Bulldogs Amber White and Loranzie “LJ” Rogers have a big reason to be happy.
They have been named National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellows and with that designation comes greater freedom to pursue research full time and greater opportunities.
Graduate Research Fellowship recipients receive $168,000 worth of support, which is distributed over a three year period. This support is divided into two parts: tuition and stipends. Recipients can also participate in special NSF programs that provide opportunities to pursue research in the U.S. and around the world. “It’s very exciting and I’m super stoked,” said LJ. “It’s going to allow me to work on more projects and it’s nice that the faculty and advisors I work with don’t have to find funds.”
“It opens a lot of doors,” said Amber. “And rather than spend a lot of time teaching, I will be able to focus on my research.”
Fields of Study
Amber is currently finishing up her Masters Degree in Water Resources Science here at UMD. She got her undergraduate degree in Biology and Environmental Science at Loyola University Chicago. Her advisor is Dr. Nate Johnson in the Civil Engineering Department and her research focuses on mercury export in the St. Louis River Estuary. She will start on a PhD in Environmental Chemistry and Technology at the University of Wisconsin Madison in the fall, a program she plans to complete in four to five years.
LJ is in his first year in the Integrated Biosciences Master’s Degree program and got a degree in Biology here at UMD in 2017. His advisor is Dr. Allen Mensinger and his research is focused on the effects of anthropogenic sound on the vocal oyster toadfish (Opsanus tau). Upon completing his Master’s, LJ plans to pursue a PhD and will start applying to schools this fall. While talking with Amber, he was excited to hear that her NSF Fellowship immediately led to better offers from potential schools. And it makes sense they are sought-after students, as they competed against thousands of applicants for these coveted awards.
Secrets to Success
So, what are the keys to their success? LJ and Amber have a lot in common and agree on the best approach. Both started doing research early in their undergraduate career by seeing something that interested them and asking people about how to pursue it. They both did multiple internships, took part in summer research programs and applied for this fellowship once before. (You can only apply twice.)
They are also both active in the community and in outreach efforts. Amber emphasized that the National Science Foundation is looking for well-rounded applicants. She said, “NSF wants to fund scientists that have potential down the road to have a broad impact.”
LJ agreed and said that the way people communicate their research is nearly as important as the research itself. “A lot of emphasis is put on how you’re going to progress as a scientist and give back through mentoring and by communicating and disseminating the research results.”
When applying for scholarships and fellowships, they both recommend using the resources that are available. Taking advantage of services like the Writing Workshop at UMD and reaching out to faculty and other students to help review and offer feedback on applications is essential.
One last thing they emphasized is to push forward and don’t be afraid to fail. “If people say ‘no’, don’t take it personally, just keep trying. I’ve gotten many ‘no’s’ before this big ‘yes’.” said Amber.
The last time a UMD student won this award was in 2014 and two students successfully applying in the same year is rare. Amber said that when UMD faculty found out they gave her a round of applause at a recent Graduate Program Committee meeting. “It was funny because I was on my way back from a conference and joined the meeting late. When I walked in, everyone started clapping, but I didn’t know why and was a little confused until someone finally said, ‘Congratulations on your award’’, she explained with a laugh.
LJ added, “People have been coming up to say congratulations and professors are giving me high fives.”
Both of them credit the support of faculty, staff and their peers for the fellowship win and in case people think they’re now ready to rest on their laurels, that is definitely not the case. They’re eager to continue their research and take on new projects. LJ summed it up with, “It’s encouraging other people believe in my work so now I’m even more motivated.”