Sixteen students and alumni receive NSF grants

by Emilia Baldwin and Erin Lee | 5/12/15 7:01pm

Last week the National Science Foundation awarded 16 alumni and students Graduate Research Fellowships for 2015 out of 2,000 recipients from a pool of 16,500 applicants nationwide. An additional 16 Dartmouth-affiliated students were awarded honorable mentions.

The fellowship provides recipients an annual stipend of $32,000, as well as a yearly $12,000 to go toward tuition. The program is open both current graduate students and undergraduate students who are in their final year and have been accepted to graduate schools.

Dean of graduate studies Jon Kull said that the fellowship represents a monumental award for young researchers.

“The nice thing about it is by a student getting it is that it’s really the first professional recognition of them and their potential to be a researcher,” Kull said.

Kull said that the award not only takes into account the student’s potential as a researcher, but also the student’s research institution itself. He said that it is a tremendous honor for Dartmouth students to be chosen because he said it speaks to the quality of the College’s students and research facilities alike.

He added that the number of students receiving the fellowship has remained consistent for the past couple of years, saying that he hopes more students might apply for the GSF and other similar fellowships.

He said that the application process is arduous process of at least a month and that the College and its graduate schools hold various workshops about the application and assign advisors to applicants.

The application also requires a grant proposal, which Kull said should be written for a broad audience since it could be judged by either an expert in the field or by someone who has no knowledge of the subject.

Sarah Hammer ’15, another fellowship recipient, is pursuing an engineering modified with chemistry major at the Thayer School of Engineering as well as an environmental science minor.

She said that she initially applied for the fellowship to practice for applying next year, and that she was shocked to be selected. She noted that even applying is a good learning opportunity because one can apply more than once.

“There’s really no harm in applying as an undergraduate, even if it’s for practice, since you can always apply again,” she said.

During her time at the College, Hammer conducted research on ethanol as an alternative energy source to gasoline. Next year, Hammer will pursue a six-year Ph.D. program at Princeton University, where she will study chemical and biological engineering. She said that she will build on her undergraduate research by focusing on biology and metabolic engineering in order to develop alternative energy sources.

Rikker Dockum ’04, another fellowship recipient, is a graduate student in linguistics at Yale University, where he researches the changes in the Tai-Kadai linguistic group, which includes tonal languages like Thai. He said that he first developed his love for linguistics during his time at the College, where he majored in the subject.

“I took ‘Introduction to Linguistics,’ and thereafter took as many linguistics classes as I could” he said.

He explained that he took a very unconventional route to graduate school, working for seven years after his time at the College before eventually enrolling.

Gabriel Lewis, a first-year graduate student studying geological sciences at the College, said that he was most excited about being recognized with such an important fellowship.

“It’s this really prestigious grant from such a large organization, so it’s been really cool to be chosen for it,” Lewis said. He added that having an additional stipend outside of what he receives from the College provides a sense of relief in terms of his personal finances.

Lewis is currently working with environmental science professors Erich Osterberg and Robert Hawley. He is researching how Greenland’s mainland is responding to climate change as well as tracking glaciers’ color change and rising sea levels.

Lewis said that he thinks that during the selection process the NSF is really looking for whether or not a candidate has the potential to make innovative discoveries in his or her field.

“They’re really asking, ‘What makes you qualified to answer these types of questions?’” he said.