14 Highlanders receive 2023 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Author: Malinn Loeung
April 18, 2023

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, or NSF GRFP, announced its 2023 cohort and it includes 14 awardees and three honorable mentions who are current UCR undergraduates, graduates, or alumni.


NSF GRFP supports a diverse selection of graduate students pursuing a full-time, research-based master’s and doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, at an accredited U.S. institution. 

This competitive award has a 16% acceptance rate and candidates must demonstrate the potential to be high-achieving scientists and engineers. Fellows are anticipated to become experts who contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in STEM to maintain and advance the nation’s technological infrastructure and national security, as well as contribute to the economic well-being of society.

The five-year fellowship provides awardees with a total of $147,000 to support their graduate studies, which includes a cost-of-education allowance and stipend.

Since the NSF GRFP’s establishment in 1952, 42 Fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates and more than 450 have become members of the National Academy of Sciences. The program has a high rate of doctorate degree completion, with more than 70% of fellows completing their doctorate within 11 years.

Since the 2013 establishment of UCR's Undergraduate Education Prestigious Scholarships & Awards Office, there have been 61 NSF GRFP awarded Highlanders and 18 honorable mentions.

NSF GRFP is open to fourth-year undergrads who will pursue graduate school and current graduate students. To learn more about the application process and deadlines, visit engage.ucr.edu or nsfgrfp.org.


Highlander Awardees of 2023 NSF GRFP  


Vincent Chavez

Kimberly Rose Bennett

Received a B.S. in bioengineering w/ honors from UCR in 2021 and is a second-year Ph.D. candidate at Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology. 

Other awards: MIT-Sloan UCEM Scholar, Tau Beta Pi Fellow, Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, and NSF GRFP Fellow.

As a first-generation college student and first-generation Mexican-American, Bennett is passionate about uplifting other first-generation and historically-excluded minority students into graduate programs and improving their representation in academia. Bennett's current research focuses on developing new nanocarriers to treat pediatric brain tumors and utilizes microfluidic devices to model blood-brain barrier vasculature in vitro.

 “Shock, pride, disbelief, grateful — all these words cannot fully describe how I feel receiving the NSF GRFP as someone from a first-generation background who didn't understand what research or graduate school were until later in my academic career and has constantly felt "behind" when compared to peers. This accomplishment would not have been possible without Dr. Victor Rodgers. I still remember how nervous I was sitting in his office and asking to join his lab. I am eternally grateful to him and Dr. Byron Ford for both being incredible co-mentors, pushing me to become a confident researcher, convincing me to pursue a Ph.D., and supporting me every step of the way. This is truly their award. The value of such exceptional mentors has been immeasurable, and I look forward to being that "difference" to others' academic journeys, just as they have been to mine." - Bennett 


Vincent Chávez

2023 NSF GRSP Awardee Vincent Chavez

Pursuing a B.A. in psychology, expected to graduate from UCR in spring 2023, and will pursue a Ph.D. in psychology at UC Davis. 

Other awards: 2022-2023 Chancellor’s Research Fellow and 2022 Undergraduate Research Mini-Grant Recipient

This former community college basketball player credits a psychology research project highlighting the academic strengths of athletes as his inspiration to pursue research to invalidate myths and validate theories. Chávez is a first-generation transfer student who conducts research with Dr. Tuppett M. Yates in the Adversity and Adaptation Lab.  His research examines adolescents’ physiological and behavioral regulatory responses using a laboratory task designed to evoke a startle and its implications for later health outcomes and social adjustments.

 “I am so thankful and thrilled to have received the NSF GRFP award this year! It's an honor to be recognized as a distinguished fellow at the national level for your hard work and dedication to your field of study. I consider myself very fortunate to have had a dream team of UCR officials and faculty supporting me through the rigorous NSF application process. I want to give a huge recognition to my CRF faculty mentor Dr. Tuppett M. Yates, for always being in my corner since day one and for pushing me to strive for excellence! I’m excited to study self-regulation and cardiac health among youth as I pursue my Ph.D. in Psychology at UC Davis with Dr. Paul D. Hastings starting this fall 2023.” - Chávez 


Hannah Hapich

Hannah Hapich

Received a B.S. in environmental sciences from UCR in 2022 and is expected to complete a Ph.D. in environmental sciences at UCR in 2027.

