Mizzou Students Garner NSF Fellowship

Five years ago, Sarah Swartz’s goal was to receive an associate’s degree. Now, after earning a fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF), she will pursue a PhD.

Swartz is one of eight current University of Missouri students to earn the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF), which recognizes outstanding students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics who are pursing research-based graduate and doctoral degrees.

“Receiving this fellowship is the highest honor that could be conferred upon me,” Swartz says. “As a non-traditional, first-generation student, I have had to overcome many obstacles to pursue my goals.”

The fellowship allows Swartz to focus on her research goal of better understanding the ecological context of human evolution during shifting climates. She will attend Indiana University to expand her anthropological training.

For Megan Schroeder, working in a chemical engineering lab as an undergraduate at Mizzou provided the perfect environment to develop her skills and analytical thinking. By earning a GRF, the valuable lab experience will continue when she enters a chemical and biological engineering PhD program next fall.

“It is incredibly rewarding to receive this fellowship,” she says. “I love working in the lab and am excited to continue.”

The research emphases of the eight recipients range from biomaterials to water oxidation of sewage sludge to species variation of the primate hip joint.

Ali Ross’ research involved creating an inexpensive and easily reproducible biosensing platform from a Blu-ray DVD disc.

“The NSF Fellowship has opened the door for me to study at the university I want and to do research that I am interested in, as well as provide many opportunities in the future,” Ross says. “It also gives me confidence that I can be successful in graduate school.”

William McNeary is conducting research in the Carbon Recycling Center at MU on the supercritical water oxidation of sewage sludge, which is a high-temperature, high-pressure process that is being investigated as an alternative to the flush toilet.

“Many developing countries lack access to adequate sanitation, which enables the spread of disease,” McNeary says. “This technology represents a neighborhood-scale sanitation solution that does not put strain on scarce water resources like conventional sewage systems.”

In applying for the GRF, Sital Uprety proposed a study using local resources available in African nations such as Senegal to develop small-scale community-based treatment plants that can provide safe and clean drinking water.

“Taking on this project will not only develop my lab and research skills, but also will make me an effective problem solver.” Uprety says.

Shakked Halperin has already received the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which will allow him to pursue a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge next year. He will follow that experience by working towards his PhD when he returns to the United States.

Sarah Unruh and Colleen Young are graduate students at Mizzou and have earned a GRF. Unruh has worked as a teaching assistant to help fund her studies. The fellowship will allow her to focus primarily on research instead of dividing her time between research and teaching.

The award will help Young cover costs associated with traveling to different museums to collect data for her master’s and PhD degrees. She studies changes in body mass, body shape and robusticity of humans in island or island-like environments and would like to travel to museums across Europe and Africa.

“I hope to collaborate with ecologists and biologists to help elucidate the relationship between geographic area and human biodiversity,” Young says.

Graduate student Sarah Harrison was an honorable mention selection for the award. Four students—Elizabeth Bearce, Nathaniel Schuster, Michelle Tang and Bradley Wheeler—who completed their undergraduate degree at Mizzou and are enrolled in graduate school at other institutions also received funding through the GRF. Remington Moll, who earned an undergraduate degree from MU but is not currently enrolled in a graduate program, also earned the fellowship.