Five students awarded NSF fellowships

Author: Imran Ghori
April 22, 2020

Five UC Riverside students have been selected to receive a 2020 Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, or NSF.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions. Fellows often become life-long leaders, achieving high levels of success in their academic and professional careers.

Each fellow receives a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 as well as a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees, opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education.

This year’s recipients of the highly competitive fellowship include two undergraduate students and three graduate students. Learn more about them below:

Crysthal Alvarez

Crysthal Alvarez

Alvarez, 25, is a first-year doctoral student in mechanical engineering who also received her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UCR, serving as class commencement speaker.

A first-generation student who began her studies at Chaffey College before transferring to UCR, Alvarez plans to become an engineering professor and have her own research lab. Her goal is to provide opportunities to other first-generation, low-income, and transfer students to succeed in STEM fields.

Dylan Enright

Dylan Enright

Enright, 27, is a second-year doctoral student in microbiology doing research at the Glassman Lab, primarily on the effects of wildfires on soil microbial communities.

A first-generation student, Enright called the fellowship life-changing and a validation of many years of work. As the sole provider for his wife and 2-year-old daughter, Enright said the fellowship will provide him financial security and freedom to pursue his research.

Nicholas Higgins

Nick Higgins

Higgins, 22, is a fourth-year student studying bioengineering and working in two laboratories. In the fall, he will be pursuing his graduate studies in a joint bioengineering doctoral program at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco.

Higgins said the fellowship will allow him greater flexibility in choosing research areas and give him the opportunity to work with professors who may have less funding.

Kayla Rodriguez

Kayla Rodriguez

Rodriguez, 23, is a first-year graduate student studying atomic-molecular-optical physics, which she hopes to continue researching. Last year, she worked on a laser-cooling molecules experiment and is now working on an electron-trapping experiment.

She said she’s excited about the award and the chance to spend more time on research.

Tyler Smith

Tyler Smith

Smith, 28, is a fourth-year student studying physics who will be pursuing his doctorate in physics at UC Irvine this fall. Over the summer, he will continue his work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, returning as an intern to work on its Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope's Coronagraph Instrument team.

A first-generation and transfer student, Smith said the fellowship will provide financial stability for him and his family, allowing him to begin his research in his first year as a graduate student.

Honorable mentions

Nine graduate students also received honorable mentions:

•    Lauren Gedlinske, evolutionary ecology and organismal biology
•    Jessica Trinh, microbiology
•    Alex Valenzuela, plant biology
•    Nathan Sy, environmental sciences
•    Molly Powers, chemistry
•    Jaimie Kenney, entomology
•    Jacob Elder, psychology
•    Christopher Drozd, plant pathology
•    Alexander Borowsky, plant biology

"The NSF GRFP opens up so many doors for the graduate students who receive it,” said Hillary Jenks, director of UCR’s GradSuccess office, which promotes the academic and professional development of the graduate student community. “The fellowship makes it possible to focus on research rather than juggling additional work obligations, and there are even NSF opportunities that are only open to GRFP recipients.”