Two Auburn University students receive National Science Foundation fellowships

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Two Auburn University students, Che Ka and Grant Wilkinson, have been awarded 2021 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, or NSFGRF—a fellowship program designed to help ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States.

Each fellowship consists of three years of support accessible over a five-year period. For each year, the NSF provides a stipend of $34,000 to the fellow and a cost-of-education allowance of $12,000 to the degree-granting institution.

“We are especially happy to see a continuation of Auburn students being awarded this prestigious fellowship,” said Tiffany Sippial, director of Auburn’s Honors College. “The NSFGRF recognizes student potential for significant achievements in science and engineering research, and these awards are a perfect fit for the work being done at Auburn University.”

Ka, of Auburn, Alabama, is a biological sciences doctoral student in the College of Sciences and Mathematics. He moved to Auburn from Senegal, Africa, at age 14. His research aims to better understand mechanisms that cells use to orchestrate their activities during animal embryonic development and help reveal how these mechanisms are tweaked through evolution to give rise to the diversity of animal forms we see today.

“This major fellowship from the NSF not only supports my research at Auburn, but also bolsters my efforts to increase science communication and share our work with the broader community,” Ka said.

Wilkinson, of Chelsea, Alabama, is a spring 2021 Honors College graduate with a double major in chemistry and physics in the College of Sciences and Mathematics. His research focused on the photophysical properties of lanthanide and actinide coordination complexes. He hopes to develop sensors for uranium to be detected in environments suspected of contamination.

“I strongly encourage anyone interested in graduate research to apply [for NSFGRF], because it prepares you like few other things can,” said Wilkinson, who served as the spring 2021 graduation marshal for the College of Sciences and Mathematics.

Alex Sauer, coordinator for scholarships and research for the Honors College, added, “This is a truly transformative opportunity for students who are starting careers in research, and we are so happy that Auburn students are continuing to be recognized for their amazing work.

“We are also so grateful for the time and effort that advisors, mentors and recommenders have dedicated to supporting these students. Nationally competitive awards are never won solely by any one individual’s efforts.”

The NSFGRF program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions.

More information is available at or by contacting Sauer at

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