By Marlese Lessing
MSE undergraduate student Hetal Patel has been awarded not one, but two fellowships – the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (NDSEG), the first undergraduate to do so in the history of the fellowship at UConn.
Hetal is a senior in the UConn Honors Program, a STEM scholar, a 2018 University Scholar, and the recipient of numerous awards and scholarships while at UConn. She has been conducting research in Dr. Seok-Woo Lee’s lab since her freshmen year and in Dr. Avinash Dongare’s lab since 2018. She is also the President of the Materials Engineering Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Mu, and the Vice President of UConn Materials Advantage. As an undergraduate, she has accumulated an impressive research and community outreach profile which has led her to win the two nationally prestigious graduate fellowships. Hetal said she was “shocked” when she found out she had won NDSEG.
“I found out from the UConn Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships that I might be the first undergraduate that has ever managed to secure the NDSEG fellowship in the history of UConn and that I am definitely the first NDSEG fellow we have had in the last five years!” Hetal said. “I am also very happy and grateful to have received the NSF fellowship as it is a nationally recognized program for graduate students. I try very hard to submit my best work and had been working on the applications several months beforehand, so it feels good for all the hard work to pay off.”
Hetal thanks Dr. Seok-Woo Lee, Dr. Avinash Dongare, and Dr. Bryan Huey for writing her letter of recommendations. “My application would have been incomplete without the extremely strong letters of recommendation and I am very grateful to all the professors in the MSE department who have helped me get this far in my materials career.”
The NSF GRFP, which is the country’s oldest STEM graduate fellowship, recognizes graduate students with outstanding work in the STEM field to do Ph.D. work. The NDSEG is funded by the US Department of Defense to students pursuing a Ph.D. in a field that advances US defense science and engineering. Those who earn it display a high aptitude to advanced study and scholastic enterprise. It is sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, The Army Research Office, and the Office of Naval Research, all of which falls under the Director of Defense Research and Engineering.
Like nearly all Ph.D. students in MSE, at UConn and elsewhere, tuition, fees, and a monthly stipend are provided. Recipients of these special fellowships earn a slightly higher stipend, and with the NDSEG there is also a generous travel allowance. Both of these awards are very hard to earn, with less than a 15% success rate for the NSF, and a 10% success rate for the NDSEG. Since she can only accept one fellowship, Hetal says she will accept the NDSEG because of its selectiveness and benefits.
“I have chosen to accept NDSEG as it is more selective, extremely prestigious, and has better financial package,” Hetal says. “NDSEG will fully fund my research as I head to UC Berkeley this fall to pursue a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering in the field of computational materials science. I will be utilizing atomic-scale quantum mechanical modeling methods and high-performance computing technology to accelerate the design and discovery process of materials for battery and other energy storage technologies.”
Her advisor, Professor Lee, says Hetal is “certainly one of the most brilliant, creative and productive undergraduate students I ever met at UConn.”
“She deserves all of the fellowships that she has received,” he says. “I have no doubt about her future success. I wish her all the best in her endeavors as a materials scientist.”
This year at UConn 11 students have won the NSF GRFP are highlighted in the UConn Today article.