Alumnae Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

June 22, 2015
Photo of the Andes Mountains

Sarah George ’14 believes that the Amazon River may have flowed the other direction in the not-so-distant past and that the formation of the Andes Mountains in northern Peru and Ecuador could have caused the Amazon River to reverse its course. By integrating geochemistry with field observations, she plans to study how and when this reversal may have happened.

George, who majored in geosciences at Wellesley, is one of five alumnae named recipients of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship for 2015. The fellowship, which includes a three-year stipend of $34,000, a $12,000 cost of education allowance, and opportunities for international research, will allow her to switch from a master’s program to a doctoral program at the University of Texas, Austin. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” she said. “It will literally alter the course of my career.”

For Rachel Harris ’14, who majored in biology and minored in Russian, the NSF fellowship will support her exploration of a different part of the world. A doctoral student in the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University, Harris studies deep subsurface methanogens in the world’s deepest gold mines.

“These sites serve as analogues for extreme environments that hosted life in early Earth history, as well as potential habitable environments on Mars,” she said. “Receiving the grant was a huge confidence boost that affirmed my desire to be a trailblazer in environmental microbiology. I hope my research will help improve our understanding of the most basal lineages in the tree of life, whose dispositions thus far have been subject to bias brought forth by molecular techniques originally designed for use with cultivable model organisms.”

Amanda M. Papakyrikos ’14 studied biology and anthropology at the College, and recently completed her first year as a doctoral student in the Department of Developmental Biology at Stanford University. “I am interested in nervous system development and degeneration,” she said. “Having support from the NSF is great because it means that I can focus on research, classes, and outreach rather than on finding funding.”

The NSF graduate fellowship program, the oldest of its kind, has recognized many pioneering scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, including some who went on to win Nobel prizes. All fellows are anticipated to become experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations, according to the NSF, though not all studied STEM subjects as undergraduates.

Katherine Frost ’10, who majored in psychology and religious studies at Wellesley, is a clinical psychology doctoral student at Binghamton University in New York, studying the impact of acute stress on reward responsiveness in schizophrenia. She appreciates the NSF’s stated commitment “to help ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States.” She is also grateful for her liberal arts education, which “helped me begin to build the confidence and competence I needed to follow my dreams,” she said.

Rachel Magid ’12, who double-majored in psychology and French, will be a second-year doctoral student in the fall, studying cognitive development in the Early Childhood Cognition Lab in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Magid’s work explores how children represent themselves through their abilities, interests, and values.

Magid said the research she did at Wellesley with Jennie Pyers, associate professor of psychology, was instrumental in her decision to study psychology and cognitive sciences at the graduate level. “Wellesley values knowledge for its own sake but also encourages students to figure out how to use that knowledge to improve the world we live in,” she said. “I think this outlook prepares students for all kinds of disciplines and careers, and it was a particularly important message for me, shaping my development as a scientist and future teacher.”   

Wellesley congratulates all five alumnae, and the following alumnae who received honorable mentions for the 2015 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship: Marsin Rahim Alsamary ’13, Emily Cuddy ’12, Katherine W. Eyring ’14, Mia Howard ’12, Melanie Rachel Kazenel ’10, Jungwoo Zema Lee ’10, Gwendolynne Merlen ’09, Christine Mary Frances Miller ’11, and Rachel Ann Roston ’11.