The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded its prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship to one current and one former UTEP student. The NSF received more than 12,000 applications and made 2,000 award offers.
UTEP student Marisol Dominguez was awarded in the category of Geosciences-Hydrology. UTEP alumnus Oswaldo Raudel Avila, who is currently attending Northwestern University, was awarded in the category of Mechanical Engineering.
UTEP alumnus Ramon Benitez, who now attends Virginia Tech, received an honorable mention.
“We are proud of these current and former students for attaining this prestigious recognition,” said UTEP Vice President for Research Roberto Osegueda, Ph.D. “These awards can have a transformative impact on the recipients’ research and career trajectory, and these recognitions demonstrate that UTEP students can compete with the best minds around the country.”
The program recognizes outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions.
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.
Marisol Dominguez, Awardee (UTEP)
Marisol Dominguez, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science with a concentration in hydroscience from UTEP, is pursuing a Ph.D. in geology with a concentration in hydrology at the University.
Dominguez is working with Hugo Gutiérrez-Jurado, Ph.D., assistant professor of geological sciences, on a project that aims to classify the regions in the world that are at risk for water shortage using an equation called the Hydrologic Sensitivity Index. She says she is pursuing her doctoral studies at UTEP because it is the perfect environment to conduct such research. She hopes to apply what she learns to water conservation efforts in the region.
“I am pursuing my Ph.D. at UTEP because I know that I can accomplish so much here,” she said. “With this funding, I have the freedom to decide how to conduct my research, which will let me work more effectively. I feel privileged to work alongside all the faculty and students in the geological sciences department who have had a strong influence in my career path.”
Raudel Oswaldo Avila, Awardee (Northwestern University)
Raudel Oswaldo Avila graduated from UTEP with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. During his successful undergraduate years, he worked on a variety of research projects, earned an Honorable Mention from the Graduate Research Fellowship Program in 2017, and was named one of the Top Ten Seniors in his class.
His research at Northwestern University deals with stretchable electronics. These electronics can create sensors in wearable technology, such as a FitBit or AppleWatch, that can integrate with the body. The intent is to create an enhanced bio-integrated health monitoring system using computer-aided engineering that can predict sensor mechanic behavior when it is implanted in the body.
Avila said his graduate research is a new application of the method he started studying his junior year at UTEP, where he received guidance from Pavana Prabakhar, Ph.D., Jack Chessa, Ph.D., and Ashan Choudhuri, Ph.D. Now that he has secured funding through the Graduate Research Fellowship Program, he sees the potential impact it could have on his career.
“It gives me a lot of flexibility and freedom to conduct the research that I want,” Avila said. “This award not only funds the research for the next three years, it also gives it prestige.”
Ramon Benitez, Honorable Mention (Virginia Tech)
Ramon Benitez, who graduated from UTEP with a degree in metallurgical and materials engineering, is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering education at Virginia Tech.
At UTEP, he studied materials engineering with Thomas Boland, Ph.D. and Binata Joddar, Ph.D., and worked on research focused on hydrogels for cardiac tissues. His original research interests were related to how engineering can help individuals. He has expanded on this concept to explore how engineering can impact society.
Benitez, who is studying how to teach future engineers to better serve society’s needs, says his time at UTEP was instrumental in placing him in his Ph.D. program. He hopes to return to El Paso to implement his research and help his community.
“From childhood, UTEP set me up on this pathway, and I realized as a graduate that it does that for other El Pasoans,” Benitez said. “I want to help others tap into that.”
Past fellows include U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.