Four Auburn students, five recent graduates named NSF Graduate Research Fellows

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Four Auburn University students and five recent graduates are recipients of a 2019 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and five others received honorable mention. The fellowship program helps ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States.

This year’s fellows are Katie Brown, MaryJane Campbell, Kyle David, Alexander Davis, Mina Narayanan, Jantzen Lee, Zachary Lee, Matt Preisser and Kevin Wyss.

Fellows benefit from three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period—a $34,000 annual stipend and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution—as well as opportunities for international research and professional development. The support is for graduate study that leads to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, mathematics and social science disciplines.

In the past decade, 58 Auburn students have been awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and an additional 30 have received honorable mention.

“The number of Auburn students and recent graduates being recognized for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program continues to grow each year,” said Paul Harris, Auburn’s former associate director for the Office of National Prestigious Scholarships and current chair of the Department of Political Science. “Their selection recognizes the high quality of scholarly activity that exemplifies and advances Auburn’s research mission.”

Five students and recent graduates who received honorable mentions are Haley Dutton, Gavin Shotts, Sean Herrera, Kevin Nixon and Meghan Ward.

“It has been a privilege to work with such promising students, learning about ground-breaking research and helping guide them as they developed and polished their proposals,” said 2014 Auburn graduate Patrick Donnan, former graduate assistant in the Office of National Prestigious Scholarships and a 2014 Marshall Scholar.

Sushil Bhavnani, associate chair and the Henry M. Burt Jr. Endowed Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said, “These young women and men have distinguished themselves, their respective departments and Auburn University in their pursuit of advanced research. Their selection as National Science Foundation Research Fellows or honorable mentions underscores the strength of Auburn’s research enterprise across disciplines and colleges. Their work will have long-lasting societal impact.”

  • Katie Brown is a second-year graduate student studying bioengineering at Rice University. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in polymer and fiber engineering, and her research advisor at Auburn was Professor Maria Auad in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Her project is titled “Investigating Mechanisms of Discrete Subaortic Stenosis with an In Vitro Model” and aims to develop a biological model of a debilitating pediatric heart disease. Brown’s work utilizes patient echo data to inform her model and replicate the pathological conditions of discrete subaortic stenosis. During her time at Auburn, Katie was mentored by Professor Kate Thornton in the College of Human Sciences who inspired her to use her future career as a tool for giving back and making a difference.

  • MaryJane Campbell is a 2015 graduate from the College of Liberal Arts with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is pursuing her doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Utah, and the title of her project is “An Observational Study of Triadic Family Interactions Among Adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes.” While at Auburn, she served as a research assistant in the Adolescent and Young Adult Health Promotion Research Laboratory, working on multiple projects to promote health and wellness in adolescents with chronic illness.

  • Kyle David is a second-year graduate student in the Department of Biological Sciences working with Professor Ken Halanych. His project, "Phylogenomics of an Understudied Marine Phylum, the Arrow Worms (Chaetognatha),” aims to comprehensively sequence the poorly understood group of animals known as arrow worms. The inclusion of genomic data from this enigmatic phylum will allow us to better understand animal relationships and elucidate the origin and evolution of animal development.

  • Alexander Davis is a second-year graduate student in the Department of Aerospace Engineering working with Assistant Professor Vinamra Agrawal. His project, “Development of a Molecular Dynamics Moving Window Framework to Model Shock Wave Interactions at Microstructural Features in Materials,” utilizes atomistic techniques to model the behavior of metals and composites subject to impact loading leading to the propagation of shock waves. Such knowledge will lead to the design of advanced materials with desired ballistic and detonation response. These materials can be used to protect individuals during ballistic impacts as well as prevent composite satellites from being damaged while in orbit. Davis also was selected recently for the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.

  • Mina Narayanan is double-majoring in software engineering and political science. Her undergraduate research mentor is Professor Gerry Dozier of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, and the title of her research is “Identification, Quantification, and Prevention of Computational Propaganda.” Her work will focus on the characterization of people's writing styles based on stylometric features to identify the strategies used to create agents that imitate humans and spread false information about current events online, leading to manipulation of public opinion of a candidate or policy. Once these malicious strategies are identified, her goal is to quantify the amount of false data that is propagated and develop countermeasures that make the intentions of political adversaries transparent to the public, as well as identify factors associated with these bots that hinder or encourage political participation.

  • Jantzen Lee is a 2017 graduate of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University where he is engaged in the design, development and testing of the effects of a power asymmetric, swing assistive knee prosthesis on the gait of persons with trans-femoral amputations.

  • Zachary Lee is a 2018 graduate of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. As an undergraduate, he worked under Professor Sushil Bhavnani on experimental research to improve the capability of spacecraft electronics cooling. Lee is currently working toward a doctorate in mechanical engineering at Cornell University with a focus in energy research. His project, “Facilitating Renewable Heating through Smart Heat Pump Control,” seeks to accelerate the decarbonization of residential heating through the use of machine learning and internet of things devices like smart thermostats.

  • Matt Preisser is a 2018 graduate with a double major in biosystems engineering and German. While at Auburn, Matt has conducted undergraduate research under the direction of Assistant Professor Brendan Higgins of the Department of Biosystems Engineering. Currently, Matt is pursuing graduate studies at the University of Texas-Austin in public affairs and environmental and water resource engineering. His project, “Incorporating Flood Mapping with Social Disparities to Identify At-Risk Communities During Extreme Weather Events,” will quantify the variance in resiliency and preparedness of different socioeconomic classes with regard to extreme storms and flooding events. By examining satellite derived datasets, his research will explore the possibility of predicting which communities will be harmed the most through the effects of flood, damage to infrastructure and ability to recover.

  • Kevin Wyss is a senior majoring in chemistry and conducts research under the direction of Associate Professor Anne Gorden in the Department of Chemistry. The title of his project is “Use of Hemilabile Interactions to Create Switchable Hydrogenation Catalysis via an Earth Abundant Metal-centered PNP-Pincer Ligand.” Catalysis, often carried out by metal centered catalysts, is an essential part of producing pharmaceuticals, plastics, commodity chemicals, fragrances and fertilizer. Yet, these catalysts often use rare metals that are expensive and environmentally damaging to extract. Building on preliminary results, Wyss’ project will address these concerns.

The five students and recent graduates who received honorable mentions are:

  • Haley Dutton, a doctoral student in the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences

  • Gavin Shotts, a doctoral student in the Department of Biological Sciences

  • Sean Herrera, a senior in the Department of Mechanical Engineering

  • Kevin Nixon, a 2018 graduate of the Department of Chemical Engineering

  • Meghan Ward, a 2017 graduate of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

For more information about the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program at Auburn, contact Ken Thomas in the Honors College at For more information about the NSF, go to

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