The National Science Foundation this year awarded its coveted Graduate Research Fellowships to eight Kenyon alumni — the highest number in Kenyon history. The fellowships, which come with a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to recipients’ graduate institutions, give graduate students the financial freedom to pursue independent research opportunities.
NSF awarded about 2,000 fellowships this year to applicants based on their potential for significant achievements in future academic and professional careers. The fellowships have been awarded since 1952, and a number of recipients have gone on to become Nobel Prize winners, leaders in academia and scientific innovators.
In addition to the eight Kenyon alumni who won fellowships this year, two earned honorable mention: Andrew Gipson ’13 and Shannon Elizabeth Wright ’16.
Maggie Koenecke Colonnetta ’15, a molecular biology major at Kenyon, is pursuing a doctorate in molecular biology at Princeton University. She plans to use her fellowship to continue her research into developmental genetics and cell biology in fruit flies, focusing on the developmental role of a protein called Chromatin-Linked Adapter for MSL Proteins (CLAMP). "Even two years since graduation, I still have an incredible support system of Kenyon faculty,” she said. “It is a good reminder of how lucky I was to go to Kenyon."
After conducting independent research as a biology major in the laboratory of Joan Slonczewski, Robert A. Oden Jr. Professor of Biology, Kaitlin Creamer ’16 knew she wanted to continue her research experience into her post-graduate career. She enrolled as a doctoral student in the marine biology program at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. There, she plans to use her NSF fellowship to study marine microbes and the natural products that they produce. “I am hoping to use experimental laboratory evolution, among other methods, to provide experimental evidence of biosynthetic gene cluster exchange in the laboratory,” Creamer said.
The NSF fellowship will help Lila Greco ’15, a mathematics major at Kenyon, explore various research projects in probability at Cornell University, where she is pursuing a doctorate in mathematics. The principles of probability can apply to many real-world issues, Greco says, which makes studying the field more enjoyable. It also makes sharing her work with non-mathematicians easier, said Greco, who in 2014 was named one of the best student presenters at the annual Mathfest conference. “Being able to explain what you’re trying to do to people who aren’t mathematicians is very important,” Greco said. “The experience that I got writing at Kenyon was very helpful.”
Scott Keith ’11 entered his doctoral program at Carnegie Mellon University well-prepared to conduct high-level research. Keith, a biology major at Kenyon, started his doctoral studies after spending four years as a research technician at the University of Pittsburgh. At Carnegie Mellon, Keith will use the NSF fellowship to study the symbiotic relationship between microbes and animals, specifically fruit flies. “The fellowship gives me the freedom to ask my own questions and explore things that might be riskier research avenues,” Keith said.
Trevor Manz ’17 spent the summer before his junior year as one of six Kenyon students chosen to conduct in-depth cancer research at Ohio State University through a partnership with Pelotonia. The experience introduced him to CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), a new gene-editing tool, and sparked his interest in computational biology. “It’s revolutionizing genetic engineering and our understanding of how genotype is related to phenotype,” Manz said of CRISPR. The biochemistry major plans to start graduate school in fall 2018 and in January will begin an immersive computer programming curriculum with the Horizons School of Technology. With his NSF fellowship, he plans to study the intersection of data visualization and biochemistry.
Four years of work experience with biotechnology companies Schrödinger and Gilead Sciences inspired Sol Reisberg ’13 to learn more about medicinal chemistry. In the fall, Reisberg will attend the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, where he will pursue a doctorate in organic chemistry. “Organic chemistry is this oddly spatial and artistic science. It requires us to think in 3-D a lot,” said Reisberg, a chemistry major at Kenyon. He plans to use his NSF fellowship to explore total synthesis, a process in which chemists artificially replicate complex molecules found in nature.
For Steven Schmidt ’15, spending his junior year abroad in Santiago, Chile, sparked a lifelong interest in Latin America. After majoring in Spanish and international studies at Kenyon, Schmidt now studies Latin America as a doctoral student in sociology at the University of California Irvine. The NSF fellowship will allow him to pursue his research passion: urban and political sociology in Latin America, specifically changing cultural notions of citizenship and political participation in Mexico. Schmidt spent three months last summer conducting research in Mexico City, and he plans to use the fellowship funds to return to the city for research as well as travel to other areas of Mexico. “The NSF is going to allow me to go to the field for a year and not have to worry about financial obligations,” Schmidt said.
Jenny Shoots ’14, a molecular biology major at Kenyon, recently finished her first year as a doctoral student in the plant and microbial biosciences program at Washington University in St. Louis. With the fellowship, Shoots plans to continue her research into plant genetics, investigating a family of genes that plants use to perceive touch and that provide plants with resistance against some bacteria. “The research experience I had at Kenyon with Professor Wade Powell strengthened my [NSF] application, especially because my Kenyon research led to a first-author scientific publication, something few students my age can claim,” Shoots said.