Ensuring the vitality of STEM graduate studies

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April 9, 2014

The MSU College of Engineering can claim several new fellows among the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) winners for 2014.

Matt Nizol's research is at the intersection of software engineering and database theory.

The NSF GRF program is one of the most coveted awards to support graduate studies in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and SBE (social, behavioral, economic sciences), said Katy Luchini Colbry, director of graduate recruiting in the MSU College of Engineering.

“Fellows may use their award at any graduate program in the U.S. and receive three years of full funding,” she said, noting the fellowship includes tuition, fees, health insurance and other opportunities. Read more on NSF GRF.

Matt Nizol and Emily Dolson, both current graduate students in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, are among the 2,000 NSF awardees this year. A number of students with ties to the college are also on the list, Luchini Colbry said, noting that the competitive NSF program attracts about 14,000 applicants annually.

Matt Nizol

Nizol said his research is at the intersection of software engineering and database theory.

“Specifically, I'm researching test database generation from conceptual data models. The problem is of theoretical interest because it is NP-hard; however, tools that generate test data have the potential to help software engineers validate data-intensive enterprise systems more effectively.”

Nizol said he is collaborating with Laura Dillon, professor of computer science and engineering, and Kurt Stirewalt of LogicBlox Inc., on his research. Nizol is enrolled in the computer science doctoral program, with Dillon as his advisor.

“We hope that this collaboration will ensure that our research is transferable to industry,” he added.

Nizol graduated with a computer science degree from the University of Michigan Dearborn, where he also studied history and humanities in the Honors Program. After graduation, he worked in industry for 10 years.

“At EDS/Hewlett-Packard, I wrote programs to analyze massive warranty data sets for General Motors. At United BioSource, I wrote software that analyzed clinical trial data for biotech clients working on cancer drugs.”Emily Dolson's interests are in computer science, evolutionary biology and ecology making the BEACON Center for Evolution in Action a perfect fit for graduate studies.

Nizol lives in Hartland, Mich., with his wife and two children.

Emily Dolson
Dolson’s research interests are in computer science, evolutionary biology, and ecology.

“The projects that I'm currently working on have two primary thrusts: extracting information from high-volume time-series data in order to make better decisions, and studying the eco-evolutionary dynamics of resource use. For the former, I am developing an algorithm for detecting errors and rare events in real-time data from an ecological sensor network, as well as working on a project on detecting emerging breast cancer in series of mammograms taken over time.”

Continuing, she said, “For the latter, I am doing a series of digital evolution experiments on the effects of spatial resource heterogeneity on diversity and evolutionary potential, the results of which will have implications for both biology and computer science.”

Originally from Ben Lomond, Calif., her early interests were in marine ecology.

“I maintained this focus until my first year as an undergrad at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, at which point I discovered computer science and its many fascinating synergies with ecology and evolutionary biology. During this time, I was able to get a variety of interesting research experiences in both fields, and determined that I ultimately wanted to combine them. With the BEACON Center for Evolution in Action and the interdisciplinary program in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior, MSU proved to be the perfect fit for my interests.”

She is now a first-year doctoral student in the Departments of Computer Science and Engineering and of Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior.

Kathleen Fitzsimons '13 has always been inspired by her brother's progress in rehabilitation. She will study biomechanics at Northwestern University.

Kathleen Fitzsimons
Kathleen Fitzsimons (BS Mech Egr ’13) is currently living in Illinois. She will be using the NSF GRF to earn a doctorate in mechanical engineering at Northwestern University.

“I will be studying biomechanics specifically, and I will likely be working at the neuroscience and robotics lab. My research interests are in biomechanics of human movement and assistive/rehabilitative robotics.”

Fitzsimons said she first became interested in biomechanics “because of my amazing little brother, Matt,” who has been in a rehabilitation program since he nearly drowned when he was two. Now 17, he is a quadriplegic and one of the eight children in the Fitzsimons family. The family lives in Richmond, Mich.

“I worked in Roger Haut's orthopaedic biomechanics lab here at MSU from the time I was a freshman until I graduated in December 2013, with a degree in mechanical engineering, she added.


Other Spartans on the 2014 NSF GRF list
Luchini Colbry said Kayla Felger, an MSU chemistry undergraduate who worked with Dr. Jeff Sakamoto, associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science, last summer through the EnSURE program, will use her fellowship for biomedical engineering research at the University of California, Berkeley. Anthony Sparkling, an MSU construction management graduate student, will use his fellowship at MSU to conduct research in civil engineering.

Additionally, other MSU alumni are advancing their education at other institutions using a NSF GRF fellowship. They include:

Keven Andreassi, currently studying mechanical engineering at the University of Notre Dame, (BS Mech Egr ’13; BA Spanish ’13 and Honors College.)

Kyle Justus, currently studying mechanical engineering at Carnegie-Mellon University (BS Mech Egr ’12).

Andrew Nuttall, currently studying computer science at Stanford University (BS Mech Egr ’13 and Honors College).

Amy Pochodylo, currently studying materials science at Cornell University (BS Chem ’13, Honors College, and specialization in environmental studies ’13).

Three MSU Engineering students received honorable mentions: Margaret Young, a graduate student in materials science, Kristen Henn, a graduate student in biosystems, and Logan Matthews (BS Chem Egr ’13) now studying chemical engineering at Princeton University.