Six UCF changemakers have been named U.S. National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows, a recognition shared by the likes of Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Nobel prize winner Steven Chu.

Another four UCF students have been recognized with honorable mentions.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowships program is dedicated to supporting students in STEM disciplines who are pursuing full-time research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. The goal is to help ensure quality, vitality and diversity in the U.S. engineering and scientific workforce. The program is one of the oldest running awards programs at the NSF.

For each graduate fellow, the award includes a five-year fellowship with three years of financial backing, including an annual stipend of $34,000 and a cost of education allowance of $12,000 to the institution.

“These students should be proud of this accomplishment,” says John Weishampel, senior associate dean of the College of Graduate Studies. He served at the NSF and has helped select recipients in the past. “This fellowship will allow them to begin planning for their future scientific and engineering endeavors. The GRFP helps pave a path for them to change the world.”

Riley Havel, is the first in her family to pursue a doctorate and STEM degree. She is graduating in May with a major in physicsand minor in geosciences. With her NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, she will be attending Brown University as a doctorate student in their Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences program.

“Being awarded the NSF GRFP gave me confidence in my potential as a scientist,” Havel says. “The reassuring feedback and constructive comments regarding my proposed research plan has made me even more excited to get started.”

Havel’s research interests include isotope geochemistry in meteorites and understanding the evolution of our solar system. After completing her studies, she aims to become a research scientist at NASA and transition into an administrative role further down the line.

Many of the recipients are Burnett Honors College students or are part of the McNair Scholar Program (McNair) or Research and Mentoring Program (RAMP) at UCF. Two of the students, Havel and Rosa Oliviera, are graduating this spring, and four are recent graduates now at other institutions.

The recipients are:

  • Erin Crites ’20, physics (BS), College of Sciences, Burnett Honors College

Current Institution: North Carolina State University

Field of Study: Physics and astronomy – condensed matter physics

  • Riley Havel, physics (BS), College of Sciences, RAMP, Burnett Honors College

Current Institution: University of Central Florida

Field of Study: Geosciences – planetary science

  • Mari Irving ’20, Biology (BS), College of Sciences, Burnett Honors College

Current Institution: University of California-Santa Barbara

Field of Study: Life sciences – ecology

  • Rosa Olivera, aerospace engineering (BSAE), College of Engineering and Computer Science, McNair Scholar

Current Institution: University of Central Florida

Field of Study: Engineering – aeronautical and aerospace

  • Stephanie Schreiner ’21, biology (BS), College of Sciences, McNair Scholar

Current Institution: University of Pennsylvania

Field of Study: Life sciences – immunology

  • Nicholas Wiesenthal ’21, Biology (BS), College of Sciences

Current Institution: Arizona State University

Field of Study: STEM education and learning research

Awardee Stephanie Schreiner says she owes her success to her mentors, including UCF Material Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Kaitlyn Crawford, Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences Associate Professor Kyle Rohde, UPenn Associate Professor of Microbiology Sunny Shin, and the McNair Scholars Program.

“As a first-generation college student, there were no scientists in my family and no Ph.D.s I could ask for advice,” Schreiner says. “I also surrounded myself with a support system. Winning the NSF GRFP reaffirmed my belief that with hard work, anything is possible.”

Additionally, four UCF graduates were recognized with honorable mentions. The recipients are:

  • Julissa Burgos ’19, biomedical sciences (BS), College of Medicine, McNair Scholar

Current Institution: Vanderbilt University

Field of Study: Life sciences – cell and developmental biology

  • Lauren Puleo ’21, Biology (BS), College of Sciences

Current Institution: University of South Carolina at Columbia

Field of Study: Life sciences – ecology

  • Marc Etienne ’21, aerospace engineering (BSAE), College of Engineering and Computer Science

Current Institution: University of Central Florida

Field of Study: Engineering – aeronautical and aerospace

  • Stephanie Lyn Villella ’20, biology (BS), College of Sciences

Current Institution: University of Central Florida

Field of Study: Life sciences – ecology

Honorable mention Puleo is currently pursuing her master’s in biology at the University of South Carolina at Columbia. In the future, she plans to obtain a Ph.D. and continue her research in the effects of climate change on long-distance migratory shorebirds.

“I hope my research will aid in future conservation efforts,” Puleo says. “Receiving an honorable mention at the beginning of my graduate career gives me great inspiration and determination to push forward with research goals.”

UCF’s Office of Prestigious Awards Director Morgan Bauer says he is thrilled to share the news about the recipients.

“This is a campus-wide achievement that could not be possible without the support of the faculty and other academic support offices, such as Academic Advancement Programs,” Bauer says.

This year, NSF awarded 2,193 Graduate Research Fellowships to students around the country.

In 2021, UCF had a record-breaking 16 Knights earn NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, and in 2020, 15 UCF students received the honor. UCF has had a total of 143 NSF GRFP recipients and 80 Honorable Mentions since inception of the fellowship.

For more information on the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, or other major national awards, and how to apply, students should contact the Office of Prestigious Awards at [email protected].