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Five UT graduate students have received National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

The recipients are Caroline Bryson, a first-year graduate student in biomedical engineering; Mallory Ladd, a first-year graduate student in the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Education’s energy science and engineering doctoral program;  Derek Mull, a first-year graduate student in chemistry; Alix Ann Pfennigwerth, a first-year graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology; and Su’ad Amatullah Yoon, a new graduate in ecology and evolutionary biology who is about to embark on graduate studies.


The Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and provides financial support for outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited US institutions.

Bryson, who has bachelor’s degrees in nursing and engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is studying biomedical engineering to gain a better understanding of the body and develop technologies that support the healing process. She hopes to improve surgical outcomes using advanced robotic technologies.


Ladd came to UT from the University of Toledo (Ohio), where she earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and played NCAA Division I volleyball.

Her dissertation research focuses on how nitrogen affects biogeochemical processes associated with greenhouse gas emissions from warming permafrost soils in the Arctic. She is part of the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Learning she’d won a fellowship “was the best surprise I’ve had this year,” she said. “It always feels great to have your hard work acknowledged, but even more so when it’s from a prestigious program like the National Science Foundation’s GRFP.”


Mull received his bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biology from the University of Toledo (Ohio) in 2011. He interned at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for eight months in the Higher Education Research Experience program through Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

“I was thoroughly surprised and delighted to receive the fellowship,” Mull said, “I had spent the previous month keeping my hopes down by enumerating the reasons why I probably wouldn’t get it, so it was very much an ‘I can’t believe it’ moment.”


Pfennigwerth, who received her bachelor’s degree from UT in 2011, focuses on the ecology of plant-soil interactions.

“I was happy to see how much NSF reviewers valued the ways in which I have pushed my science to reach people and communities beyond the UT campus, like presenting workshops and leading citizen science efforts in collaboration with the National Park Service and local nonprofits,” she said. “I plan to continue making broad impacts with my research.”


After graduation, Yoon will join the graduate program in biology at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“Getting the NSF award was a huge surprise for me,” she said. “It has allowed me to join the lab of my choice without having to deal with the funding constraints of the institution. Having the freedom to pursue the research of your choice is an incredible feeling.”

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)