Five UNH students have been honored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) — two with graduate research fellowships and three with honorable mentions.
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recognizes outstanding students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and supports their pursuit of research-based graduate degrees.
Mariah Arral ’18 and graduate student Richard “RJ” Knecht were each awarded GRFP fellowships. Katherine Odanaka, a master’s student in the integrative and organismal biological sciences program, Avery Normandin ’15, who is studying microbial biology at MIT, and Tessa Artruc ’18, who received her degree in environmental engineering in May, received honorable mentions.
“The GRFP is one of the most prestigious awards for graduate-level study in the STEM and social science fields,” says Jeanne Sokolowski, director of UNH’s Office of National Fellowships. The fellowships include approximately $34,000 per year for up to three years and tuition payment to approved universities, and UNH applicants are supported by the Office of National Fellowships, Office of Research Development and UNH Graduate School.
Mariah Lynn Arral ’18, who received her bachelor’s in chemical engineering in May and will begin her graduate program at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in the fall, is no stranger to research.
“I started doing research my freshman year with professor Jeffrey Halpern in what is now the SEEDS Lab — Surface Enhanced Electrochemical Diagnostic Sensors Laboratory,” she says, explaining she worked on the electrochemical detection of NG-Hydroxy-L-arginine or NOHA, which has been found to cause cell death in certain breast cancer cells. “During my tenure in the SEEDS Lab, I have helped order and set up equipment for the lab, trained undergraduate and graduate students and led my own research project. The mentorship that I experienced with Dr. Halpern has been one of the most fundamental and influential experiences of my academic career.”
The NSF GRFP is helping Arral continue on her chosen path of becoming a university professor.
“Getting this fellowship has allowed me to choose my own faculty advisor and get a kickstart on my academic career under a mentor who supports me,” Arral says, explaining that her graduate school mentor at CMU recognized "my dedication to becoming a professor and laid out a general five-year plan that aligned with what I wanted my graduate career to be like."
Richard “RJ” Knecht is a graduate student in Earth sciences.
“My research focuses on the ‘paradox of the plankton,’ the question of how plankton species competing for the same resources and occupying the same niche can coexist for extended periods of time,” Knecht explains. “More specifically, my study examines the dynamics of the keystone zooplankton genus, Daphnia, within Aziscohos Lake in Oxford County, Maine, a lake which has been noted for its unusual abundance of cladocerans, the order containing Daphnia.”
Knecht is looking forward to the opportunities the NSF GRFP opens up for him.
“Winning the fellowship provides me some autonomy in choosing a dissertation topic and creates a financial safety net that allows me to stay focused on my research. The fellowship also gives me unique opportunities and the possibility of additional resources only available to fellows,” he says, adding, “I am honored to have won this award and intend to make the most of it!”