Brenda Guerrero, Brianna Martinez and Christopher Sorich will each receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees as part of the five-year fellowship. They will also have opportunities for professional development.
The Impact of One-on-One Communication
Guerrero is working on a Ph.D. in science education. Along with her advisor, Assistant Professor Remy Dou, Guerrero is examining the level of motivation scientists have to conduct public outreach and public engagement.
Given these two items are not typically considered for a professor’s tenure and promotion, Guerrero wants to understand why, for example, faculty choose to deliver presentations at museums or participate in events where the primary audience are average people — not fellow academics.
She’s also interested in exploring how the act of having faculty speak directly to people might counter misinformation that spreads far too quickly online.
“There’s lots of scientific misinformation—it’s always been there, but it’s more accessible nowadays on any kind of media. It’s just at your fingertips all the time and it gets replicated and it mutates and it reaches massive amounts of people,” Guerrero said. “Content-wise it’s important to have scientists involved in science journalism because you’re getting a first-hand account from someone who does it for a living.”
How do future researchers learn to do science?
Martinez, who is earning a Ph.D. in chemistry in the chemistry education track, wants to uncover how chemistry students develop the ability to do science. Martinez is working closely with Assistant Professor Sonia Underwood to find answers.
“I’m specifically looking at chemists’ perceptions and engagement in scientific practices, like asking questions, planning and carrying out investigations,” Martinez said. “Those sorts of things that you know you typically think of when you think of ‘doing science.’”
Right now, Martinez said, there’s not a lot of research on how researchers engage and develop with respect to these practices. Her work could provide more insight.
The chemistry of plant life
Sorich, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in biology, will be partnering with the National Tropical Botanical Garden to research the chemical properties of lobeliads in Hawai’i.
“Plants produce a variety of specialized chemical compounds that help them to survive, either by repelling herbivores or attracting certain pollinators,” Sorich said. “Plants can't run, they can't scream, they can't hide, but they do have chemistry on their side.”
Working with Assistant Professor Diego Salazar and the National Tropical Botanical Garden based in Hawai'i, Sorich hopes to uncover why plants make the chemicals they make and how those chemicals can be linked to a species' ability to expand where they live. The chemistry, he said, could also help model how well species will survive and thrive in their current locations as climate change is likely to affect habitat conditions.
In addition to students Guerrero, Martinez and Sorich, three FIU alumni also received fellowships — Shaylyn Grier who is currently studying at Georgia Institute of Technology; and Benjamin Bokor and Nathalie Tuya who are currently studying at Columbia University. Four other students and three additional alumni received honorable mention recognition.
The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship program is among the oldest graduate fellowships of its kind. Previous recipients have achieved high levels of success in their academic and professional careers. Notable recipients include former U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.