Three Kenyon alumnae have received National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships, competitive federal awards that offer recipients financial freedom and flexibility as they pursue their advanced degrees.
The 2014 recipients include Christine Ostrowski ’11, a math and economics major; Elizabeth Bailey ’12, a chemistry and studio art major; and Kendra Lechtenberg ’13, a neuroscience major. Ostrowski and Bailey are pursuing doctoral degrees from Princeton University, Ostrowski in economics and Bailey in chemistry. Lechtenberg is enrolled in the neurosciences Ph.D. program at Stanford University.
NSF awards 2,000 fellowships each year to applicants early in their graduate careers based on their potential for significant achievements in science and engineering. The fellowships provide three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship: a $32,000 annual stipend and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to recipients’ graduate institution.
Each awardee has an interest in teaching as a career, most likely in a college or university setting. But none wants to stop there: Ostrowski, Bailey and Lectenberg also expect to have a hand in policymaking, either as writers or contributors to national discussions in the public sphere.
All three attribute elements of their success in the laborious NSF application process to their Kenyon experience – particularly relationships with faculty whose guidance helped them shape their futures.
“Grant writing is highly emphasized in science courses at Kenyon, and the rigorous writing experience I received as an undergraduate gave me a huge advantage in writing the NSF application,” Lechtenberg said. “Being able to communicate science effectively is just as important as the ability to conduct rigorous experiments, and I think Kenyon students learn to appreciate this more than most.”
For Bailey, whose art background influences her perspective on forming research questions and communicating scientific concepts, Kenyon offered a range of opportunities that suited her interest in expanding student life beyond her chosen disciplines.
“My Kenyon education allowed me breadth to pursue not only art and chemistry but also to study abroad and to explore teaching as a tutor,” she said. “In my research and tutoring I worked closely with my professors. I participated in developing ideas and analysis and was invited to push my ideas.
“Grant applicants from larger universities might have had more technical research training, but the interactions I had with my Kenyon professors – talking about research and pedagogy, discussing ideas for a grant – were invaluable. Professors treated me as a peer.”
Ostrowski, who has been publishing papers and presenting at conferences as an economic researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, will start her doctoral program in the fall. She credits Kenyon professors with fostering her critical eye as a consumer of news and information and helping her hone problem-solving skills in mathematics that extended to multiple subjects.
With the NSF support, she will be able to put her studies first, she said. “The fellowship allows me to focus on research during my last three years of graduate school, rather than juggling research and jobs.