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Four from College Earn NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Spencer McDonald Doing a Wing Walk

Spencer McDonald performs a wing walk in Sequim, Washington, during his Boeing internship.

Four seniors from the Tickle College of Engineering have been selected for prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship program (GRFP) awards.

The chosen students, Zachary Jerome (civil), Spencer McDonald (aerospace), Yaw Mensah (electrical), and Alec Yen (electrical), will receive a $34,000 annual stipend for three years, $12,000 toward tuition and fees, and increased chances to take part in international research as well as other benefits as they begin their graduate studies in the fall. Jackson Wilt (aerospace) received an Honorable Mention from the program.

McDonald has accepted an offer from MIT, while Jerome, Mensah, and Yen are still considering several offers.

“We’re very proud of our students and the work that they do,” said Dean Janis Terpenny, the Wayne T. Davis Dean’s Chair. “These selections reflect well upon them, their faculty mentors, and the many long hours they work together toward educational success and on important research. Their diversity of disciplines also underscores the commitment our entire college has toward student success. I am proud of our dedicated faculty members who personally commit to seeing their students achieve greatness.”

Part of the selection process involves the NSF reviewing a student’s individual work and determining if their ideas can advance society, secure the national, or improve lives. It is extremely important for program applicants to have had measurable research experience at the undergraduate level—something the college considers vital for graduate school preparation.

Encouraging students, fostering their creativity, and helping them bring new ideas to fruition is core to the university’s mission for undergraduate research experiences.

“Our faculty take active interest in having undergraduate students in their research groups, and it’s something they take pride in being able to do,” said Terpenny. “They want their students to succeed, not just as reflection of their success in coaching them up, but also because they know that doing so helps put more people, more thought in their particular field of interest.”

All four of the students had faculty that they said were of particular benefit, saying their roles greatly helped them earn the NSF fellowships.

“This selection will give me the flexibility to explore topics I find most intriguing and impactful as I begin my graduate career at MIT next year,” McDonald said. “I would like to give special thanks to my research advisor, Assistant Professor Zhenbo Wang. Without his direction and support, many of my recent accomplishments would not have been possible.”

GRFP began in 1952, making it the oldest fellowship program in the nation devoted to supporting outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines. Some of its participants have gone on to become Nobel Laureates, government leaders, or titans of commerce, such as Google co-founder Sergey Brin.