Eleven students from the University of Florida’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, as well as nine alumni, were selected to receive awards from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP). The NSF GRFP recognizes outstanding graduate students from across the country in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Recipients are identified as high-potential, early-career scientists and engineers.
Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering graduate students
Diana Aponte graduated with a major in chemical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. Her past research projects focused on finding new ways to produce sustainable energy. She has also done an internship at the DOE focusing on the decarbonization of industrial processes. Diana will be pursuing a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at UF this fall.
Harrison Broadaway, a Mississippi native and Mississippi State alumnus, is a Ph.D. student in the Biomedical Engineering Department. His interest in athletics and engineering has guided him to work with Dr. Brittany Taylor and The Taylor Lab in efforts to devise reparative therapeutics for musculoskeletal tissues. His research specifically investigates the intrinsic regenerative processes of tendon in response to uniaxial, cyclic loading. Additionally, Harrison is interested in enhancing accessibility to education in rural communities and hopes to implement virtual outreach events during his tenure at UF.
Ava Burgess joined the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering in Fall 2022 upon graduating with her bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Wake Forest University in May 2022. Ava currently is a first-year PhD student in the Brain Mapping Lab under Dr. Aysegul Gunduz. Ava is a first-generation college student and decided to pursue her PhD at UF to increase her computational neuroscience and artificial intelligence background to advance brain-computer interface or neural implant technologies to improve the quality of life for patients with neurological diseases. Her current neural engineering research focuses on using deep brain stimulation to identify neural biomarkers for closed-loop applications in patients with essential tremor. Additionally, she serves as the Vice President for Policy Advocacy Science in Engineering (PASE) at UF. During her undergraduate studies, she served as a biomechanics undergraduate research assistant at the Virginia-Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences before being a Research & Development Biomedical/Safety Engineering Intern at NASCAR.
Carleigh Coffin is an incoming first-year Biomedical Engineering PhD student in Dr. Jamal Lewis’ lab. In May, she received her bachelor’s in Bioengineering from Clemson University. Her research background is in drug and gene delivery, biomaterials, and cancer treatment with her undergraduate research project focusing on characterizing a novel fusogenic peptide to target ovarian cancer cells and deliver small interfering RNA. Her future work supported by the NSF GRFP will be focused on deciphering the mechanisms of fungal vomocytosis.
Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment
Britney Hay is an Environmental Engineering Sciences PhD student from Antigua & Barbuda in the Altieri lab at the University of Florida’s Center for Coastal Solutions. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of Florida, and spent two years working in environmental conservation in her home country prior to graduate school. Today, her graduate research examines how coastal restoration success can be enhanced by maximizing the natural functions of ecosystem engineers like mangroves. This work, with components directly tied to bolstering the resilience of vulnerable communities on Florida’s north-east coast, enables her to work at the nexus of her passion for science, environmental conservation, and community-inclusive and responsive solutions.
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Christian King began his studies in aerospace engineering due to a fascination with Formula 1 aerodynamics. This same inspiration led him to focus his NSF fellowship research on an open question in fluid dynamics: the effect of atmospheric disturbances on hypersonic instability and turbulent transition. Christian is currently a Ph.D. student working under Associate Professor Steven A. E. Miller at the Theoretical Fluid Dynamics and Turbulence Group in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in aerospace engineering in 2021 from the University of Florida and is also a recipient of the Herbert Wertheim Dean’s Research Award. He hopes his research and career will provide a step toward hypersonic civilian transport.
Tia Monjure is currently a PhD student in Dr. Ana Maria Porras’s Tissue-Microbe Interactions Lab. Her research focuses on Leishmaniasis, a parasitic neglected tropical disease that leads to uncontrolled growth of the liver. Her ultimate goal is to engineer a 3D multi-cellular model of the liver to better understand the influence of the parasite on vascular remodeling in this tissue.
Rylee Newport is a PhD student in UF’s Department of Biomedical Engineering joining Dr. Blanka Sharma’s lab. She recently graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and was a research assistant in Dr. Stefan Wilhelm’s Biomedical Nano-Engineering Lab. Her research focused on substrate optimization for tunable expansion microscopy to improve the understanding of how nanomedicine interacts with cells in an environment that better mimics the innate biological conditions.
Clinton Smith earned his bachelor’s in biomedical engineering from Georgia Tech and is a rising second-year PhD student in Dr. Jamal Lewis’ Immunomodulatory Biomaterials Laboratory. His research entails leveraging vomocytosis, a “trojan horse” cellular mechanism, for improved therapeutic delivery in autoimmune disease.
Computer & Information Science & Engineering
Patriel Stapleton is a Caribbean-American and her roots are in St.Kitts and Nevis. She is the first in her family to pursue a Ph.D. and is currently a PhD. Student in the Human-Centered Computing Department at the University of Florida. She is co-advised by Dr. Jeremiah Blanchard and Dr. Christina Gardner-McCune. Her research investigates how game-based learning can be used to teach middle school students’ complex topics. She believes everyone learns differently and the more options that are available to learn the more opportunities undeserved students can have.
