Texas Tech University

STEM Students Receive Prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship

Elyssa Sanders

June 3, 2022

Three winners and one honorable mention are students from Texas Tech University.

Texas Tech University students Jessica LaFond, Madison Howard and Katie Shircliff were awarded fellowships from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships Program (GRFP), while Kirsten Christensen received an honorable mention. 

“These are the most prestigious fellowships awarded in basic science and engineering in the U.S.,” said Mark Sheridan, dean of the Graduate School. “The award is a tremendous honor that recognizes the academic accomplishments of these students as well as their potential as researchers. Texas Tech is proud to have attracted such promising scholars into our graduate programs.” 

LaFond, Christensen and Shircliff are doctoral students at the Graduate School, while Howard graduated with her bachelor's degree from the College of Arts & Sciences last month. 

The students' research foci are as follows: 

Madison Howard, physics and mathematics

  • Howard's research involves the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), one of two general-purpose detectors at the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN), which was invented to address questions about the Standard Model (SM) and its predictive limitations concerning the world around us. Howard's background in physics and mathematics, coupled with her multidisciplinary research experiences in theoretical, experimental and applied fields, have uniquely positioned her to tackle the challenging puzzles that emerge in high energy physics experiments at the graduate level.

Jessica LaFond, civil engineering 

  • LaFond's research is focused on determining which enzymes are able to break down compounds belonging to a class of chemicals known as per and poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals have been found to be highly stable in the environment, widespread in soil and water and toxic at low concentrations. Her goal is to identify enzymes able to degrade PFAS and map the degradation pathways.

Katie Shircliff, psychological sciences

  • Shircliff plans to investigate whether test anxiety mediates the relationship between socioeconomic status and academic achievement in adolescents. She will use multiple methods, including self-report and behavioral tasks. Importantly, she will partner with local schools to complete the project with the goal of eventually disseminating evidence-based after-school interventions to support at-risk youth. 

Kirsten Christensen, psychological sciences

  • Christensen's research focuses on understanding how to best measure psychological experiences that fluctuate over the course of hours and days. Different methodological choices can lead to differing and even opposite conclusions about the dynamics of psychological constructs. By experimentally manipulating study design, this work aims to inform best practices for assessing variable psychological experiences. 

About the Graduate Research Fellowship Program

According to the NSF's website, the GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines who pursue research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions. The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support with an annual stipend of $34,000 and a cost-of-education allowance of $12,000 to the institution.