Saturday, April 29, 2017

Record number of UTSA students earn NSF fellowships

Five UTSA students earn prestigious grant to support STEM research

(April 10, 2017) -- Five students from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) will receive the 2017 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, the largest number of UTSA students ever to receive the honor in one year.

The distinguished fellowship is awarded to outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. Three of the five UTSA students received the award while completing their undergraduate degrees at UTSA.

One of UTSA's recipients is Jasmine King, who graduates from UTSA in May with her bachelor's in biomedical engineering. The Louisiana native transferred to UTSA for the academic opportunities.

"Transferring to UTSA was the best career move I've made," said King. "The MARC-U*STAR program changed my life by introducing me to biomedical research. This has given me the most competitive edge for other research experiences while sharpening my professional skills."

King is developing a silk-based scaffold system to support pancreatic acinar, which could help fight pancreatitis. She'll build on her UTSA education this fall when she attends the joint UC Berkeley/UC San Francisco Graduate Program in Bioengineering.

"The NSF Fellowship is a huge honor and it's highly competitive," said Gail Taylor, assistant director of UTSA's Maximizing Access to Research Careers - Undergraduate Student Training for Academic Research (MARC U*STAR) and Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) programs. "It's a sign that UTSA is developing more and more as a top-tier research institution."

NSF Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 while their universities receive a $12,000 cost of education allowance to cover tuition and fees. They also receive international research opportunities, professional development opportunities and the freedom to conduct research on a topic of their choosing at the accredited U.S. institutions where they enroll.

Biology senior and MARC participant Madeline Cortez is another UTSA NSF Fellow.

"As a freshman, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my biology degree," said Cortez. "As soon as I joined a lab, I knew it was the place for me. I received both technical and professional training at UTSA."

Cortez is working alongside Floyd L. Wormley Jr. to create an anti-fungal vaccine that can protect healthy individuals and those who do not have fully functioning immune systems. After she graduates in May, the San Antonio native will pursue her doctoral degree at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in the Molecular Virology and Microbiology program.

Jason Giuliani is pursuing his Ph.D. in physics at UTSA after graduating with his bachelor's in 2016. MARC and RISE helped Giuliani develop his research in Carlos Monton's laboratory. He will continue that work, which consists of using electrochemistry and physical methods to create arrays of magnetic, multi-compositional nanowires and nanostructures, with help from the NSF Fellowship.

"This honor means everything to me," Giuliani said. "UTSA has played an instrumental role in making it a reality."

Other UTSA NSF Fellows include undergraduate biomedical engineering student Alisa Isaac and Christian Sheumaker, a UTSA graduate student in archaeology.

"We have some amazing students at UTSA. They're competitive at just about any school in the nation but they choose to come here," said Taylor. "What's unique about UTSA is the depth of training undergraduates receive in our labs. These students are getting the research experience usually not obtained at other universities until graduate school."

Taylor's tells other student researchers at UTSA, "Aim high because at UTSA you can reach it. You can get the research you need, touch the community and develop as a leader."

UTSA is ranked among the top 400 universities in the world and among the top 100 in the nation, according to Times Higher Education.

- Courtney Clevenger

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