Texas Tech University

Texas Tech Graduate Students Receive Prestigious NSF Fellowships

Doug Hensley

October 19, 2023

A half-dozen high-achieving doctoral candidates in a variety of STEM fields have been awarded fellowships to assist their educational experience.

A half-dozen students in Texas Tech University's Graduate School will have their doctoral research supported through Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation.

Mark Sheridan
Mark Sheridan

“These fellowships are awarded to graduate students based on their achievements and their promise as demonstrated through the significance of their proposed research and its broader impact, said Mark Sheridan, dean of the graduate school. “These fellowships are extremely competitive as NSF received some 44,000 applications and awarded only 2,000. We have six of these truly amazing students who will be supported by these fellowships this year.”

The students are Juan C. Dominguez in chemistry and biochemistry, Sarah Kane in animal and food sciences, Jessica LaFond in chemical engineering, Abigail Rutrough in biological sciences, Katherine Shircliff in clinical psychology and Mason Tedeschi also in biological sciences.

The fellowship provides a stipend and assists students with tuition, fees and other associated educational expenses while they pursue their doctorates at Texas Tech.

“These students are in various STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines,” Sheridan said, “and they are from all across campus working in fields supported by this NSF grant.”

For example, Rutrough grew up in eastern Kentucky, where she became fascinated by the bats that made their home in caves throughout the area. 

“I enjoyed hiking and spending time out in nature,” she said. “And I would see a lot of bats flying by up in the sky. We lived in cave country, and so every once in a while, when I would go into a cave, I would see that is where they lived.”

Eventually, Rutrough became part of an NSF project in Malaysian Borneo, where she met Tigga Kingston, a professor in biological sciences, who is her doctoral adviser.

The NSF grant allows her to focus on her research, which explores factors around why and where people hunt bats for food.

“I can spend all of my time doing research and working on other interesting side projects that allow me to develop myself as a scientist,” she said. “The grant means I don't have to teach and can stay focused on my research.”

Rutrough and the other NSF recipients are all involved in cutting-edge research focused on discovering new knowledge with implications far beyond Lubbock and West Texas. Grant recipients go through a highly competitive process.

“Fellows submit applications that must go through the usual NSF merit review process,” Sheridan explained. “Recipients have three years of funding that can be spent over a five-year period. The Graduate School then incentivizes these high-caliber applicants who come to Texas Tech as we provide two additional years of funding.

“If they need five years to complete their Ph.D., we provide that, and they will get funding for all five years if necessary.”

Sheridan said the Graduate School's incentive is one more way the university invests in students and helps them accomplish their educational goals.

“These are students who will go on to change the world,” he said. “The NSF program also provides internship opportunities that are important to high-achieving students by helping them explore career avenues. Certainly, we would love for them to stay in academics, but some will go to national labs and the private sector.

“NSF fellows go on to become Nobel laureates, members of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. These are tremendous students.”