Seven Arts and Letters Students Awarded Graduate Fellowships from National Science Foundation

Author: Carrie Gates

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Seven students in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters have been awarded graduate fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for 2016. Another six have been recognized with honorable mentions.

The NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) honors and supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and social science disciplines. The award provides a stipend, tuition support, and research funds for three years.

A total of 41 Notre Dame students—24 awardees and 17 honorable mentions—were recognized by the NSF this year, a new record that nearly doubles the University’s previous top mark of 26 students in 2015.

Mallika Sarma Mallika Sarma

The Arts and Letters awardees include Ph.D. students Mallika Sarma in anthropology, Kristina Hook in anthropology and peace studies, Ian Campbell in psychology, and Jeremy Graham and Juan Valdez in political science. Anthropology major Kenzell Huggins ’16 and economics major Melanie Wallskog ’16 also received awards to begin graduate study this fall.

Sarma is focusing her research on human developmental plasticity and said her success reflects the strong support network she has at Notre Dame, particularly in the Department of Anthropology, which launched its Ph.D. program in 2014.

“I am lucky to have the support and attention of faculty who encourage innovative and integrative research,” Sarma said. “The faculty in our department aren’t just leading scholars in their field; they also genuinely care about making me the best scholar I can be.”

Kristina Hook Kristina Hook

Hook, who is examining large-scale political violence against civilians, such as genocides and mass atrocities, hopes to develop an anthropologically informed toolkit to improve primary source data collection. She said both the Department of Anthropology and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies have been extremely helpful in her research.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to work on this issue from the interdisciplinary angle that my dual doctoral program allows,” she said. “The partnership between anthropology and the Kroc Institute provides us the vantage point of seeing diverse scholarly perspectives across the academic landscape while remaining rooted in our own methodological training.”

Both Hook and Sarma also credited Notre Dame’s Office of Grants and Fellowships with helping them throughout the application process for the fellowship. The office conducts a summer support program, a fall workshop series, and an intensive application-writing “boot camp” each fall. All of Notre Dame’s graduate-level winners participated in at least one of these specialized events.

Kenzell Huggins Kenzell Huggins

“I am certain that attending the NSF-GRFP boot camp and six-week training session equipped me to succeed in drafting my application,” Hook said.

With his fellowship, Huggins will pursue a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago. He said the opportunities for undergraduate research at Notre Dame helped him both prepare for graduate study and win the competitive NSF award.

“The anthropology department at Notre Dame encouraged me to pursue research opportunities, even in my freshman year,” Huggins said. “As a result, I was better equipped with the skills to integrate various disciplines to understand complex human interactions.”

Wallskog, who will begin a Ph.D. program in economics at Stanford University this fall, also participated in many research projects as an undergraduate and said her experiences—especially in the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities—inspired her to pursue the graduate fellowship.

Melanie Wallskog Melanie Wallskog

“The fellowship opens up so many doors for me and allows me to continue to focus on my research and development,” Wallskog said. “And it was my mentors for those research projects who encouraged me to apply and ultimately helped me win the award.”

Graduate students interested in applying for external awards, including the GRFP, should contact the Office of Grants and Fellowships. Interested undergraduates should contact the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement. Regardless of level, all Notre Dame students are welcome to attend summer and fall support programs.