Three students receive prestigious NSF fellowships


Posted to FIU News by Ayleen Barbel Fattal

Three FIU doctoral students were named National Science Foundation (NSF) fellows as part of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program in recognition of their outstanding work. It is the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind.

Developmental psychology students Carla Abad and Yesenia Joya share the honor with Kelly Mesa, an electrical and computer engineering student. As NSF fellows, they are expected to significantly contribute to research, teaching and innovations in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – as have other fellows including numerous Nobel Prize winners, government leaders, entrepreneurs and private sector pioneers who share this distinction.

Under the guidance of psychology professor, Shannon M. Pruden, Carla Abad’s research explores the factors that may contribute to the under-representation of women and minorities in STEM careers. Specifically, she is looking at the role of early educators on the development of children’s spatial capabilities – how they make sense of space, shapes, sizes and recreate patterns – to see if gender stereotypes begin before children enter formal schooling.

"Few scientists are examining the early education setting for potential explanations for the gender gap reported in the STEM disciplines,” Pruden said, “Carla’s research is truly innovative in that it addresses whether early educators use differential amounts of numeracy and spatial language to boys and girls.”

With psychologist Bethany Reeb-Sutherland as her mentor, Yesenia Joyas looks at the development of reading disabilities in young children and the underlying neural mechanisms that may contribute to those disabilities.

"Yesenia’s project is highly innovative in that it employs a measure that can indirectly examine the cerebellum – a part of the brain known to be involved in reading disabilities,” Reeb-Sutherland said. “If she is truly able to determine a link between this type of learning and reading abilities, then this may be used in the future to help identify those children who are at the greatest risk of having reading disabilities well before they start to display problems in school.”

The third recipient, Kelly Mesa is also an NSF Bridge to Doctorate Fellow and the entrepreneurial lead in a new NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) grant with her mentor, Shekhar Bhansali. I-Corps is a program designed to broaden the impact of select, NSF-funded, basic-research projects by preparing scientists and engineers to focus beyond the lab. Mesa and Bhansali are exploring the commercial potential of their research on detection of the stress hormone cortisol.

The three students will receive a three-year annual stipend of $32,000 along with a tuition allowance. They will have access to opportunities for international research and professional development, and the liberty to conduct their own research.

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