Students and alumna receive Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation

Four Syracuse University students were awarded prestigious graduate research grants under the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), and two students received honorable mentions. The scholarship recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students pursuing research-based masters and doctoral degrees in the United States. The five-year grant includes three years of financial support, including a $34,000 annual stipend.

The recipients of the NSF GRFP in 2022 are:

  • Katelyn Bajorek ’21, a graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs with degrees in history and anthropology and a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program;
  • David Coghiel ’22, a civil engineer major at the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS);
  • Odlanyer Hernández de Lara, a Ph.D. Anthropology student at Maxwell School; and
  • Zhuoqi Tong ’22, a dual major in applied mathematics and bioengineering from the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering and Computer Science and a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program.

Katelyn Bajorek ’21

Bajorek studies medieval history and human osteology with a research focus on the intersections of medieval medicine and religion. This scholarship allows her to pursue her Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from Cornell University and provides important professional development resources to further her academic career. With a passion for field research, Bajorek hopes to one day work as an archaeological field supervisor in medieval cemeteries.

“As a kid, I was fascinated by books about dinosaurs and Egyptian mummies,” she says. “An archaeological field school with Dr. Guido Pezzarossi in 2018 showed me that a career in archeology is possible in real life. I envision spending a significant portion of my career directing excavations. Eventually, I want to be a professor of medieval archaeology, where I can run a teaching laboratory for new generations of students.”

David Coghiel ’22

Coghiel’s interest in civil engineering grew growing up in New York City, where construction projects were a constant presence. He recalls being curious about what was being developed and excited to see the finished products. “I realized that all projects should serve the safety and health of people – and as I got older I decided that I wanted to use my passion for engineering to help create a safe and sustainable future for all” , he says.

With the support of the NSF GRFP, Coghiel plans to conduct research into the environmental impact of carbon emissions from construction sites and to determine if there are more sustainable practices that can be implemented in construction design. During his undergraduate career, he participated in mentorship through the WellsLink Leadership Program and worked as a lab assistant with ECS Professors Cliff Davidson and Svetoslava Todorova. Both experiences will have a positive impact on his career, he believes.

“Working directly with engineering professors has taught me a number of practices that I hope to implement in my own research project and future engineering career,” says Coghiel.

Through his research, he seeks to find ways to provide healthier airspace for everyone, especially underserved communities that are often impacted by construction pollution.

Odlanyer Hernández de Lara

Hernández de Lara has been interested in archeology since volunteering with the Cuban Speleological Society in his native Cuba. Pursuing his Ph.D. in anthropology with a focus on historical archaeology, his research interests include conflict and battlefield archaeology, as well as the archeology of the contemporary past, heritage and memory. Hernández de Lara says the NSF grant will support his doctoral work and potentially open the door for future grants to further develop his research project.

“I met great professionals at SU who pushed my boundaries in unexpected ways,” says Hernández de Lara. “Interacting with professors and other graduate students in the Department of Anthropology and the Maxwell School as a whole has helped shape my approach to the discipline and life in general.”

He hopes to eventually become a college or university professional with a significant interest in museums, historic preservation agencies, and other public service positions in archaeology.

Zhuoqi Tong ’22

Tong will be graduating in Syracuse next month and earning his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He was drawn to biomedical engineering and a research interest in immune engineering from an early age and aspires to a long career working on the fight against cancer and other diseases.

“The NSF grant provides students and their graduate institutes with a generous amount of money to support independent and creative research, and gives students more flexibility to explore research directions that may not be fully supported by a faculty grant,” says tong “Now I can think carefully about what I want to research for my PhD, find gaps in the existing research on cancer treatment options and direct my research accordingly.”

He recognizes his work in Professor Jay Henderson’s lab and the supervision of Professor Henderson and Professor Julie Hasenwinkel as critical to his success. Tong’s long-term goals are teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students as a professor of biomedical engineering and establishing his own laboratory to continue next-generation cancer research with healing potential.

Abigail McCarthy and Karma Thomas

Two students also received honorable mentions in this year’s NSF GRFP competition. Abigail McCarthy, a Masters student in Earth Sciences at the College of Arts and Sciences, is researching new methods for assessing flood risk using high-throughput computing, particularly with regard to flood risk for socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Karma Thomas is a Ph.D. Biology student at the College of Arts and Sciences and member of the Althoff Lab whose research interests include the ecology and evolution of insects and their interactions with plants.

Upcoming learning opportunities for faculty

The Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA) will host several faculty meetings to share ideas on how to increase the number of Syracuse University graduate students and undergraduates applying to the NSF GRFP. The sessions are as follows:

  • Tuesday, April 26, 3 p.m.,katzer Collaboratory-347 Hinds Hall
  • Tuesday, May 3, 3 p.m.,katzer Collaboratory-347 Hinds Hall
  • Monday, May 9, 2 p.m., 243A Hinds Hall

Each of the three sessions can also be joined virtually via Zoom. CFSA staff will provide a brief overview of the NSF GRFP award and the support the university is currently offering to students in applying. The majority of each session will be devoted to learning about faculty experiences with the program and discussing ideas for increasing the number of applications.

Students interested in learning more about or applying for the next NSF GRFP award cycle or other nationally competitive grants and fellowships should visit the CFSA website or email cfsa@syr.edu for more information.

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