Graduate Students

PSGC Graduate Research Fellowship Program at Penn State – University Park

The application for the 2018-2019 academic year is closed

The Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium will award one-year fellowships in the amount of $5,000 per academic year to outstanding students that promote graduate study leading to masters or doctoral degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related to NASA research and development.

Fellowships will be awarded to outstanding students in fields of study that promote the understanding, assessment, and utilization of space and contribute to NASA’s research mission: Aeronautics Research, Exploration Systems, Science, and Space Operations. To learn more about NASA research priorities, please visit the following research programs: Earth Science, Space Science, Biological and Physical Research, Aerospace Technology, and Space Flight. The main NASA Mission Directorate page can be found here.

What are the qualifications and considerations?

  • All eligible Penn State- University Park graduate students are invited to apply, with award emphasis on, but not limited to, the following colleges:  Agricultural Sciences, Earth and Mineral Sciences, Eberly College of Science, Education, Engineering, Health and Human Development, Information Sciences and Technology, and Liberal Arts.
  • Applicant must be a U.S. citizen.
  • Applicant must be admitted to Penn State’s Graduate School.
  • Applicant must be enrolled as a full-time student (9 credits).
  • In keeping with the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program goals, fellows will participate in mentoring or education outreach activities (for grades K-12, undergraduates or the general public) for a minimum of ten hours per semester.

How do I apply?

  • Submit an online application HERE by the March 1, 2018 deadline. (the application will open November 1, 2017)
  • All supporting materials (i.e. letters of recommendation, resume, transcripts, etc.) must be included in order for your application to be considered complete.

Meet our 2017-2018 Graduate Fellows

Christopher Axten, Aerospace Engineering
William Bowman, Astronomy and Astrophysics
Bryan Brasile, Chemical Engineering
Jess Bunchek, Agronomy
Andrea Chan, Ecology
Jeffrey Contri, Aerospace Engineering
Guillermo Costa, MBA
Benjamin Donovan, Astronomy and Astrophysics
Carolyn Fish, Geography
Suzanne Fleishman, Horticulture
Carolynne Hultquist, Geography
Cory Jones, Chemical Engineering
Brian Knisely, Mechanical Engineering
Theresa Kucinski, Chemistry
Allyson Marianelli, Chemistry
Andres Mejia Ramon, Anthropology
Drew Miles, Astronomy and Astrophysics
Jamie Peeler, Geography
Hannah Reich, Biology
Emma Rosenthal, Plant Pathology
Julie Sanchez, Geography
Matthew Shaw, Aerospace Engineering
Dana Tobin, Meteorology
Lyanne Valdez, Chemistry
Carmen Vanderhoof, Curriculum and Instruction (Science Education)
Nathan Wasilko, Microbiology
Danielle Williams, Wildlife and Fisheries Science
Jiansong Xu, Chemical Biology

