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Record recognition

Do you think a $30,000 per year stipend and tuition waiver for three years, plus summer research funding, for graduate school sounds like a great deal? Well, Loyola couldn’t be prouder to congratulate three former Loyola students who were awarded prestigious 2013 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships to attend the graduate school of their choice, fully funded.

This is the first time in Loyola’s history that three students have earned an NSF Fellowship in a single year, plus four more students received NSF honorable mentions in this time frame, another record. James M. Calcagno, PhD, director of the Fellowship Office and anthropology professor at Loyola, describes the type of help that the Fellowship Office offers its undergraduate students.

“The Fellowship Office primarily assists current undergraduate students with their applications for highly competitive national scholarships and fellowships, as well as alumni, many of whom have used the office while at Loyola,” says Calcagno. “They are more than welcome, and indeed encouraged, to come back and seek our assistance because these applications are very difficult to do well.”

Calcagno noted that more than 13,000 highly qualified students in the country applied for an NSF Fellowship this year, and only 2,000 students received one. The application is done entirely online, and most critical are the three essays that include a personal statement, previous research experiences, and one’s proposed graduate research.

“The award is meant to fund a person, not a specific research project,” Calcagno says. “It’s an award that says: given our assessment of  your intellectual merit and the  broader impacts you will likely make as a scientist,  we recognize you as exceptionally promising to help our nation’s goal of ensuring  the vitality of future scientific achievements  in the United States.”

The 2013 NSF Graduate Research Fellows include Joseph Saelens, who graduated in May 2011 with a BS in Bioinformatics. Now attending Duke University, he specializes in microbiology and focuses his laboratory research on Mycobacterium tuberculosis, using a genome sequencing approach to analyze the geographical evolution of the bacterium which has been tightly linked to ancient human migrations.

Anna Sjodin graduated in May 2011 with a BS in Biology and minors in Psychology and Spanish. In the fall she will use her NSF Fellowship to begin her studies in ecology at the University of Connecticut, where she will focus her research on bats and how ecological factors affect the spread of infectious disease. In 2010, Anna earned a Fellowship Incentive Grant through Loyola’s Fellowship Office, which helped her prepare for her first NSF application.

Caitlin DeRango graduated from Loyola with a BS in Anthropology in May 2011, with minors in biology and French language and literature. She is a biological anthropologist focusing on primatology, and will begin her graduate school studies at UCLA in the fall.

“For my NSF research, I’ll be examining coalition behavior in a long studied population of New World monkeys, the White-Faced Capuchins (Cebus capucinus), who  inhabit the Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve in Costa Rica,” explains DeRango.

Her field research will investigate  the types of communication that occur during coalition interactions, how coalition patterns vary according to various demographic factors such as age or sex, and how this variation can provide insights into capuchin social cognition.

“It’s really a rather fascinating topic–or so I think!–that can help inform our understanding of the evolution of social behavior not only in capuchins, but also in primates, including humans, generally.”

Calcagno describes his long-term connection with DeRango, and how immediately clear it was that she was “NSF material,” even though it was difficult for her to figure out exactly her research focus.

“Caitlin is an interesting story because I had her in my Anthropology 101 class in her first semester at Loyola,” describes Calcagno. “I don’t often talk directly to first-semester students about a possible NSF application in their senior year, but I not only spoke to her, but to other faculty as well regarding her potential in this regard.

DeRango couldn’t be more excited to receive this well-earned NSF fellowship because she feels it will provide the best start to her graduate study and research career while covering her education and living expenses.

“This will go a long way in providing greater flexibility in my decision making and will allow me to commit more time and effort to research and potentially collaborative research opportunities,” says DeRango. “It’s a wonderful affirmation and honor from the larger research community in the U.S.”

She described the process as a “mediation of sorts,” that allowed her to reflect on the mentors whose examples have shaped her perspectives, experiences, and goals.

“Having received the fellowship, I feel I’ve been able to bring recognition to their influences–particularly that of Drs. Jim Calcagno, Dan Amick, Anne Grauer, and Rhonda Quinn of Loyola’s anthropology department and Dr. Susan Perry of UCLA’s anthropology department,” says DeRango.

Anyone applying for next year’s NSF fellowships has until November 2013 to prepare their application. DeRango warns that “although it appears to be a distant date, the most useful piece of advice I can provide is to start this process as soon as possible.”

“Submitting a competitive application means spending a significant amount of time thinking about, writing, and editing various drafts of your application.”

With the help of the Fellowship Office, DeRango and other NSF Graduate Research Fellows were able to submit applications that set them apart from the rest of the competition.

For more information on the NSF fellowship and other prestigious scholarship applications, visit the Fellowship Office’s website.

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