Seven NatSci students, alums land 2018 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

  • May 12, 2018
  • NSF, alumni, Students, Felowships
  • Homepage Hero, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Research, Students, Biochemistry, College of Natural Science, Genetics, Mathematics, Microbiology, Physics & Astronomy

Seven Michigan State University College of Natural Science (NatSci) students and alumni were among 17 selected for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program – the oldest of its kind in the nation that directly supports graduate students in various science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

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.

“It is exciting to see so many of our outstanding students getting these exceptionally prestigious and increasingly competitive awards,” said Thomas Jeitschko, dean of the Graduate School and associate provost for graduate education. “We are very pleased with their success and are proud of how their accomplishments reflect well on graduate level research initiatives at MSU.”

The seven NatSci fellowship recipients are:

  • Eliot Bongiovanni, a graduating senior (May ’18) majoring in advanced mathematics and statistics and an Honors College alumnus.
  • Elizabeth Drueke, a graduate with degrees in advanced mathematics and physics, and an Honors College alumna. She is a graduate student at the University of Michigan.
  • David Knupp, a genomics and molecular genetics graduate.
  • Bryan Lakey, a graduate with degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology/biotechnology and microbiology, and an Honors College alumnus. He is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Alison Peisker, a graduate student studying physics in the College of Natural Science.
  • Aiko Turmo, a graduate student studying biochemistry and molecular biology in the College of Natural Science.
  • Katherine Wozniak, a graduate with a degree in microbiology and an Honors College alumna. She is a graduate student at the University of Michigan.

For these students, the achievement is profound, both personally and professionally. We caught up with several of them to ask them about their accomplishment.

Image of Eliot Bongiovanni

Bongiovanni received the news as he wraps up his undergraduate degree at MSU with plans to attend Rice University in Houston to pursue his Ph.D. in mathematics. He will specialize in geometric analysis.

“I'm excited and grateful to be a recipient of the NSF's Graduate Research Fellowship; it's certainly a sweet end to a few tumultuous years, academically and personally,” Bongiovanni said. “I'm still not sure that the reality of being named a graduate research fellow has entirely hit me yet.

“I'd like to thank the many friends and mentors who have supported my education and interest in mathematical research,” he continued. “There are too many to name, but I would not have been able to achieve this without standing on the shoulders of giants. I only hope that I can continue to improve as a mathematician and make my friends and mentors proud as I move on to the next stage of my mathematical education and career.”

Photo of Peisker

Peisker will utilize her award as she conducts her graduate studies in physics at MSU. 

“Receiving this fellowship is a great honor for me; it will allow me to work on research full time without worrying about where I will obtain funding from,” Peisker said. “Writing grant proposals is necessary in the career path I would like to follow, so it's good to already have success with this skill. It's also great that NSF is supportive of the research work I am doing. I'm honored to be a part of such a strong group of young scientists.”

Turmo is thrilled to be named among the fellowship recipients as she continues her graduate studies in biochemistry and molecular biology at MSU.

Image of Aiko Turmo

“I think it was 6 a.m., I woke up and read the email I got the award,” Turmo said. “I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it! I had to read the email a couple of times. I hit ‘accept,’ immediately. I am lucky to have very caring and supportive mentors in the Kerfeld lab and at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory (PRL). Professor Kerfeld is always motivating me to do my best and provides me with feedback to improve myself.

“The postdocs have also sacrificed a lot of their time to teach me, for which I am incredibly grateful,” she added. “The mentorship continues to inspire me to work hard to achieve my aspirations.”

The talent, hard work and determination put forth to achieve these honors shines a bright light on the College of Natural Science.

“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 them as a part of our scientific community. Their success helps to sustain the vitality of our educational mission.”

For a complete list of 2018 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship recipients, visit


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