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NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes 8 UK students, alums

By Lindsey Piercy 

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 15, 2024)  The University of Kentucky Office of Nationally Competitive Awards has announced a total of eight students and recent graduates have been selected as award winners of the National Science Foundation’s  Graduate Research Fellowship Program. The fellowship supports outstanding graduate research across the country. 

As part of the five-year program, NSF Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $37,000, along with a $16,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, for a research-based master's or doctoral degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) field.

In 2024, the NSF awarded more than 2,000 fellowships.

The four students awarded fellowships are: 

  • Alyson Ackerman, a chemistry Ph.D. student from Lexington.
  • William Anderson, an aerospace engineering master’s student from Louisville.
  • Rebecca Robertson, an entomology master’s student from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
  • Kate Rhoads, an aerospace engineering Ph.D. student from Owensboro, Kentucky.

The four alumni awarded fellowships are:

  • Lucas Bertucci, a 2023 chemical engineering and Lewis Honors College graduate from Louisville, who will pursue graduate study at Yale University.
  • Ramy Ghanim, a 2022 chemistry, chemical engineering and Lewis Honors College graduate, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Georgia Tech.
  • Skyler Hornback, a 2022 chemical engineering graduate, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Vanderbilt University.
  • Andrew Smith, a 2022 chemistry graduate from Louisville, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Duke University.

Additionally, Hannah Blevins, Zoe Hert, Carly Karrick and Gwynne Symons Buxton received honorable mention recognition from the NSF.

When asked about opportunities provided by the award, several of the new fellows acknowledged the flexibility the funding will provide during their graduate education.

“This allows me to continue pursuing the research I’m most passionate about,” Ackerman said. “I’m currently working on a medicinal chemistry project that investigates natural products as drug candidates for triple-negative breast cancer. Ultimately, I’m excited to see where this field will take me.”

“Receiving the NSF-GRF allows me much more intellectual flexibility — as my efforts are not tied to a grant,” added Hornback, whose research focuses on application of polyurethane biomaterials for supplementing natural bone biologic processes. “Now, I have the freedom to explore new ideas, think ‘outside of the box’ and take larger risks in my experimentation, potentially increasing the clinical impact of our work.”

The NSF program is the country’s oldest graduate fellowship program directly supporting graduate students since 1952. The program is a critical program in the overall strategy to develop a globally engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation's leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation.

A hallmark of the program is its contribution to increasing the diversity of the STEM workforce, including geographic distribution, as well as the participation of women, underrepresented populations, persons with disabilities and veterans.

To learn more about the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, visit their website.

The Office of Nationally Competitive Awards assists current UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with the office, housed in the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence, well in advance of the scholarship deadline. Staff is available for appointments to discuss opportunities.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.