Graduate students Jody Huddleston and Rebecca Weber have been awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.
The fellowships are given to students who plan to earn research-focused master's and doctoral degrees in the science, social science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. Fellows receive a stipend of $30,000 a year for up to three years.
Neither Huddleston nor Weber intended to pursue careers in research when they first began their higher education journey. But both students have found their niche at UNT, working on research in nationally recognized labs.
Huddleston is pursuing a doctorate in environmental science and was accepted into UNT's Honors College. She also was part of UNT's Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program, a federally funded program that provides research opportunities and faculty mentors to low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students to encourage them to pursue doctoral degrees and careers in college teaching.
Huddleston's mentor was Joseph Oppong, professor of geography. Her research project involved mapping HIV/AIDS late testers in Texas. Late testers are individuals who developed full AIDS symptoms within a year of being identified as HIV positive because, presumably, they didn't get tested until they had already developed some symptoms. The goal of the research was to determine characteristics of late testers, including locating areas with high rates of late testers. Huddleston plans to continue working on medical geography research with Oppong while she pursues her doctoral degree. Huddleston plans to graduate in May 2015 and hopes to become a university professor and researcher after graduation.
Weber is pursuing her doctorate in chemistry and working in the Center for Advanced Scientific Computing and Modeling under the direction of Angela Wilson, professor of chemistry and co-director of CASCaM. Weber says that UNT offered her the best research opportunities.
Weber currently is working with Wilson's research group to better develop the multi-reference correlation consistent composite approach, also known as MR-ccCA. This computational chemistry process allows researchers to model large molecules with more accurate results than other existing methods. Weber says that the NSF Fellowship will allow her to focus on her research instead of splitting her time between earning money and going to school. Weber plans to graduate in four or five years. After graduation she wants to work as a corporate researcher or a professor at a four-year university.
"I'm still in shock that I received this award," says Weber. "When I worked with Dr. James Duban in the Office for Nationally Competitive Scholarships, he told me that it was a tough selection process, so I'm thrilled. I also am thankful to my husband Patrick, who has been very supportive throughout this whole process."
This is the first time that UNT has had two students receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships in the same year. It is the third consecutive year that UNT has had at least one winner. Last year, Marsha Sowell, a political science major, received the honor. In 2009 Afshan Kamrudin, a psychology major, received a fellowship. Sowell and Kamrudin also were McNair students.
Alyssa Yancey with UNT News Service can be reached at Alyssa.Yancey@unt.edu.