Other awards: 2020-21 Chancellor’s Research Fellow and 2021-22 Senior Chancellor’s Research Fellow

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Hapich was inspired to focus on environmental issues because of fracking in her hometown. As a UCR undergrad, she spent a summer conducting environmental research with a nonprofit organization in Varanasi, India.

“I am so honored to have received the NSF GRFP and look forward to studying microplastic and tire particle transport throughout Southern California. I have learned so much through the application process and am so grateful for my amazing mentors and support system that have helped me get here.” - Hapich


Diana Lopez

Diana Lopez

Received a B.S. in chemistry from UCR in 2021 and is expected to complete a Ph.D. in chemistry at UC Irvine.

Other awards: CAMP Scholar Award, Neil Allison Campbell Endowed Research Award, and Ph.D. Science Fellowship through the National GEM Consortium

Diana's journey to where she is today has been far from conventional. Following high school, she worked as a medical assistant in healthcare to provide financial support for her family. During that time, her fascination with medical implants and their scientific foundations grew, as she became increasingly aware of how they can significantly improve the quality of life for patients. This piqued Diana's interest in studying the fundamental science of implants, leading her to enroll in community college where she eventually met the transfer requirements for UCR.

"I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to discover their passion for science and pursue a fulfilling career in the field if they so choose. The fellowship has been instrumental in supporting my efforts to investigate the underlying chemistry of one-dimensional ‘van der Waals materials.’ Due to their distinct electronic and optical properties, these [special] materials hold great promise for use in the development of advanced electronic and optoelectronic devices." - Lopez


Advyth Ramachandran

Advyth Ramachandran

Pursuing a B.S. in biology, expected to graduate from UCR in spring 2023, and hoping to pursue a Ph.D. in ecology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

SEEDS, Ramachandran reinvigorated the program and increased membership by organizing a research project, data analysis workshops, field trips, and socials; and facilitating peer-to-peer networking, research opportunities, and professional development. As president of the UCR Natural History Museum Club, he organized multidisciplinary training opportunities in museum curation and natural history; and organized weekly curatorial activities, collection tours, and a social to connect students with faculty and research opportunities at UCR. Ramachandran conducts research with UCR’s Dr. Marko Spasojevic.

"I am honored to receive the NSF GRFP and I am immensely grateful to all of my mentors and instructors at UCR whose guidance and teaching prepared me to apply for this fellowship. I am very excited to study plant community dynamics as I pursue my Ph.D. in ecology at the University of Colorado, Boulder." - Ramachandran


Ricardo Tolentino

Ricardo Tolentino

Graduated from UCR in 2021 with a B.S. in chemistry and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Caltech.

As an undergrad at UCR, Tolentino worked with the Raincross Boxing Academy, serving as a mentor to underserved youth, and acted as a Student Engagement/Prestigious Scholarship Ambassador promoting undergrad research. With his help, UCR's Student Engagement launched an online mentorship program during the pandemic. Tolentino is currently working on entangled photon spectroscopy with the Cushing Lab at Caltech.

"I am honored to receive the NSF GRFP and I am extremely grateful for my mentors and experiences at UC Riverside that allowed me (to be) on this path." - Tolentino

Full list of Highlanders awarded the 2023 NSF GRFP: Kimberly Rose Bennett, Douglas E. Castro, Vincent Alejandro Chávez, Cheyenne R. Darrow, Kathryn Elizabeth Hammar, Hannah Rose Hapich, Celeste N. Hofstetter, Diana Lopez, Michael Austin Lum, Isaac Menchaca, Eva Ottum, Advyth Ramachandran, Ricardo Pfleider Tolentino, and Alfredo J. Velasquez; Honorable mentions: Lida Halilovic, Omar Y. O'Mari, and Megan A. Woods