Daleen Torres-Burgos is a dedicated civil engineering graduate student with a strong passion for natural hazards research. In May 2023, she graduated with honors from the Civil Engineering bachelor’s degree program at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez (UPRM). Daleen’s exceptional academic performance earned her the prestigious Etienne Totti award, recognizing her as the most distinguished student in the UPRM Civil Engineering program.
Throughout her undergraduate years, Daleen actively engaged in research, collaborating with institutions such as the UPRM Coastal Resiliency Center and the Puerto Rico Water Resources and Environmental Research Institute. Her contributions to these research projects demonstrated her commitment to addressing the challenges posed by natural hazards.
Daleen’s enthusiasm for advancing her field led her to participate in the Natural Hazards Research Infrastructure Summer Program for undergraduates in both 2021 and 2022. Additionally, she gained valuable experience as a participant in the Puerto Rico Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program in 2021.
Driven by the ambition to specialize in wind engineering and coastal resiliency as a natural hazards researcher, she aims to make valuable contributions to the field and provide mentorship to upcoming engineers and researchers. Her goal is to develop innovative solutions that enhance community preparedness and promote sustainable infrastructure in the face of natural disasters.
Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering alumni
Chemical Engineering 2022
Jostin Armada graduated from the University of Florida in December 2022 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and a minor in Biomolecular Engineering. He was a member of the UF Fightin’ Gator Marching Band for five years and served as Trumpet Section Leader. Armada also served as a First-Year Engineering Peer Advisor and Chemical Engineering Peer Advisor where he held officer positions. Currently, Armada works as a Post-Baccalaureate Research Technician in Whitney Stoppel’s Biomaterials/Tissue Engineering lab, where he is working to develop a local oxygen delivery vehicle by encapsulating hemoglobin in silk fibroin particles under the mentorship of Ph.D. candidate Marisa Pacheco. Starting Fall 2023, he will be attending Cornell University to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
Chemical Engineering 2023
Dylan Carman graduated with his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida Department of Chemical Engineering in May 2023. Outside of academic coursework, Dylan was engaged in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers UF Student Chapter and served as the Chapter President for the 2022 – 2023 school year. There he organized numerous social and professional events and led the efforts in hosting the AIChE Southern Regional Student Conference in March 2023, where 30 universities converged on the UF campus to share student research and engage in technical competitions. Dylan conducted undergraduate research in Piyush Jain’s CRISPR/ Biomolecular Engineering Research Lab, where he was involved in projects harnessing CRISPR systems for infectious disease diagnostics and genetic engineering applications. He will attend Johns Hopkins University starting in August 2023 to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, where he will work in the field of biological systems engineering with hopes of impacting human health and sustainability.
Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering
Kayla Garoust received her bachelor’s in aerospace engineering from the University of Florida in December 2022 with high honors. Kayla will continue her education at the Georgia Institute of Technology with a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, specializing in orbital mechanics and optimization. During her time at UF, Kayla was involved with Phi Sigma Rho, Sigma Gamma Tau, and UF Study Abroad. Kayla completed her undergraduate honors thesis under the supervision of Dr. Anil Rao. She also held internships at Pratt & Whitney, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and APT Research.
Grace Li received her bachelor’s in chemical engineering from the University of Florida in May of 2023. During her time at the University of Florida, she conducted undergraduate research in the Rinaldi-Ramos Research Laboratory with Dr. Rinaldi-Ramos to optimize the synthesis of magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles for Magnetic Particle Imaging (MPI). She was also involved in student organizations such as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), where she held several officer positions.
Emily Pallack graduated from UF in May 2023 and will be pursuing a PhD in biomedical engineering at Tufts University, focusing on regenerative neural engineering. At UF, Emily was involved with the Center for Undergraduate Research and researched biomimetic materials for spinal cord injury modeling under Dr. Christine Schmidt for 4 years. She was named a 2022 Goldwater Scholar. Outside of academics, Emily was a museum educator at the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention. Emily will continue to research therapies for spinal cord injury and connect with the community through science education.
Chemical Engineering 2023
Grace Shoemaker earned her bachelor’s in chemical engineering in May and will be pursuing a PhD in chemical engineering at Johns Hopkins University in the Fall. She became active in the research community during her first year in Dr. K.C. Jeong’s Lab with a passion for the antimicrobial resistance crisis. Afterwards, she worked in the Jain Lab with CRISPR diagnostic technology, utilized mainly for COVID-19, malaria, and HIV/HCV. Beyond research, she was active within UF Student Government, serving as an Engineering Senator. Through this, she pursued 24/7 library efforts, along with DEI initiatives and legislation.
Brendan Wernisch graduated from UF with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering this past May. In his third year, Wernisch was the HWCOE’s undergraduate recipient of the Attributes of a Gator Engineer award in leadership. He served in various leadership roles with UF’s Center for Undergraduate Research, becoming the Executive Director to CUR’s Board of Students in his senior year. Wernisch has worked in two research labs at UF and, last summer, one at the University of Chicago. Most recently, he used HiPerGator in Janani Sampath’s research group to study amorphous polymer membrane design, for which he was awarded nationally. Wernisch will begin doctoral studies in chemical engineering at Northwestern University this fall, where he plans to continue researching polymers.