Will studies high-redshift (z~2) galaxies detected via the strength of their emission lines, e.g., Lyman-alpha or the [OIII] doublet. This method probes further down the galaxy mass function than traditional methods (e.g., the strength of the objects in the continuum), which are highly biased towards massive galaxies and are therefore not representative of the overall galaxy population. I am using data from the Hobby Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX), which is in the process of coming online and is projected to find ~800,000 Lyman-alpha emitting galaxies (LAEs) in the redshift range 1.9 < z < 3.5, yielding a galaxy sample larger than the most numerous existing LAE sample by about three orders of magnitude and greatly enhancing the power of statistical techniques to make inferences about these objects. HETDEX has already discovered several hundred LAEs, demonstrating the feasibility of the program. I am also building a complementary sample of galaxies detected via the strength of their emission lines in the rest-frame optical using grism data from the Hubble Space Telescope. Comparing the properties of the two samples (e.g., stellar mass, star formation rate, and physical/morphological properties) will determine whether the two samples probe the same underlying galaxy population, and help constrain the mechanism and fraction of Lyman-alpha escape.
Bryan uses classical and quantum techniques to study the fundamental nature of the electrochemical interface for applications in electrocatalysis. The focus of his work is to develop a combined classical molecular dynamics and density functional theory model to capture solvation effects on potential-dependent electrocatalytic reaction energies and reaction barriers. This novel approach will take advantage of the detailed electronic structure offered by density functional theory techniques with the ensemble averaging capabilities of molecular dynamics to provide solvation free energy corrections to reaction energies and barriers. Currently Bryan is working on developing a method for determining how micro-solvation affects DFT reaction energies and transitions states (e.g. dipole moments, interaction with external fields) by studying proton shuttling through water on a platinum (111) surface. Preliminary MD simulations of the electrodes/electrolyte interface will be used to develop a method for modeling an electrochemical system at constant electrode potential using a polarizable Drude model coupled with modified potentials for adsorbed intermediate states informed by DFT results. Once a working model is developed, this general MD/DFT approach will be used to study elementary electrocatalytic reaction steps to determine accurate elementary reaction barriers and mechanisms.
Benjamin’s research focuses on the advancement of off-plane X-ray reflection grating technologies for use on future suborbital rocket missions and NASA observatories. Current X-ray spectroscopy missions such as the Chandra X-ray Observatory and XMM-Newton have provided valuable scientific observations for nearly two decades, but at some point, these missions will end and new X-ray observatories will need to be designed and launched. Off-plane gratings provide an avenue to achieve high-resolution, high-throughput X-ray spectra of astrophysical objects, which would give future X-ray observatories the tools necessary to study previously unexplorable regions of the Universe. Currently, Benjamin is working on the development of two suborbital rocket missions which utilize off-plane gratings, the Water Recovery X-ray Rocket (WRX-R) and the Off-plane Grating Rocket Experiment (OGRE), scheduled to launch in April 2018 and December 2018, respectively. In addition, Benjamin is developing custom raytrace software to simulate the performance of off-plane gratings and to explore new X-ray grating technologies. Through the use of off-plane grating technologies, scientists can begin to answer some of the most fundamental scientific questions currently left unanswered in the field of astronomy. This research falls under the Astrophysics division of the Science Mission Directorate.
Carolyn's dissertation research examines how expert cartographers in the news media and government agencies design climate change maps for the public. The goal of her research is to understand: 1) the current state of climate change maps in media – where they are produced, what and how they illustrate climate change, 2) the goals of the cartographers who design these maps and how they fulfill these goals, and 3) how map users view the effectiveness of cartographic communication of climate change. Carolyn’s research will demonstrate the importance of maps in climate change communication, as well as inform cartographic best practices.
Suzanne studies the alternative practice of planting grass cover crops instead of spraying herbicide in vineyards. There is an increased interest in cover crop applications due to their demonstrated benefits of eliminating herbicide applications, sequestering carbon, and reducing weeds, soil erosion and chemical leachates. A less intuitive benefit is that cover crop competition for belowground resources, primarily water, can reduce grapevine vegetative growth. Controlled stress to grapevines is often desirable, even with a slight yield penalty, because decreased leaf area can improve fruit quality and reduce disease pressure. Despite the multitude of benefits possible through cover crops, it remains a high-risk practice due to a lack of predictability in the tradeoff between fruit quality and yield deficits. In order to reduce barriers to practice adoption and assist with vineyard decision making, Suzanne's research project investigates mechanisms of belowground resource competition with an overarching goal of integrating field measurements and climatic data to inform a predictive growth model. This research directly aligns with NASA's Science Mission Directorate by integrating climatic data with agroecosystem carbon cycling to create model-informed benefits to society.
