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The National Science Foundation has awarded four Graduate Research Fellowships to alumni of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The recipients are:

Debraliz Isaac-Aragones, B.S.AE ’19 — Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Purdue University.
Leslie Simms, B.S.ME ’18 – Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of California, Davis.
Victor Rodriguez, B.S.ME ’19 — Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon.
Alex Ruiz, B.S.ME ’19 — Currently pursuing a aerospace engineering at UCF.

NSF awarded 2,076 fellowships this year, 15 of which were awarded to UCF students and alumni. All Graduate Research Fellows receive a $34,000 annual stipend as well as payment of tuition and fees for three years. They also have access to professional development and international research opportunities. The goal is to allow students to focus on their research without the worry of college expenses.

“The benefit of this fellowship is that I will be able to focus whole heartily on my coursework and research, knowing I have the funding behind me,” Ruiz said. “The professional development and international research are of great interest to me because I take any chance I get to learn from others and travel abroad.”

Ruiz studies aerodynamics and flow phenomena under the guidance of Assistant Professor Samik Bhattacharya. During his senior year, he published a journal article and networked with other scientists in the field, which he feels gave him an edge over the competition. This is the second time that he applied for the fellowship, which requires a lengthy application process. He encourages other students to just apply — and Ruiz is grateful that he did.

“It is an honor to receive this award and to have more hard work recognized,” Ruiz said. “I almost couldn’t believe that I got selected, but I knew that if I was going to win it, that it was going to be this year.”

Started in 1952, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the oldest graduate research program of its kind and recognizes graduating seniors and first-year graduate students studying in STEM disciplines. Awardees receive an annual stipend of $34,000 for three years as well as $12,000 that can be used toward tuition and fees. As part of the five-year fellowship, recipients also have opportunities for international research and professional development and the freedom to conduct their own research. Past Graduate Research Fellows include Nobel Prize winners, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.