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Dayton Engineer

Two UD Students Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

By Tayte Miller, marketing communications intern

The National Science Foundation has funded more than 50,000 Graduate Research Fellowships since 1952 – many awardees going on to be Nobel Prize winners and members of the National Academy of Sciences. This year, two UD students joined the ranks as awardees of this prestigious fellowship.

Graduating senior Maggie Jewett and master’s student Katie Opacich were chosen out of approximately 13,000 applicants because of their outstanding academic achievements and dedication to research in STEM. They are among 2,076 students nationwide to join the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) this year.

“I am so, so, so thankful and fortunate to have this opportunity,” said Jewett, who will be attending the University of Michigan for her Ph.D. biomedical engineering next fall. “I have an immense amount of gratitude to everyone that helped me along the way.”

The GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees by providing annual funding for research and tuition, opportunities for international research and professional development, and the ability to conduct research at any accredited U.S. institution.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UD in 2018, Opacich returned for her master’s in aerospace engineering. Her plan is to return to UD once again for her Ph.D. in the spring of 2021 as she continues to study aviation and aerospace. Opacich’s research will take place at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base under the supervision of Timothy Ombrello – the senior research aerospace engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory – and involves analyzing the effects of Nanosecond-Pulsed Ignition.

“Once I finish my Ph.D., I would like to pursue a career in aerospace/aviation that is focused on finding energy solutions for current and future air and space travel,” Opacich said. “I’d like to embark on a career path that will benefit humanity by supporting economic growth, environmental responsibility, and potentially efforts in defense, space travel and exploration.”

While Opacich’s research is in the area of aerospace, Jewett will be researching tissue engineering – specifically looking at different strategies and models to induce vascular 3D tissue constructs outside of the body so that they can survive when implanted in the body. During her undergraduate years, Jewett worked with Kristen Krupa, associate professor and chair of the chemical and materials engineering department, on her research regarding enhanced microenvironment models.

“My experience with Dr. Krupa started the summer after freshman year,” said Jewett. “Outside of research, one of the things she taught me was not only how to be a female leader in STEM, but how to be a good family member while holding a leadership position in STEM. That was very inspirational.”

Both women were not only academically successful, but also very involved in the UD community during their undergraduate years. Opacich volunteered for Christmas on Campus for four years, had three cooperative rotations with GE Aviation, participated in research with the National Jet Fuels Combustion Program, was a member of both Tau Beta Pi and Pi Tau Sigma – the engineering honor society and the mechanical engineering honor society – and volunteered at Mission of Mary Cooperative and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). 

Jewett worked for the UD Research Institute (UDRI), had multiple leadership roles with the American Institute for Chemical Engineers (AICHE), including president; was the vice president of the chemical engineering honor society (Omega Chi Epsilon), was the co-head coordinator for honors student welcome, and a part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program.

“Thank you to the faculty and staff that have helped me and given me amazing support and guidance throughout my undergraduate and graduate career,” said Opacich. “They supported me in pursuing my love for aviation research and have done a lot for me inside and outside the classroom by providing me with volunteer opportunities, additional research opportunities and scholarship opportunities. I am honored to be a part of the UD family and proud to represent the University.”

There is no doubt that both Opacich and Jewett embody what it means to not only be outstanding students and researchers, but also strong female leaders in STEM. Congratulations to both Katie and Maggie as they accept this prestigious award and continue to carve their paths as leaders.

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