Four students at West Virginia University have been awarded fellowships from the National Science Foundation that will allow them to continue their studies at the graduate level.
The four, two in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and two in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, were selected from among close to 17,000 applications. NSF fellows receive a $34,000 annual stipend for three years, a $12,000 cost of education allowance, opportunities for international research and the liberty to choose their own course of research at an accredited university.
Two of the students are no strangers to winning prestigious national awards.
Andrew Maloney, a chemical engineering major and Honors College student from Morgantown, and Trevor Butcher, a chemistry major and Honors College student from Hollywood, Maryland, were both named Goldwater Scholars in their sophomore year. Both are quick to credit their faculty mentors at WVU, Cerasela Zoica Dinu and Brian V. Popp, respectively, for providing them
with the opportunities they needed to be successful.
“I met Dr. Dinu in my senior year of high school and that helped me start my research early in my career,” said Maloney. “Starting so early opened a lot of opportunities for me, like presenting at conferences, conducting research abroad and being published each year. This prepared me for graduate school and helped me receive the NSF Fellowship.”
Maloney is headed to MIT, where he will conduct research relative to the pharmaceutical industry.
Butcher credited Popp with providing him with opportunities to attend conferences where he could present his research.
“He worked closely with me, writing grants for a NASA program and the Goldwater Scholarship,” Butcher said. “Such in-depth help with scientific writing is rare to find from a professor, but this help ultimately prepared me for applying for the NSF award. Dr. Popp has now allowed me to begin my own research project, and I believe this experience has greatly prepared me for the independence required in graduate school.”
Butcher will attend graduate school at the University of California-Berkeley with a goal of attaining a doctorate in organic chemistry. He expects to conduct research in the field of reaction discovery and synthetic methodology with an emphasis on transition-metal catalysis.
Morgantown native Nicholas Ohi, a mechanical and aerospace engineering major and Honors College student, will stay at WVU to continue his research in autonomous robotics under Assistant Professor Yu Gu. He hopes to one day develop fast traverse capabilities for future NASA Mars rovers, which would allow them to travel up to 100 meters per day from their current 10 meters per day.
Ohi credits two projects – the NASA Sample Return Robot Challenge, which WVU successfully completed in 2015, and the NASA Simulation to Flight 1 CubeSat mission, the first spacecraft mission entirely developed in West Virginia – with helping prepare him for graduate school.
“I also took advantage of internship opportunities at the nearby NASA IV&V Facility in Fairmont,” Ohi added, “and the excellent professors and staff at WVU challenged, enabled, inspired and helped me to grow in knowledge, skills and understanding of the possibilities of career directions and research topics that I could pursue.”
A native of Hackettstown, New Jersey, Joseph Carrara earned his bachelor’s degree in biology at Monmouth University, where he conducted undergraduate research in RNA structure.
“I became interested in studying ecosystem-level response to climate change and I decided to come to WVU because of the great work the biology department does in this field and specifically, to work with my current advisor, Dr. Edward Brzostek,” Carrara said.
The focus of his current research, Carrara said, is on the effects of nitrogen deposition on soil carbon dynamics in forests.
“Carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas, which contributes to the warming of the atmosphere,” he said. “Soils store more carbon than both the atmosphere and vegetation combined. As nitrogen deposition is on the rise in many industrialized parts of the world due to the burning of fossil fuels, it is important to study the impacts of increased nitrogen on the world’s soil carbon stores.”