Eight Haverford Alumni Earn 2023 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships
The National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program has awarded eight Haverford alumni pursuing graduate degrees in life sciences, psychology, chemistry, engineering, and geoscience.
Eight Haverford alumni who are or will be pursuing graduate degrees in life sciences, psychology, chemistry, engineering, and geoscience have received awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).
- Laurel Benjamin '21, Psychology – Developmental Psychology
- Gabriel Braun '19, Life Sciences – Biochemistry
- James Dougherty '21, Life Sciences – Environmental Biology
- Grayson Hamrick '21, Engineering – Bioengineering
- Mallory Kastner '21, Geosciences – Chemical Oceanography
- Christina McBride '23, Chemistry – Chemistry of Life Processes
- Sophia Nelson '20, Life Sciences – Immunology
- Jan Estrada Pabon '21, Chemistry – Computationally Intensive Research
Oscar Garrett '23 and Franklin Kostas '18 received honorable mentions.
The NSF fellowship program is the country’s oldest fellowship program that directly supports graduate students in various science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. In an average year, NSF funds around 12,000 competitive awards for research, education, and training, and backs nearly 318,000 researchers, entrepreneurs, students and teachers. The NSF fellowship provides a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees, as well as opportunities for international research and professional career development.
Laurel Benjamin '21 is a prime example of how Haverford's mentorship can inspire students to pursue meaningful research.
"I attribute much of my success so far to my undergraduate coursework,” she said. “In particular, I am beyond thankful for my mentor and thesis advisor, Dr. Shu-wen Wang, whose “Cultural Psychology” course and lab provided an important theoretical basis for understanding cultural variability in social processes and offered a first glimpse at the culturally sensitive, intersectional approach that informed my NSF proposal."
Benjamin will begin her Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the UC San Diego and San Diego State University Joint Doctoral Program under the mentorship of Dr. Lauren Brookman-Frazee. The award will help fund research on the long-term effects of Covid-19-related school closures on children’s socioemotional functioning.
Gabriel Braun '19 shared that his time at Haverford laid the groundwork for his graduate studies, "both through the knowledge gained in my coursework and, more importantly, through the cultivation of a practice of independent critical thinking."
He is grateful to Professor Emeritus of Chemistry Karin Åkerfeldt, who gave him his first experience in laboratory research, and to many other professors who have shaped his academic and intellectual trajectory.
After graduating in 2019 with a degree in chemistry, Braun spent a year in Sweden studying the Alzheimer's-linked aggregation of β-amyloid peptides under a Fulbright Study/Research award, and then worked at the University of Pennsylvania researching proteins associated with ALS. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at UCSF and focusing his research on how the activity of certain enzymes is affected by incorporation into protein-rich "biomolecular condensates."
James Dougherty '21 has come a long way from his beginnings at the Arboretum at Haverford to his work at the Wistar Institute lab, and his experience and success since graduation have paved the way for his upcoming research in Harvard's Organismic and Evolutionary Biology program.
Dougherty attributes his success to the guidance provided by professors Jon Wilson and Helen White, particularly during his summer research and thesis experience. His love for plants and nature grew at Haverford: “The arboretum provided the perfect space for me to embrace my love for plants and commitment to nature.”
His focus now will be on plant hydraulic function and carbohydrate allocation. “With this research,” said Dougherty, I hope to better understand how plants and ecosystems as a whole may change as a result of climate change, in the near future and over evolutionary time.”
Grayson Hamrick '21 is making strides, from Haverford to Duke University, in the field of biomedical engineering. As a chemistry and mathematics double major, Hamrick’s time at Haverford taught him the skills necessary for his current work in synthetic biology and biological engineering.
"My research with Dr. Lou Charkoudian taught me all about the wonders of chemical biology and opened my eyes to the modern developments in the field of synthetic biology,” he said. “My work with Dr. Casey Londergan helped solidify my interest in mathematical and computational modeling and applying such techniques to biological systems."
With the support of the NIH T32 biotechnology training grant, Hamrick is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Duke University, where he is working on engineering synthetic microbial systems for a variety of applications.
Mallory Kastner '21 credits Haverford for providing interdisciplinary opportunities and teaching her the importance of community engagement. After graduation, she joined Dr. Amy Apprill’s lab at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where she discovered her love for marine science. She conducted a year-long research project through NSF's Research Experience for Post-Baccalaureate Participants, and will now pursue a Ph.D. in biological oceanography through the MIT-WHOI Joint Program in oceanography.
Kastner's research will focus on understanding how tiny organisms contribute to the health of vulnerable ecosystems and animals, especially in the context of climate change.
Said Kastner, "NSF’s GRFP was particularly compelling to me when applying, as my motivations very much align with its emphasis on linking robust science with the broader community impacts of research."
Christina McBride '23 is the only Ford in this year’s graduating class to earn the NSF GRFP. As a chemistry major and biochemistry concentrator, McBride credits her success to the support and mentorship of Haverford's STEM faculty, especially her research mentors Lou Charkoudian and Eric Miller.
Reflecting on her experience, McBride said, "Attending a primarily undergraduate institution [also] has its perks—I am the intellectual driver of my own research projects, and that has given me the strength and creativity needed to develop new ideas."
The fellowship will support her as she pursues a Ph.D. in chemical biology at the University of Michigan, where she plans to join a lab focused on natural product biosynthesis to gain a deeper understanding of the complex organic chemistry and enzymatic teamwork innate to nature.
Alumni Sophia Nelson '20 and Jan Estrada Pabon '21 also received NSF GRFP fellowships. Nelson is currently an immunology Ph.D. student at UCSF. Pabon is currently at Stanford University pursuing a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry.