Jonsson School Students Earn National Graduate Research Fellowships

Two University of Texas at Dallas students and two alumni will receive support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as they pursue their graduate studies.

Jeanie Aird

Mechanical engineering senior Jeanie Aird and bioengineering senior Sydney Sherman each were chosen this year for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. The program provides three years of financial support for students’ graduate studies at their chosen institution. The award includes a stipend plus a cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees. This year, 2,050 awards were offered nationwide.

Both Aird and Sherman have gained extensive research experience as UT Dallas undergraduates in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. Sherman received a 2018 scholarship through the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program, which supports undergraduates who want to pursue careers in natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Aird earned an honorable mention in that program in 2017.

Aird, whose research in the Department of Mechanical Engineering has focused on wind energy, said she has been interested in the topic since she was a little girl but never thought that a simple childhood joy would turn into a full-blown research path and career.

Sydney Sherman

“This NSF award is a huge development and helps me financially to obtain a PhD at almost any school in the nation. I’m ecstatic,” Aird said.

As an undergraduate, Aird conducted research with mentors Dr. Stefano Leonardi, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Dr. Mario Rotea, Erik Jonsson Chair and head of mechanical engineering. She was lead author of a study published in the journal Wind Engineering that dealt with analyzing the aerodynamics of offshore floating wind turbines. She also founded a University club called Women Mentoring Women in Engineering, which matches female students with their counterparts in industry.

Sherman’s interest in science began in high school in Wrightstown, Pennsylvania, where she participated in a neuro-electrophysiology project at the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences hosted by Carnegie Mellon University.

These awards reflect on the exceptional preparation our student researchers receive from faculty mentors, ultimately providing them with the knowledge and competitive skills to succeed both in graduate school and in their careers.

Dr. Joseph Pancrazio, vice president for research at UT Dallas

Sherman, who came to UT Dallas as a Eugene McDermott Scholar and a National Merit Scholar, has conducted research in various University labs. For example, she helped develop a spinal cord stimulation array using advanced materials while working in the Advanced Polymer Research Lab with mentor Dr. Walter Voit BS’05, MS’06, associate professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering. She also has researched neuromodulation therapies to augment recovery after spinal cord injury at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne.

After graduation in May, Sherman plans to pursue a PhD through the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program. She said adding the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to her list of achievements has been monumental.

“It is exciting to be a part of something so prestigious,” Sherman said. “It is truly an honor.”

Two UT Dallas alumni who are pursuing graduate studies at other universities also received 2019 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. They are:

  • Annie Yang Heble BS’17, an organic chemistry graduate student at UT Southwestern Medical Center. She is working on the development of nanoparticles to improve the efficacy and safety of amino acid depletion therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
  • Alexander Riley BS’17, an astronomy graduate student at Texas A&M University. He is investigating how the properties of satellite galaxies inform theories of how galaxies form and evolve.

“To be selected for this national program is a significant achievement for each of these students and alumni,” said Dr. Joseph Pancrazio, vice president for research and professor of bioengineering at UT Dallas. “These awards reflect on the exceptional preparation our student researchers receive from faculty mentors, ultimately providing them with the knowledge and competitive skills to succeed both in graduate school and in their careers.”


NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the country’s oldest fellowship program that directly supports graduate students in various STEM fields. The award includes a three-year, $34,000 annual stipend plus a $12,000 educational allowance for tuition and fees and opportunities for international research and professional development.


Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].