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Growing up near the Space Coast, both Zachary Stein and Robert Greene were exposed to the space industry from a young age. It’s no surprise that each of them has earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and are now working toward their doctoral degrees in the same field.

It’s also no surprise that both chose to continue their education at the University of Central Florida, which is located near a number of aerospace companies like NASA, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, among others.

“With Research Park located right next to UCF and the Space Coast located just about an hour away, UCF is in a prime location to continue pursuing excellence – not just during my studies but when I eventually graduate with my degree as well,” Greene said.

Stein and Greene aren’t the only alumni with multiple UCF degrees. More than 700 undergraduate alums have returned to UCF to earn master’s degrees and/or doctoral degrees from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

For Stein, who wanted to continue to focus on his research as part of the Raghavan Research Group, pursuing a doctoral degree at UCF was a no-brainer.

“UCF was an obvious choice since I already had an established relationship with my advisor and a firm understanding of the research topic,” Stein says. Now I get to dive even deeper into my research, requiring me to really understand the topic and to know what is on the forefront of scientific knowledge in my field. I feel that obtaining my doctorate will also enable me to better contribute in a career focused in research after graduation.”

UCF Prepares Students For Fellowships

Aside from their alma mater, what Stein and Greene also have in common is that they’ve participated in prestigious national fellowships.

Stein received a Fulbright Fellowship in 2019 and was selected to participate in the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship this year. He also received an honorable mention for the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship.

Stein says he’s grateful for these experiences, and the lessons they’ve taught him, both professionally and personally.

“Each [fellowship] is unique in their objectives and goals, but each one has also provided unimaginable opportunities and experiences to me,” Stein says. “I have been able to work alongside experts in their fields at national research institutions both in the United States and abroad.”

Stein credits Professor Seetha Raghavan, his research mentor, for guiding him through the fellowship process. He also says that UCF’s fellowship workshops were extremely useful during the application process. UCF’s fellowship programs were also helpful to Greene, who was a 2021 recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. 

“UCF did a great deal in helping my prepare for my fellowship, not just with the excellent education provided here but the programs they offer to prospective fellows as well,” Greene says. “I was able to enroll in a program that set me up with several members in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric that helped me get the most out of my proposal and application writing.”

Zac Stein
Zac Stein
Robert Greene
Robert Greene

Advice for Students Seeking Graduate Degrees

When it comes to applying for fellowships, Stein recommends that students apply for whatever opportunities they can find, even if they think they won’t be selected.

“You’ll never know if you were good enough to get that grant or fellowship without applying,” Stein says. “Best case scenario, you have to decline some fellowships or grants in order to accept the even better ones.”

For students who have their eyes on graduate-level fellowships, the first hurdle is to apply to graduate school. Since research is key for both fellowships and graduate school, Greene advises students to find a topic that interest them.

“You’re going to be spending a long time pursuing the degree, and having a topic of study that can hold your interest and continually present itself in an exciting fashion to you is a must,” Greene says. “The good thing is that undergrads still have time to get involved in research and test the waters on what topics and disciplines are most interesting to them.”

Stein adds that a great research advisor can make a difference, so it’s important for students to choose a professor whose work aligns with their career goals. He also reminds students that graduate school is a journey, not a destination.

“Obtaining a graduate degree is a marathon, especially when pursuing a Ph.D. in addition to a master’s [degree],” Stein says. “It will not be easy and some days will be harder than others, but so long as you are making consistent and tiny efforts to move forward every day in some way, you will eventually cross that finish line and obtain that graduate degree.”