersburg, West Virginia.


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Kalea Nippert

Kalea Nippert, senior in ecology and evolutionary biology.

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Kale Stahl

Kale Stahl, senior in applied mathematics and physics.

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Carson Connard

Carson Connard, senior in mathematics.

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Shannon Ruble

Shannon Ruble, doctoral student in psychology.

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Abigail Schmidt

Abigail Schmidt, senior in environmental biology and natural resources and environmental science.