Cory is a PhD student in Chemical Engineering working in the Manish Kumar lab developing synthetic, biological, and biomimetic membranes for use in energy, environmental, and biomedical applications. His project focus is on biomimetic membranes, specifically, investigating light driven ion transport membranes. Microbial opsins, like Halorhodopsin (pHR), can act as an electrogenic pump to transport Cl- and other ions vectorially across the lipid membrane in response to light. He is working towards developing means to measure transport rate of light-driven ion pumps, a critical parameter in predicting the extent of opsin-mediated neural polarization that has yet to be studied. Recently, the group has developed a liposome-based stopped flow technique to measure the number of Cl- ions pumped per pHR molecule per unit time at a fixed light intensity. Using this technique they can find rate limiting steps of several opsins. KR2, in particular, is very intriguing for its ability to act as a Na+ ion pump in response to light. His current experiments are aimed towards enveloping KR2 into lipid vesicles and measuring/characterizing the pumping activity of Na+. If we can successfully encapsulate the protein into vesicles as well as characterize their pumping capabilities, we can begin to utilize them in real world applications. Particularly in NASA's case, of developing membrane sheets to assist in desalination efforts utilizing light as the energy source.
Allyson’s research focuses on the physical chemistry of intracellular organization. Specifically, she works in the Keating Research Group to design experimental model systems using liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS) to better understand how living cells co-localize biomolecules and regulate reactions. The use of experimental model systems reduces the complexity in the model system, but still facilitates inclusion of important physicochemical aspects of the cellular environment. This project investigates the impact of macromolecular crowding, which occurs in the cytoplasm and nucleoplasm of cells where high concentrations of macromolecules are present, on complex coacervation, a type of LLPS used to mimic polyelectrolyte-rich liquid organelles within the cell. The overreaching goal of this research is to design artificial protocells from the bottom up that exhibit simple cellular behavior, such as biomolecule partitioning and spatiotemporal control over bioreactions. The knowledge gained will thus be applicable across a broad range of living systems, contributing to a scientific understanding of one of Earth’s most complex systems.
Andrés is an archaeologist and geophysicist in Penn State's anthropology department, studying long-term human-environmental interactions in the Basin of Mexico during the late Holocene and Anthropocene. The Fellowship portion of the research Andrés is undertaking involves studying Mexico City's geographical growth and urbanization since the launch of the high-altitude Corona program in the late 1950s and the space-based Landsat program in the 1970s, while monitoring changes in the Basin's geomorphology and agricultural practices relating to to increasing population and local climate change. This research can be used to identify remaining ecologically sensitive areas at an imminent risk of destruction, and can be used to test models of urban development and environmental response to such pressures. This research supports NASA's Science directorate, employing satellite imagery resources to address issues in coupled social-environmental systems. Andrés' other research grapples with similar issues of agricultural production, resource scarcity, and population growth in the Teotihuacan Valley, focusing on the agricultural and political strategies prehispanic Teotihuacan (200 BC – AD 550) employed to develop and sustain the largest metropolis in the New World before the arrival of the Spanish.
The focus of Dana's research is to investigate winter storms that produce freezing precipitation. Recent upgrades to the National Weather Service’s network of weather radars from conventional single-polarization to dual-polarization, or polarimetric, radars provide for information on the size, shape, and composition of atmospheric hydrometeors. This new information allows meteorologists to identify different precipitation types and investigate physical processes associated with precipitation dynamics and formation. A new signature in winter storm radar data only accessible with polarimetric radars indicates the “refreezing” of fully or partly melted hydrometeors aloft during ice pellet precipitation events. Using the new radar technology alongside crowd-sourced and automated surface precipitation reports and atmospheric thermodynamic observations, she is assessing key features indicative of freezing precipitation to better understand the microphysical processes associated with hydrometeor refreezing. A main goal of this research is to explicitly model these microphysical processes to match polarimetric radar observations to support or refute existing hypotheses for the polarimetric refreezing signature, or to develop alternative hypotheses to determine the exact cause of the signature. A complete understanding of these processes and observations are key to accurately identifying wintertime precipitation types for atmospheric temperatures near 0 °C, as small temperature perturbations can result in drastically different and/or multiple precipitation types at the surface.
Danielle’s research focuses on the impacts of noise from shale gas compressor stations on breeding songbird reproduction and behavior. Shale gas extraction is a growing industry in Pennsylvania and surrounding states, and the compressor stations that keep the gas moving through the pipelines produce loud, continuous noise that can travel hundreds of meters in a forested landscape. This project uses experimentally introduced compressor noise to understand how this noise might affect birds’ ability to successfully raise young and potential mechanisms behind noise effects such as preferential settlement, parent-offspring interactions, predator detection, and stress. This research aligns with NASA’s Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems mission to detect and predict changes in biodiversity. Lack of reproduction in organisms affected by noise can lead to population declines, changing the species composition of noise-disturbed areas. In extreme cases, this can even lead to a reduction in biodiversity around noise sources. Understanding how noise affects wildlife, especially animals that rely on sound for reproductive success, is a key part of understanding how human disturbance is changing Earth’s environment for wildlife.

