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NDSU students receive prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Photo of Kurt Williams

Kurt Williams

Photo of Anna Renner

Anna Renner

NDSU graduate student Kurt Williams and senior Anna Renner recently were awarded 2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program grants. The annual honors support outstanding students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are, or will begin, pursuing research-based master’s or doctoral degrees.

The NSF also awarded honorable mentions to NDSU chemistry graduate student Jasmin Kaye Farmakes and microbiology senior Ryan Callahan. 

Awardees receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees, opportunities for international research and professional development and the freedom to conduct research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

Williams is a doctoral student in zoology and STEM education whose hometown is Rockford, Illinois. His research focuses on student motivation and student persistence in biology.

“The grant will support me as I work to figure out better ways to help our biology students succeed in college and beyond. This award also recognizes the valuable research in biology education happening at NDSU and will propel me into a career in research,” said Williams, who will continue his pursuit of his doctorate at NDSU.

“I was very happy and honored to receive the fellowship, which will greatly support my education and career,” said Renner, a chemistry major who is from Fargo. “I’m very thankful for the research and academic opportunities I’ve had at NDSU that have contributed to my education and enabled me to be a competitive applicant.” 

Renner is currently conducting synthetic organic chemistry research in the laboratory headed by University Distinguished Professor Mukund Sibi. She plans to begin graduate studies in chemistry at Harvard University next fall.

The success of NDSU students in earning the fellowships has improved recently, in part, because of targeted training by the Graduate Center for Writers and the Office of Research and Creative Activity. 

In 2014, the two groups hosted workshops for applicants and their advisers that featured education consultant Alan Paul, and the center provided individual support for the applicants. The result was one honorable mention. 

The next year, center director Enrico Sassi conducted a series of workshops, the writing center provided one-on-one consulting services and Paul gave feedback as an external reviewer. In the 2016 awards, NDSU experienced an unprecedented uptick with three awards and three honorable mentions. Half of these honorees were students who were assisted by Sassi and the center.

Bolstered by the success, Sassi developed a one-credit course titled “Writing for Scholars, Fellows and Researchers” for both applicants and other students interested in fellowship writing training. The center again provided individual support and external reviews by Paul for applicants. In 2017, the course produced both of NDSU’s awards – a successful grant for Rachel Salter and an honorable mention for Darcy Corbitt-Hall.

For the 2018 process, the course was offered again and attendees achieved two successful grants and one of two honorable mentions for NDSU.

“Personal statements seem to be the hardest to write. Students have been trained to write objectively, keeping themselves conspicuously out of the text in traditional STEM writing,” Sassi said. “Now they are asked to insert themselves as the protagonist in a personal statement to persuade reviewers that they have what it takes to become a top researcher in the future.”

In addition to the recognition for the current students, NDSU was the baccalaureate institution of fellowship recipient Joseph Roth, a graduate student at the Pennsylvania State University, and fellowship recipient Bridget Eklund, a graduate student at Colorado State University.

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North Dakota State University
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