NDSEG fellowship

July 29, 2020

PhD student Katherine Skocelas to study how immune systems evolve

Katherine Skocelas, a PhD student in the MSU College of Engineering, has been awarded a three-year National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship. She is one of two Spartan Engineers named an NDSEG Fellow this summer.

Katherine Skocelas is awarded a prestigious NDSEG Fellowship to advance her studies.
Katherine Skocelas will advance her studies in digital evolution with an NDSEG Fellowship.

Skocelas is in her second year as an MSU doctoral student, pursuing a dual-PhD in Computer Science and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology & Behavior. She will use the fellowship to study evolutionary dynamics and complex diseases using digital evolution systems.

Her research is in the Digital Evolution Laboratory (DevoLab) at the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. Her adviser is Charles Ofria, professor of computer science and engineering and director of DevoLab, where researchers study natural evolution to solve computational, engineering, and biological problems.

“With the NDSEG Fellowship, I will be leveraging the process of evolution to create and study biologically-inspired artificial immune system algorithms for distributed networks,” Skocelas said. “My goal is to advance the understanding of evolution as applied to coordinated networks, importing fundamental insights from biology into computer science, and paving the way for a new generation of robust and effective distributed algorithms.

“I hope to gain new insights into host-parasite coevolution and the ways in which immune systems can evolve,” she continued.

Prior to attending MSU, Skocelas completed two degrees at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) - a master’s degree in computer information systems and a bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations.

“I didn’t intend on pursuing a PhD,” she explained, “but I fell in love with research while working as a research assistant to Dr. Byron DeVries at GVSU. I was awarded a NASA Michigan Space Grant Consortium Graduate Fellowship to continue our work over the summer of 2019, and I began my doctoral studies at MSU that fall to pursue a career in computer science research.” 

Katy Luchini Colbry, assistant dean for graduate student services in the College of Engineering, called the NDSEG a “prestigious national award” that recognizes the most outstanding PhD students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

“There are about 200 awards per year, honoring the top .02 percent of graduate students in science and engineering,” Luchini Colbry explained. “MSU has had just a handful of winners in the last decade, and we are pleased to have two in the College of Engineering this year.”

The college’s other NDSEG Fellow this year is Daniel Griffin, a third-year PhD student in dual programs in Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering in the College of Engineering and Organizational Psychology in the College of Social Science. He will study the factors that impact team resilience.

The NDSEG Fellowship begins in September. It covers tuition, fees, and provides a yearly stipend. It promotes education in science and engineering disciplines relevant to the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the Army Research Office (ARO), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) defense missions.