Past Graduate Fellows

Stacey Dean, Chemistry, College of Science
Timothy Fischer, Geosciences, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
John Florian, Human Physiology, IDGP/College of Health and Human Development
Jacob Haqq-Misra, Meteorology, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Ameila Henry, Ecology and Plant Physiology, IDGP/College of Science
Kimberly Kermann, Astronomy, College of Science
Angela Luis, Ecology, IDGP/College of Agricultural Sciences
Avram Mandell, Astronomy, College of Science
Eliza Montgomery, Materials Engineering, College of Engineering
Jessica Moon, Ecology, IDGP/College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
David Morris, Astronomy, College of Science
Sarah Nilson, Ecology and Plant Physiology, IDGP/College of Science
Patrick O'Connor, Chemistry, College of Science
Jonathan Petters, Meteorology, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Stephen Redman, Astronomy, College of Science
Samuel Ridout, Physiology, IDGP/College of Health and Human Development
Brian Schratz, Electrical Engineering, College of Engineering

Karen Bussard, Pathobiology, College of Agricultural Sciences
Timothy Gookin, Plant Biology, IDGP/College of Science
Francelys Medina, Materials Science, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Sarah Pabian, Wildlife and Fisheries Science, College of Agricultural Sciences
Jori Sharda, Plant Biology, IDGP/College of Agricultural Sciences
Laurie Shuman, Biology, IDGP/College of Science
Christopher Thode, Chemistry, College of Science

Alicia Castagna, Materials Science, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
David Claudio, Industrial Engineering, College of Engineering
Jacob Haqq-Misra, Meteorology, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Kristina Harris, Nutritional Sciences, College of Health and Human Development
Michael Hernandez, Meteorology, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Steve Kerlin, Geosciences and Biogeochemistry, College of Education
Paul Lynch, Industrial Engineering, College of Engineering
Kevin Mueller, Ecology, College of Agricultural Sciences
John Petrilli, Engineering Science, College of Engineering
Stephen Redman, Astronomy, College of Science
James Saal, Materials Science, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Jason Young, Astronomy, College of Science

Tyler Anderson, Physics, College of Science
Michael Castellano, Soil Science, College of Agricultural Sciences
Johnathan Cook, Physiology, College of Health and Human Development
Stephen Krajeski, C&I/Science Education, College of Science
Rebecca McCauley, Geosciences/Astrobiology, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Brendan Mullen, Astronomy, College of Science
Leighton Myers, Aerospace, College of Engineering
Benjamin Smith, Chemistry, College of Science
Gregory Tudryn, Materials Science, College of Science

Matthew Geske – Physics
Heather Graham – Geosciences & Biogeochemistry
Daniel Jones – Geosciences
Diane Kristine Korzow – Biology
Allen Kummer – Electrical Engineering
Michael Lapsley – Engineering Science
Kerry Michael – Biobehavioral Health
Laura Russo – Ecology
Jennifer Rygel – Materials Science & Engineering

Raechel Bianchetti – Geography
Drew Clausen – Astronomy & Astrophysics
Christopher Dancy – IST
Nathan Garvin – Physiology
Rachel Isaacs – Geography
Peter Licona – Curriculum & Instruction
Keegan McCoy – Electrical Engineering and Astronomy & Astrophysics
Amanda Mills – Electrical Engineering
Matthew Route – Astronomy & Astrophysics
Christopher Stevens – Psychology
John Swierk – Chemistry
Brian Wallace – Aerospace Engineering

Sean Cahoon – Ecology
Michele Crowl – Science Education
Meredith Hanlon – Plant Biology
Khadouja Harouaka – Geoscience/Astobiology
Ramdane Harouaka – Bioengineering
Neal Parsons – Aerospace Engineering
Aliana Briston – Ecology
Ryan Terrien – Astronomy & Astrophysics
Rachel Worth – Astronomy & Astrophysics
Amanda Young – Geography

Brittany Banik – Bioengineering
Timothy Brubaker – Electrical Engineering
Jase Bernhardt – Geography
Gloria Kim – Bioengineering
Elliot Nelson – Physics
Merisa Nisic – Cell and Developmental Biology
Caroline Normile – Meteorology
Laura Rodriguez – Geoscience
Christina Sponsky – Nutritional Sciences
Adrienne Tucker – Geography
Benjamin Zinszer – Psychology

Yolian Amaro-Rivera – Electrical Engineering
Joanna Bridge – Astronomy and Astrophysics
Taran Esplin – Astronomy and Astrophysics
Brian Pomerantz – Astronomy and Astrophysics


Valerie Alstadt – Chemistry
Zena Cardman – Geosciences
Feon Cheng – Nutritional Sciences
Lea Hagen – Astronomy and Astrophysics
Lucas Harris – Geography
Joseph Keller – Ecology
Amanda Labrado – Geosciences
Regina Wilpiszeski – Geosciences/Astrobiology

Kathryn Bateman, Curriculum and Instruction, Science Education
Kate Bowen, Nutritional Sciences
Chloe Callahan-Flintoft, Psychology
Zena Cardman, Geosciences
Ross Dinsmore, Electrical Engineering
Will Doebler, Acoustics
Erica Frankel, Chemistry
Alison Franklin, Soil Science & Biogeochemistry
Chrysta Ghent, Curriculum and Instruction
Chester Harman, Geosciences
Brian Knisely, Mechanical Engineering
Lillie Langlois, Wildlife and Fisheries Science
Kelly Malone, Physics
Jamie Peeler, Geography
Michael Rodruck, Astrophysics
Julie Sanchez, Climatology
Curtis Stimpson, Mechanical Engineering
Stanley Stupski, Biology
Anand Swaminathan, Acoustics
Jennifer Thweatt, Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology; Astrobiology

Other Graduate Fellowship Opportunities