USF Students Recognized in National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program In the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, these students shine as future leaders in research, innovation and teaching.

The National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind. Each year, the program recognizes outstanding students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees. In 2020, three USF students were named to the prestigious fellowship program and eight others were recognized with honorable mentions as they pursue their academic research careers.

These students follow in the footsteps of an impressive community of researchers - scores of Fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates and hundreds more have become members of the National Academy of Sciences. This year, USF's Office Graduate Studies collaborated with the university's Office of National Scholarships to provide students with information sessions, additional support in their applications and one-on-one advising.

Since 2019, Dr. Kiri Kilpatrick, Associate Director of Postdoctoral Affairs and Graduate Student Development at USF's Office of Graduate Studies, and Dr. Sayandeb Basu, Director of USF's Office of National Scholarships, have joined forces to guide students through the application process. Drs. Kilpatrick and Basu are working to build bridges to academic units and USF’s research faculty to create a culture of excellence and success for USF’s best and brightest graduate students and graduating seniors.

USF's 2020 NSF Graduate Research Fellows

Keller Blackwell


College of Arts & Sciences

Advisor: Professor Thomas Bieske

Keller Blackwell is a mathematician pursuing new frontiers in post-quantum cryptosystems. He proposes to explore algebraic and lattice based cryptographic schemes, and expands on his REU studies with Professor Steven Miller of Williams College on random matrix theory. His goal is to innovate systems which help to safeguard private, commercial and sensitive national security databases against cyberattacks which could be vulnerable even in the era of quantum computing— hence the word post-quantum cryptosystems. Keller previously worked with Professor Gretchen Matthews, now at Virginia Tech, on code-based cryptography, and at USF with Professor Thomas Bieske and Dr. Diego Ricciotti on a class of partial differential equations which arise in the study of fluid flows. Keller will pursue a PhD in computer science at Stanford University. Keller also holds the distinction of being USF's first Kinght-Hennessey Scholar.

Willie McClinton

Computational Science & Engineering

College of Engineering

Advisors: Assistant Professor Marvin Andujar and Associate Professor Sriram Chellappan

Willie McClinton is interested in combining symbolic learning with deep reinforcement learning to reduce the amount of data currently needed to train autonomous artificially intelligent agents. His career goal is to apply these methods to accelerate the field of cognitive robotics, which proposes to build robots which can learn to represent knowledge and reason in human environments, like humans do. He worked with Dr. Marvin Andujar and Dr. Sriram Chellappan at USF on brain-computer interfaces and mobile computing for public health and with Professor George Konidaris at Brown University at the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory. He will be joining MIT for graduate studies.

Delfina Navarro-Estrada

College of Marine Science

Advisor: Associate Professor Kristen Buck

Delfina Navarro-Estrada is pursuing a doctorate degree in Chemical Oceanography in the College of Marine Science at USF. She is working with Dr. Kristen Buck to better understand the effects of ocean acidification on the bioavailability of the trace metal and micronutrient, Iron, for primary producers in the world's oceans using various analytical techniques. Her future plan is to do research in the marine sciences industry.

USF NSF Graduate Research Fellow Honorable Mention Recipients

Alexander Denison

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

College of Arts & Sciences

Advisor: Assistant Professor Brenton Wiernik

Alex Denison is a first-year graduate student in the Industrial/Organizational Psychology program working with Dr. Brenton Wiernik. His research primarily examines careless responding to surveys and other statistical and methodological issues in psychological measurement. Substantively, he examines selection processes in organizations and how individual differences relate to job performance.

Roxanne Felig

Cognition, Neuroscience, and Social Psychology

College of Arts & Sciences

Advisor: Professor Jamie Goldenberg

Roxanne Felig is completing her second year in the Cognition, Neuroscience, and Social Psychology PhD program where she studies attitudes and perceptions towards women under the supervision of Dr. Jamie Goldenberg. Her master’s thesis explored the effects of using photo editing applications on women's perceptions of themselves, and my GRF research plan extended this to adolescents to identify resilience factors that buffer against the negative consequences of social media use. She plans to continue conducting research pertaining to social media use and how digital landscapes affect our social experiences, specifically in relation to how we think about and perceive ourselves

Lauren Hammond

Cell Biology, Microbiology & Molecular Biology

College of Arts & Sciences

Advisor: Assistant Professor Prahathees Eswara

Lauren Hammond is a PhD student in the Department of Cell Biology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology. Under the direction of Dr. Prahathees Eswara, she is investigating the molecular mechanisms regulating bacterial cell division in Staphylococcus aureus and working to identify antimicrobial compounds capable of targeting this essential process. Outside of the lab she is passionate about science outreach to the community and fostering a love of science within students.

Christina Mu

Aging Studies

College of Behavioral & Community Sciences

Advisor: Assistant Professor Soomi Lee

Christina Mu is a first-year PhD student in the School of Aging Studies, and one of the lab managers of the Sleep, Stress, and Health Lab under the direction of Dr. Soomi Lee. Christina’s research focuses on pain, sleep, and cognition in older adults, and she is working on projects related to these topics with a focus on at-risk populations. In the future, she hopes to continue her research to understand the sleep-pain relationship in older adults and mentorship of students interested in aging research and those from first-generation and underserved communities.

Brooks Olney

Computational Science & Engineering

College of Engineering

Advisor: Assistant Professor Robert Karam

Brooks Olney is a second year PhD student working under Dr. Robert Karam in the Hardware Security research lab at the department of Computer Science & Engineering. Brooks’ research project involves the development of a reconfigurable AI acceleration platform that can allow secure and efficient AI processing at the IoT edge.

Martina Plafcan

College of Marine Science

Advisor: Associate Professor Chris Stallings

Martina Plafcan is working towards her master’s degree in Dr. Stalling's Fish Ecology Lab with research into how microplastics are affecting the bleaching threshold of corals. After graduating, she hopes to get a job in a lab to continue researching how people are affecting marine life.

Rachael Pyram

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

College of Arts & Sciences

Advisor: Distinguished Professor Tammy Allen

Rachael Pyram has worked as an undergraduate research assistant for almost two years in Dr. Tammy Allen’s Balance Lab in the Industrial-Organizational Psychology department. Rachael’s NSF GRFP research proposal aimed to explore how an employee’s management of their non-work social media usage can affect workplace relationships and various work outcomes such as job satisfaction, and job performance. This fall, she will begin a PhD program in Organizational Psychology at Michigan State University, where she plans to continue to explore how technology can affect and integrate with the workplace.

Aashna Waiwood

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

College of Arts & Sciences

Advisor: Distinguished Professor Tammy Allen

Aashna Waiwood is a second-year graduate student in Dr. Tammy Allen's lab, studying work-family issues with a particular interest in health and the impacts of work on the spouse and children. Her proposed research project, which is also her thesis, longitudinally examines the postpartum return to work and how work resources such as supervisor support can spur greater engagement in health behaviors like sleep and physical activity.