Roberts awarded 2016 Graduate Research Fellowship from NSF

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2016-04-14 08:39:02 - General

Emily Roberts
Emily Roberts

Coe senior Emily Roberts has received a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Roberts is one of only 2,000 students chosen from more than 17,000 national applicants to receive the fellowship this year, which essentially helps to provide a full-ride scholarship path for her to complete a doctorate.

A mathematics and psychology major at Coe, Roberts has already completed several notable research fellowships during her undergraduate career. This fall, she will be enrolling in a Ph.D. biostatistics program at the University of Michigan's Rackham Graduate School.

"I've always loved math, but I am also really interested in studying people, so that's why biostatistics has worked well for me," said Roberts.

Following her first year of studies at Coe, Roberts started a research project focusing on roommate selection and student satisfaction that became her senior thesis project. The next summer, Roberts participated in a Summer Institute in Biostatistics at Columbia University in New York City. While there, she honed her statistical skills and worked with a research partner on a project that evaluated the outcomes of a Head Start Program. In the summer of 2015, Roberts was selected to participate in the Harvard Summer Program in Biostatics and Computational Biology.

"The Harvard Program was like a dream come true," said Roberts. "We learned more about statistics, biostatistics and epidemiology. The summer project I was able to work on was just phenomenal."

Specifically, Roberts worked with a mentor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute looking at data from a clinical trial for children who were diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the most common type of cancer in children.

"What was special about the study was that we were looking at the socioeconomic status of the children to see how that impacted their outcomes in the study," said Roberts.

Another of Roberts' research projects was through the Action Research Course, as part of the Coe Honors Program. This involved Roberts working with the Mission of Hope, an organization to support the homeless in the near-downtown area of Cedar Rapids.

"I worked with Mission of Hope to learn about what their needs were to serve the community," said Roberts. "I developed a survey so that they could get some more number sense of who they were serving and what their clients' specific needs were. It was a really great opportunity to bring together a lot of the skills that are important to me, academically as well as helping out the community."

Roberts has Type 1 diabetes and is interested in studying that disease, as well as pediatric diseases. As a diabetic, she feels fortunate to have benefited from other research that has been done so far, and hopes her work can aid others in the future. She applied for the NSF Fellowship on the basis of looking further into childhood cancers and the connection with socioeconomic status to dovetail with her Michigan research.

At Michigan, she also received a two-year fellowship through the National Institutes for Health for cancer research. She will work under that program to get a solid background in cancer research, and then use the NSF fellowship to pursue her own interests and finish the Ph.D. program.

"What's really awesome is that this fellowship provides the flexibility for me to research what I am interested in," said Roberts. "That’s really the basis for the fellowship. They're looking for people who have the vision and the drive to go forward and do their own sorts of research."

As an eventual career goal, Roberts would like to make a difference in the lives of others who suffer from disease, particularly children.

"I would love to work at a research center, such as Mayo Clinic or St. Jude, and be one of those people who are making medical advances through the use of statistics that is really going to change people's lives," said Roberts.

At Coe, Emily has participated in Math Club, Psychology Club, Habitat for Humanity and cheerleading, and she has volunteered to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Among other Coe faculty members, Emily is grateful for the support she has received from her advisor, Mathematics Professor Jon White, and Psychology Professor Nukhet Yarbrough. She is a graduate of Marion High School and the daughter of John and Deanna Roberts of Marion.

About the National Science Foundation’s GRFP program

GRFP provides three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period (a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution). The support is for graduate study that leads to a research-based master's or doctoral degree in science or engineering.

"The Graduate Research Fellowship Program is a vital part of our efforts to foster and promote excellence in U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics by recognizing talent broadly from across the Nation," said Joan Ferrini-Mundy, NSF assistant director for Education and Human Resources. "These awards are provided to individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements, and they are investments that will help propel this country's future innovations and economic growth."

Former NSF Fellows include numerous individuals who have made transformative breakthroughs in science and engineering, have become leaders in their chosen careers, and been honored as Nobel laureates. Applicants are selected through the NSF peer review process.

Since 1952, NSF has provided fellowships to individuals selected early in their careers based on their demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering. GRFP is critical to NSF's overall strategy of developing the globally engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation's leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation.

A high priority for NSF and GRFP is increasing the diversity of the science and engineering workforce, including geographic distribution, and the participation of women, underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, and veterans. GRFP offers fellowship awards directly to applicants selected through a national competition.

Fellows have opportunities for international research collaborations through the Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) initiative and professional career development with federal internships provided through the Graduate Research Internship Program (GRIP). GRFP also supports NSF's Career-Life Balance (CLB) Initiative (NSF 13-099).

The 2,000 awardees - chosen from close to 17,000 applicants - represent a diverse group of scientific disciplines and from all states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. commonwealths and territories. The group is diverse, including 1,077 women, 424 individuals from underrepresented minority groups, 62 persons with disabilities, 35 veterans and 627 senior undergraduates.

The new Fellows come from 488 baccalaureate institutions - 104 more institutions than in 2010, when GRFP began awarding 2,000 fellowships each year.