Eleven Pomona College Students and Alumni Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Marston Quad view of Big Bridges

Two Pomona College students and nine alumni have won 2023 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) awards. This fellowship supports outstanding students who are pursuing or planning to pursue full-time research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education. The NSF fellowship provides each student with an annual $37,000 stipend and $12,000 cost of education allowance for three years over a five-year fellowship period.

Kirby Lam ’23

A psychological science major and Asian American studies minor, Lam will pursue a Ph.D. in social psychology at Duke University next year. The NSF fellowship gives Lam the freedom to conduct research on the impacts of intersecting racial, gender and cultural dynamics within social norms and discrimination. Lam plans to teach and continue to do research in academia or go into governmental policy advising. “Getting this award that is mostly awarded to graduate students felt like a recognition of the work I have been doing with the Culture, Race, and Brain (CRAB) lab with Professors Sharon Goto and Richard Lewis and my community activism. As a first-generation, low-income QuestBridge student, I can explore the constructs and issues that still impact my community,” he says.

Rohan Lopez ’23

Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Lopez double majored in physics and mathematics while at Pomona. He will soon start a Ph.D. program in plasma physics at Columbia University where he plans to study magnetically confined plasmas for fusion energy development. Lopez says this NSF award will allow him to focus on his research in graduate school and lead him to a career in the field of fusion where he wants to help develop technology that could lead to a new energy source. Lopez is grateful for the support from Travis Brown and the Quantitative Skills Center, as well as the 5C chapter of the National Society of Black Physicists.

Zoë Haggard ’21

Haggard is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in astrophysics at UCLA where she is a researcher in the UCLA Galactic Center Group studying stars closest to our galaxy’s supermassive black hole. At Pomona she majored in physics with a concentration in astronomy and she minored in Japanese. She credits the Pomona Physics & Astronomy Department with giving her the tools to approach research and study difficult questions. “The NSF will give me the financial freedom to proceed with my own research and focus on outreach and mentoring. I am especially interested in getting high schoolers involved in observational astronomy,” she says. Haggard plans to continue researching and become a university professor.

Adele Myers ’21

Myers majored in physics and minored in mathematics at Pomona. She is now pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at UC Santa Barbara. Her current research focuses on developing machine learning tools for analyzing 2D and 3D shapes in medical images such as 2D binary images of evolving cells or 3D MRI images of brains. “My ultimate goal is to build a comprehensive machine learning toolbox that can be applied to a wide range of biological shapes and used to advance our understanding of disease prediction and prevention,” she says. She hopes to be a leading researcher in the field and contribute to the development of innovative technologies to revolutionize healthcare.

Marie Tano ’21

Tano majored in cognitive science and minored in Africana studies and linguistics at Pomona. She is currently in a Ph.D. program in linguistics at Stanford University. While Tano’s graduate program is already fully funded, she says the NSF GRFP award will allow her to attend conferences, institutes and other opportunities. “It was a huge honor because it made me feel as though my research mattered. Right before I was awarded the fellowship, I was doubting the significance of my project, and this really helped assuage my imposter syndrome,” says Tano. At Stanford, Tano is working on acquiring computational skills as well as skills in linguistics related to analyses of social theory and/or cognitive processing. She eventually plans to work in the technology sector and academia.

Gabe Udell ’21

Udell is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics at Cornell University with the goal of becoming a math professor. During his time at Pomona, he majored in mathematics and minored in computer science. Udell is thankful for the National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship program as it will allow him to focus on his research and learning more math. It will also help him gain teaching experience from various opportunities as opposed to working as a teaching assistant. He adds that “receiving this fellowship means I will have the ability to volunteer more and carry out the activities I proposed.”

Joe Hesse-Withbroe ’21

Hesse-Withbroe majored in physics and minored in mathematics at Pomona. He is currently pursuing an M.S. in aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and plans to pursue a Ph.D. to research human performance in the context of human spaceflight. While at Pomona, he was a research assistant to Professor Dwight Whitaker and interned at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.) Hesse-Withbroe’s goal is to become an astronaut. “NSF pays full tuition and a stipend which enables me to focus on research and coursework without worrying about funding,” he says.

Clayton Ziemke ’18

A biology major at Pomona College, Ziemke is now in a Ph.D. program in biological sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi. His research examines the responses of ant communities to hurricanes in Puerto Rico. He plans to continue doing field entomology research in the years ahead. For Ziemke, the NSF GRFP will not only allow him to focus all his energy on his research, but it will also allow him to live more comfortably and visit his family more often. “This award is affirming in that I represented myself honestly on my application. I wrote about the need for biological science to not lose sight of ecology, how fully lab-based investigations of mechanism can be myopic or irrelevant in describing the function of an organism in nature, just as ecology can be limited to a coarse-grained view of organism function without mechanism,” he says.

Vera Berger ’23

Berger is a double major in mathematics and physics with a concentration in astronomy who serves as ASPC President. She was recently awarded a Churchill Scholarship to pursue a master’s in scientific computing at the University of Cambridge next year. Following her year abroad, Berger plans to return to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. in astronomy. In her undergraduate research, she studied the variability in stars through observations. She plans to bridge observational work with theoretical models for the physical processes governing stellar variability during her Ph.D. program. Berger will have to decline the fellowship as the NSF does not allow deferral of the fellowship. Nonetheless, Berger says that “receiving the fellowship affirms that multiple people see my proposed research as valuable and feasible.”

Alumni Gabrielle Ohlson ’21 and Cody Pham ’21 also received NSF GRFP fellowships each. Ohlson is currently a Ph.D. student in Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. Pham is currently at UC Davis pursuing a Ph.D. in ecology.

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the country’s oldest fellowship program that directly supports graduate students in various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. Since 1952, NSF has funded over 60,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants.