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EECS’s Mensah, Yen, Two Others in College Win NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Four seniors from the Tickle College of Engineering have been selected for prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship program (GRFP) awards, including electrical engineering majors Yaw Mensah and Alec Yen.

Picture of Alec Yen

Alec Yen

Picture of Yaw Mensah

Yaw Mensah

“We’re very proud of our students and the work that they do,” said Dean Janis Terpenny, the Wayne T. Davis Dean’s Chair. “These selections reflect well upon them, their faculty mentors, and the many long hours they work together toward educational success and on important research. The diversity of disciplines represented in this year’s winners also underscores the commitment our entire college has toward student success.”

For the students, the recognition comes after years of hard work, dedication, and determination, things Yen said helped prepare him for the program.

“This award reflects the significant investment that UT places in undergraduate research, and I am indebted to my research mentors for their advice and guidance,” said Yen. “Applying for this award can be intimidating, but I hope that the success of past UT students can help encourage future students to take the leap and apply.”

In addition to Mensah and Yen, Zachary Jerome (civil), Spencer McDonald (aerospace) were chosen and will receive a $34,000 annual stipend for three years, $12,000 toward tuition and fees, and increased chances to take part in international research as well as other benefits as they begin their graduate studies in the fall. Jackson Wilt (aerospace) received an Honorable Mention from the program.

During selection, each student’s individual work is reviewed to determine if their ideas can advance society, secure the nation, or improve lives. It is extremely important for program applicants to have had measurable research experience at the undergraduate level—something the college and its faculty considers vital for graduate school preparation.

“Our faculty take active interest in having undergraduate students in their research groups, and it’s something they take pride in being able to do,” said Terpenny. “They want their students to succeed, not just as reflection of their success as a mentor, but because they are acutely aware of how important it is to help our students find their life’s passion, and as an engineer, make a difference in the world.”

Mensah and Yen both said that Professor Ben Blalock and former Interim Dean Mark Dean played key roles in their development, with Mensah also thanking ADVANCE Professor Nicole McFarlane and Yen acknowledging Research Assistant Professor Hantao Cui and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Hector Santos-Villalobos.

“This award really means a lot to me because it shows me that people believe in my potential to succeed,” Mensah said. “I would not have been able to earn this award without their guidance.”

GRFP began in 1952, making it the oldest fellowship program in the nation devoted to supporting outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines. Participants have gone on to become Nobel Laureates, government leaders, or titans of industry, including Google co-founder Sergey Brin.