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NatSci students, graduates among 15 MSU NSF Graduate Research Fellowship recipients

Seven Michigan State University (MSU) College of Natural Science (NatSci) students and alumni are among 15 recipients selected university wide for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program—the country’s oldest fellowship program that supports graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program logo
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the country's oldest fellowship program that support graduate students in NSF-supported STEM disciplines. Credit: NSF GRFP

NSF Graduate Research Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees (paid to the institution), opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

“We are delighted to see so many of our outstanding graduate students receive highly regarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships,” said Pero G. Dagbovie, dean of the Graduate School and associate provost for graduate and postdoctoral studies. “Their success and accomplishments represent the importance of a variety of research initiatives throughout the MSU community.”

The NatSci recipients are:

Wesley Binder, an MSU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in zoology; he is currently a field biologist for the National Park Service on the Yellowstone Cougar Project.

Isabella Ginnett, an Honors College senior majoring in physics and advanced mathematics.  

Spencer Lee, an MSU Honors College graduate with bachelor’s degrees in advanced mathematics and physics; he is currently an MSU Ph.D. student in computational mathematics, science and engineering.

Brianna Martinez, an MSU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a former student in Lyman Briggs College; she is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry and biochemistry, with a specialization in chemistry education at Florida International University. 

Andrew McDonald, an Honors College senior majoring in advanced mathematics and statistics—as well as computer science in the College of Engineering.

Gabriel Moreau, an MSU Honors College graduate with his bachelor’s degree in physics, and a music degree from the College of Music; he is now a Ph.D. student in physics at Stanford University.

Joseph Slivka, an MSU Honors College graduate with bachelor’s degrees in physics and mathematics; he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at the University of California-Berkeley.

“The success of these very talented young scientists in achieving recognition of their potential through the award of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships will help build a solid foundation for their future careers,” said Richard Schwartz, NatSci associate dean of graduate studies. “We are so fortunate and proud to have these students as a part of our scientific community,” Schwartz said. “Their success helps to sustain the vitality of our educational mission.”

For these students, the achievement is profound, both personally and professionally. We caught up with them to hear what they had to say about their accomplishment.

headshot of Wesley Binder
Wesley Binder

Binder, who received his bachelor’s degree in 2012, said receiving the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship has provided him with a sense of validation with his slightly unusual career path in wildlife research.

“As an undergraduate student at MSU, I knew that pursuing graduate school opportunities was something that I would likely be interested in, but not until I had spent years in the field exploring various research projects,” Binder said. “I wanted a breadth of real-world experience under my belt that would allow me to find my niche and create a solid foundation in understanding wildlife through years spent in the field. Now, I get to embark on graduate research that builds off the work I have been doing for years.” 

Headshot of Isabella Ginnett
Isabella Ginnett

Ginnett said that she is incredibly honored and humbled to be named a recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

“Before receiving this award, I knew that my passion was particle physics and better understanding the fundamental mechanisms of the universe, but receiving this fellowship reaffirms my passion and inspires me to continue pursuing the field that I love,” Ginnett said. “I am even more excited to start the next chapter in my career as a physics Ph.D. student at the University of California, Irvine.”

Ginnett was also named a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar in 2020, in recognition of her intellectual intensity and potential for significant future contribution her chosen field. 

Being named an NSF Graduate Research Fellow is a great honor, said Lee, who earned his bachelor’s degrees in 2020.

Headshot of Spencer Lee
Spencer Lee

“This award demonstrates that the National Science Foundation values my research toward improving the speed of quantum gate controls and recognizes it as important enough to deserve funding,” Lee said. “The award also demonstrates the NSF's belief in my personal ability to carry out this research, which is very gratifying.

"It also provides me financial stability as I continue to pursue my Ph.D. and brings funding to MSU through the cost of education allowance provided with the award," he added. Through their flexibility in accommodating my academic interests, MSU demonstrated a level of interest and support of the success of its students that I believe exceeds that of most other universities. Consequently, I am glad to be able to bring them recognition and funding in this way,” Lee added.

Head shot of Brianna Martinez
Brianna Martinez

Martinez is truly honored that she was selected to receive this award and that the NSF has chosen to invest in her potential as a researcher.

“I am excited to use this fellowship to contribute to my field, chemistry education research, which is so often overlooked,” said Martinez, who earned her B.S. degree in 2019.

McDonald feels honored and privileged to receive an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and said that it is invigorating to know that other scientists value his area of research at the intersection of machine learning and climate science.

Headshot of Andrew Mc Donald
Andrew McDonald

“I look forward to doing work that can go beyond conferences and journals, informing policy and the public on the importance of climate change adaptation and mitigation as the climate crisis continues to evolve,” he said.

McDonald was also named a Marshall Scholar in 2021, becoming MSU's 19th Marshall Scholar. He will pursue a joint MRes + Ph.D. in AI for the Study of Environmental Risks at the University of Cambridge this fall.

Receiving this award is not only a great academic honor for Gabriel Moreau; it will allow him to focus more on his research and outreach activities during his Ph.D.

Headshot of Gabriel Moreau
Gabriel Moreau

“This fellowship will free up funding in my research group,” said Moreau, who received his bachelor’s degree in 2020. “I am very grateful to my recommenders—MSU Professors Danny Caballero and Wade Fisher, and my current advisor professor Monika Schleier-Smith—for their continued support and for shaping my academic career.”

Slivka said that it is a great honor to receive the NSF GRF award and that it offers him increased research flexibility and stability.

Headshot of Joseph Slivka
Joseph Slivka

“The NSF also supports academic outreach endeavors in the community; I intend to use this award to aid programs that foster scientific excitement among the next generation of scientists, and science communication to the public,” said Slivka, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 2020. “I am excited to continue to have more opportunities to give back to the community that has aided me in my endeavors.

“Strong support from the MSU and the Berkeley community, both academically and professionally, have helped me become the scientist I am today,” he added. “For this, I am forever grateful.”

For a complete list of 2022 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship recipients, visit MSUToday


Banner image: The College of Natural Science at Michigan State University is home to 27 departments and programs in the biological, physical, and mathematical sciences. The college provides world-class educational opportunities to more than 5,500 undergraduate majors and 1,200 graduate and postdoctoral students. There are 868 faculty and academic staff associated with NatSci, and more than 63,000 living alumni worldwide. Credit: Harley J. Seeley