Students Profiles: National Science Foundation Fellows

Three students in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering were awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at institutions in the United States.

  • Joanna Quiah is a current master’s student studying with assistant professor Celso Castro Bolinaga.
  • Natalie Von Tress is a current master’s student advised by assistant professor Natalie Nelson.
  • Sam Blackman is a current undergraduate student in the biological engineering program.

Joanna Quiah

Master’s Student

Joanna’s research uses the jet erosion test (JET) and sediment erodibility parameters to determine bivalve aquaculture’s efficacy in mitigating erosion. This project will investigate analytical approaches to observe changes in such parameters with the presence of bivalves, and further examine JET testing practices on the coast.

“This research is important to me because it draws attention to the exploration of a self-sustaining, resourceful, and resilient solution to the ever-present issue of erosion,” Quiah explains. “It will impact the world by providing the first insights into bivalve’s effect on coastal erodibility, while highlighting the practical and impractical uses of the JET in a coastal setting.”

Quiah hopes to communicate the results of this research with stakeholders in the aquaculture industry, including policymakers, aquaculture farmers, consultants, and citizens through literature and personal meetings.

By communicating her research in a clear, concise manner, she hopes to further bridge the gap of communication between academia and the public. She also wants to promote the use of research-based, sustainable, and efficient solutions for modern environmental issues around the world.

“This fellowship means the world to me because I now feel more confident and empowered to make a difference in water/environmental practices and policies through research and extension,” Quiah notes. “Also, with increased financial security, I will have more flexibility and resources to conduct extension related activities, and add on more detailed, exciting work to my original project.”

Natalie Von Tress

Master’s Student

Von Tress’ research involves estimating the transport of cyanobacteria through water control systems using satellite imagery and flow data. Specifically, she researches how much cyanobacteria is transported from Lake Okeechobee in South Florida when water is released to downstream waters for flood prevention.

“This project is important to me because I researched cyanobacteria mitigation in my undergraduate research,” Von Tress says. “With this project, I get to learn about a different aspect of the same issue while gaining a skill set in geospatial data analytics.”

On a larger scale, her research will be impactful in understanding more about the the transport of cyanobacteria and associated issues.

“The hope is to establish methods that can be transferable to other systems while gaining an understanding of connections between upstream and downstream cyanobacterial blooms in the Lake Okeechobee Waterway,” she adds.

Receiving this award was an incredible honor for Von Tress.

“I was elated when I heard I was offered the fellowship!” Von Tress says. “I am so thankful to all my mentors who encouraged me in my education over the years and to those who helped me in the application process.”

With this fellowship she will continue to pursue her research and interests in cyanobacteria, water quality, and the connection between water quantity management and its impact on water quality.

Sam Blackman

Undergraduate Senior

Blackman plans to pursue research in the fields of biomaterials, immunology, and tissue engineering.

“Biomaterials, such as hydrogels, can be used as a matrix to grow tissue cells and observe them in 3D space,” he notes. “However, I am not in graduate school yet, and my interests could change!”

He accepted an offer at the University of Colorado Boulder to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering.

“This work is incredibly translational and often requires collaborations with local medical schools and hospitals,” he says. “In other words, there is a very good chance that my research could end up treating human ailments and could actually be put into use.”

Blackman hopes to utilize the flexibility afforded by the fellowship to frame what research he is most passionate about.

“To me, this fellowship means research autonomy,” he adds. “It means I can study what I deem most interesting, and with the guidance of faculty, it could really evolve into something exciting and applicable!”