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Five Students Earn NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

September 7, 2022

Ph.D. student Dylan RichardsonTwo UC Merced doctoral students and three undergraduate alumni have each earned a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF-GRFP).

The fellowships are highly competitive, with annual acceptance rates of about 16% from among more than 12,000 applicants. The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support, including an annual stipend of $34,000.

Dylan Richardson from San Francisco graduated with his bachelor’s degree in psychology at UC Merced in spring 2021 and continued in the Psychological Sciences Graduate Program in fall 2021.

Richardson works with Professor Elif Isbell in the I.D.E.A. Lab, researching how early experiences affect the development of cognitive control in children.

“My research focuses on how socioeconomic status (SES) is linked to the development of cognitive control in children,” he said. “I am specifically interested in exploring how SES relates to auditory attention and if there are potential beneficial factors in the classroom, such as teacher-child interactions.”

He is the first student in Psychological Sciences to receive the NSF-GRFP.

“Receiving an NSF graduate research fellowship means the world to me. I come from a lower-SES background and am a first-generation college student,” Richardson said. “I love the research I'm doing and hope to contribute towards minimizing socioeconomic disparities to reduce the academic achievement gap.”

Ph.D. student Kris TroyKris Troy, who is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, joined UC Merced as a Ph.D. student in the Quantitative and Systems Biology Graduate Group in 2020. They are a 2016 Allegheny College graduate who majored in biology.

Troy’s research interests are epigenetics — how behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way genes work — and making STEM education more accessible to diverse populations.

On the biology side, they plan to combine their passion for genetics and data science to look at different aspects of previously published data to consider how changing the environment for an organism changes gene expression.

“If you’re looking at an organism to get a picture of what the genome is doing, you generate like 300 gigabytes of data per experiment,” they said. “All that data gets published on the internet and people do experiments with one part. There's so much data available, so there's a lot of opportunity for people like me to do experiments by analyzing it in different ways.”

On the educational research front, they are working with professors Marcos García-Ojeda and Petra Kranzfelder to measure student understanding across a degree program using an assessment tool called Bio-MAPS, which stands for Biology-Measuring Achievement and Progression in Science.

“We've been giving this assessment to UC Merced students at different time points during their program to see what the students are actually learning,” Troy said. “We are also looking at how the concept inventories of the students here might differ from students at other institutions.”

For Troy, the NSF-GRFP guaranteed funding is a game changer.

“It guarantees that I don't need to teach to pay my bills, although I probably will for part of my research,” they said. “This kind of fellowship grants the student the ability to do whatever research they want; wherever they want.”

Three undergraduate engineering alumni also received the NSF-GRFP: Deniz Akpinaroglu, who is pursuing graduate studies in bioengineering at UC San Francisco; Arianna Quinn Tariqi, who is pursuing graduate studies in environmental engineering at the University of Arizona; and Gabriela Villalpando Torres, who is pursuing graduate studies in bioengineering at UC Santa Barbara.