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Terryl Dodson, Clarice Phelps, and Promise Adebayo-Ige.

Vols Move Forward in Graduate School with GEM Fellowship

This year the college is proud to present news of multiple GEM Fellowship recipients as they launch their graduate careers from UT and also as they arrive to study here on Rocky Top.

The university is a proud member of the National Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, Inc. (GEM) Consortium. This network of universities, research institutions, national laboratories, and corporations works to increase the participation of underrepresented groups—African Americans, American Indians, and Hispanic Americans—at the master’s and doctoral levels in engineering and science.

GEM selects highly qualified students to complete a program of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduate study and industry internships.

Through collaborative university and employer members and other strategic partners, GEM develops funding to award fellowships and builds mentor networks to support fellows in achieving academic and professional success.

Terryl Dodson

Knoxville native Terryl Dodson, a 2021 graduate in electrical engineering and computer science, continues his academic pursuit in graduate school at Virginia Tech with the support of a national GEM Fellowship.

“The GEM Fellowship will benefit me in many ways,” said Dodson. “I will be attending graduate school at no cost where I will be able to partake in and conduct research and broaden my knowledge within computer science. I also have been given two internship opportunities with IBM through the fellowship (summer 2021 and summer 2022).”

He feels that his experience in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science has well prepared him for this next step in his engineering journey. Dodson is particularly thankful for encouragement and guidance from the staff in the Office of Engineering Diversity Programs.

“They have assisted me countless of times,” he said. “The whole staff has been a huge help—especially Mr. Griffin. I was given this wonderful GEM opportunity due to Mr. Griffin sharing his knowledgeable insights.”

Dodson also cherishes the family of colleagues he formed as a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) at UT.

“My favorite activities of campus life would be spending time with my NSBE family and attending the sporting events,” he said.

Dodson’s ongoing studies encompass the areas of cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and machine learning as he earns his master’s degree in the computer science and applications department at Virginia Tech.

“I plan on conducting research in either autonomous vehicles or facial recognition and misinformation & disinformation,” he said. “After graduate school, I plan on continuing my career and commence working in industry.”

Clarice Phelps

Clarice Phelps brings years of professional experience to her GEM-supported PhD studies in nuclear engineering. She spent over three years in the US Navy after completing her BS in chemistry at Tennessee State University in 2003, and followed that up with 12 years of technical and research roles at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

She feels honored to be a GEM Fellow and represent Black women at this level of personal and educational success.

“It means more that aspiring GEM fellows and my peers can see themselves in what I represent as a fellow,” she said. “And being an influence to future scientists and engineers is more than a privilege.”

Phelps chose to attend graduate school and study nuclear engineering in order to expand her knowledge and skill range, and also to offer representation through own academic endeavors.

“Having worked in the field since 2004,when I was in the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program, I never had the opportunity to work directly with another woman of color. And for the past 17 years, this has also been the case. I wanted to augment my knowledge and skill set to help bring this sector of science to young minds and highlight this field as something that is attainable.”

Phelps was drawn to the Department of Nuclear Engineering‘s reputation as one of the best in the country. Also, its strong relationship with ORNL provides UT nuclear engineering students a unique advantage for hands-on experience and real-world applications. She is working with Professor Lawrence Heilbronn, looking at different ways to use spectroelectrochemistry in the production and purification of various lanthanides and actinides for applied nuclear experiments.

“I hope that during my time at UT, I can earn my PhD and learn more about all the interesting areas of study within the nuclear engineering program, especially areas involving radiochemistry and radiation engineering,” said Phelps. “I hope to also build positive connections with peers and professors, and provide a unique perspective on my experience as an older, non-traditional student.”

Promise Adebayo-Ige

Promise Adebayo-Ige is also among the group of GEM Fellows building their graduate careers at UT Knoxville. The Eastvale, California, native student earned his undergraduate degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. His strong interest in nuclear fusion led him to seek out the Tickle College of Engineering nuclear engineering program, where he works with Governor’s Chair Professor Brian Wirth.

“After doing a summer internship at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL), I identified plasma-material interactions as an area within the field that I had strong interest in,” he said. “UT has strong expertise in this area and I really enjoyed seeing Knoxville on my visit.”

His graduate school goals are to achieve novel, groundbreaking work in his research area, and the GEM Fellowship will help him in that endeavor.

“Being a GEM Fellow means the world to me,” said Adebayo-Ige. “It’s an amazing privilege to be counted amongst such an accomplished group of students. I’m also very proud to be one of the few GEM Fellows in the field of nuclear engineering.”

His PPPL internship is a continued benefit, as he will collaborate with the lab as he works on his PhD.

“Through the internship, I’ve been able to work with experienced researchers and learn a lot about experimental techniques in my field,” said Adebayo-Ige. “In addition, I am now connected to the GEM alumni network and the fellowship also provides generous financial support.”

Two other current GEM Fellows are Kyra Owensby, a PhD student with the Bredesen Center; and Candice Halbert, a PhD student in chemistry.