NSF awards graduate research fellowships to seven from COE

Portraits of six graduates selected for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

The National Science Foundation has selected six recent graduates of Oregon State University’s College of Engineering, and one student graduating in June, to be 2023 Fellows in the highly competitive NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. 

The program acknowledges and aids exceptional students pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in NSF-supported STEM disciplines at U.S. academic institutions. The five-year fellowship offers three years of financial support, consisting of an annual stipend of $37,000 and a cost-of-education allowance of $12,000, paid to the institution. Fellows are viewed as lifelong leaders in their fields who will contribute immensely to the scientific community.

Bridget Price (’23 H.B.S., chemical engineering) will begin her doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2024, after she completes a year of research as a Fulbright Scholar at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands. She aims to enhance wastewater treatment systems using oxygenic photogranules, which are pellet-shaped aggregates of algae and other microorganisms.

“As a graduate student, I plan to do research in the area of bioprocess engineering,” Price said. “I want to help optimize the processes used for the production of valuable bioproducts from microorganisms like algae, yeast, and bacteria.”

Andi Garcia-Ortiz (’22, H.B.S., bioengineering) is currently pursuing her doctorate in biomedical engineering at Cornell University, where she serves as communications director for the Biomedical Engineering Society graduate student chapter. Within her field, she is passionate about orthopedics and studying the human skeletal system.

This summer, Garcia-Ortiz will attend the Cornell biomedical engineering student immersion program, conducting clinical research and shadowing her mentor, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Alberto Carli, at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

“I’m investigating glucocorticoid-induced perilacunar remodeling within the lacunar-canalicular network using in vivo multiphoton microscopy and in silico Micro-CT-based imaging models to interrogate this complex bone question,” Garcia-Ortiz said.

Cindy Wong (’22, B.S., chemical engineering) is a doctoral student at MIT, where she works in the electrochemical engineering-focused lab of Fikile Brushett, associate professor of chemical engineering. Wong got her first taste of electrochemical engineering at COE.

“I worked on catalysts for seawater splitting with Kelsey Stoerzinger, studied electrochemical carbon dioxide conversion to fuels with Dr. Stoerzinger and Konstantinos Goulas, and explored sustainable applications of superabsorbent polymers with Skip Rochefort,” Wong said. “I also studied lithium-ion battery degradation with Robert Tenent at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. My mentors helped me discover my interest in renewable energy conversion and storage, ultimately leading me to graduate school.”

Wong’s research at MIT is at the intersection of electrochemical engineering and sustainable agriculture.

“I plan to study electrochemical nutrient recovery from farm waste for the production of fertilizer,” she explained. “Developing new processes to decarbonize the chemical industry will help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Also at MIT is Paris Myers (’22, H.B.S., bioengineering; H.B.S, fine arts), where she will begin studying biomechatronics as a graduate student researcher under Hugh Herr, professor of media arts and sciences, this fall. Myers has long been interested in the confluence of arts, design, and sustainability, which will inform her mechanical engineering research at MIT.

“I’m thrilled to combine art and engineering — function and form — to create solutions that integrate the human body, design, and robotic systems,” Myers said.

During her time at Oregon State, Myers was an undergraduate researcher with COE’s Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute and a visiting undergraduate research intern at Harvard University’s Biorobotics Laboratory.

Claire Niemet (’21, B.S., chemical engineering) has been studying for her doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder for the past two years, yet she maintains ties to Oregon State through her former mentor, Skip Rochefort, associate professor of chemical engineering. Currently, Niemet conducts research in Chris Bowman’s lab, where her work focuses on photopolymerized crosslinked polymers.

“I’m researching a new chemistry that has the ability to form acrylate groups within a polymer network when exposed to heat and light,” Niemet said. “This has applications for performance-degradable polymers or in multistage polymers, which change mechanical properties when exposed to a stimulus. I’m excited to see where this project takes me now that I have funding.”

Kylie Boenisch-Oakes (’20, H.B.S., environmental engineering) is also a graduate student at Boulder, studying wastewater management and reuse within the environmental engineering program. She credits her mentors and experiences at Oregon State for inspiring her to pursue an advanced degree after two years of working as an environmental engineer at Intel. Both her research in the nanotoxicology lab of Stacey Harper, professor of environmental engineering, and her internship with the city of Portland’s Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant sparked her interest in wastewater reuse.

“Treating wastewater to high standards for human consumption becomes increasingly critical as climate change and drought strain water systems,” Boenisch-Oakes said. “Disinfection is key, yet disinfectants can react with organic matter and may form harmful chemical disinfection by-products. My research aims to understand how these compounds behave in water distribution systems and buildings in wastewater reuse scenarios to inform regulations and protect public health.”

Faaiq Waqar (’22, B.S., computer science and electrical and computer engineering) will begin his doctorate program in electrical and computer engineering this fall at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He will be performing research in the area of emerging nanoelectronic devices for use in computers built to mimic the function of the human brain. 

After earning his PhD, Waqar hopes to land a faculty position at a large research institution. “I had many incredible professors that guided me to the path I am on today, and I want to do my part to inspire awe in the next generation of engineers and scientists,” he said.

Among the professors who mentored Waqar are Cory Simon and Xialoi Fern, his senior research project advisors, with whom he published a paper about use of graph neural networks for prediction of gas adsorption in covalent organic frameworks. “It was an exhilarating pursuit that consistently challenged my confidence in the aptitude of the mathematical models we use to describe physical phenomena,” he said.

May 30, 2023