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WVU students receive NASA Space Grant fellowships

Five students from the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at West Virginia University have been awarded undergraduate fellowships from the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium

Each student will receive a $1,000 award – $500 from the Eberly College and $500 from the West Virginia Space Grant Consortium, a NASA-sponsored organization. The recipients are Ryan Culp, Ben Gregg, Andrew McGrady, Holly Pettus and Emma Sherfinski. 

“The Eberly College is delighted that five of our best and brightest students have received these fellowships,” said Gregory Dunaway, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “Each of these individuals are doing amazing work, and we are extremely proud of their research successes.”  

Ryan Culp

Ryan Culp
Ryan Culp

Ryan Culp, an Encinitas, California native, was drawn to geology because it is a very visual   science. Through his WVU classes, Culp has traveled to corridor H to study various outcrops that were created when a road was built in the area. His first hands-on field  experience, Culp enjoyed applying the knowledge he has learned in class to a real-life situation. In summer 2017, Culp worked as a paleontology intern at the Calaveras Dam Replacement Project in San Francisco, where he was hired to assist the lead paleontologist identify, catalog and preserve fossils for future relocation to a museum.

“I not only got a fantastic experience in the field, but I also learned a lot about west coast geology,” Culp said.  

Receiving the fellowship has not only provided financial support for Culp and his family, but it also allows him to participate in research opportunities and continue the astronomy research he is currently conducting. He encourages other students to take advantage of undergraduate research opportunities, like the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

“Not many schools give undergraduates research opportunities like WVU does, so take it when the opportunity presents itself,” Culp said. “And if there isn’t one, create an opportunity.”

Ben Gregg

Ben Gregg
Ben Gregg
Captivated by the night sky while growing up in St. Albans, West Virginia, Ben Gregg  aspired to become an astronomer. Seeking to attend college in-state, Gregg is pursuing a physics degree with minors in math and astronomy. His favorite WVU experience so far was a project in an observational astronomy class where students collected data from the rooftop telescope on top of White Hall. 

The fellowship supported his research at the Green Bank Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia with his adviser, Professor of Astronomy Duncan Lorimer .

“It was a lot of fun and an eye-opening experience by being able to stay on the site and work in the atmosphere of the observatory,” Gregg said.

Gregg believes physics is an important step to developing a basic understanding of the way the universe works. After graduation, Gregg plans to obtain a PhD in astronomy and conduct research. He believes the physics program at WVU has equipped him with the necessary tools to understand many important topics of physics, which will allow him to purse a deeper understanding and more specialized skillset in graduate school.

Andrew McGrady

Andrew McGrady
Andrew McGrady

As a geology major at WVU, one of Hamlin, West Virginia native Andrew McGrady’s most memorable experience has been gaining hands-on experience in the lab, while making advancements in the field of geology. McGrady has worked on a NASA Consortium-funded project where he published a paper for the Consortium’s undergraduate research day. After graduating from WVU, McGrady plans to study geochemistry in graduate school and ultimately work in the oil and natural gas industry.

For students interested in geology, McGrady recommends taking the general geology classes but also finding interesting electives and seeing where it takes them.

“I would explain geology as a very broad subject—the study of Earth and its processes that has many interesting categories to work with,” McGrady said. “You can study anything from water processes to fossils to volcanoes to oil and gas formation and everything in between.”

Holly Pettus

Holly Pettus
Holly Pettus

After taking an introductory geology course as a freshman, Holly Pettus of Pineville, West  Virginia, fell in love with the subject. Knowing she would take other geology courses whenever she had the opportunity, she ultimately changed her major. Her favorite experiences in the geology program so far are traveling for field experiences.

“Geology is a fun, hands-on science that allows you to work outside and tackle research questions that are relevant to local and global issues,” Pettus said.

In summer 2017, Pettus participated in a three-month National Science Foundation undergraduate research experience in Hawaii. Through the fellowship, Pettus will conduct field work in California that is crucial to her thesis.

Pettus is a member of the international English honor society, Sigma Tau Delta. Last spring, Pettus represented WVU at the society’s annual conference in Louisville, Kentucky, where she presented an original piece of creative nonfiction. While her long-term goal is to earn a PhD, she also aspires to work for an agency that deals with natural hazard mitigation after graduating with her master’s degree.

Emma Sherfinski

Emma Sherfinski
Emma Sherfinski

Through the guidance of a high school Advanced Placement biology teacher, Morgantown,  West Virginia native Emma Sherfinski decided attending WVU as a biology major would best suit her strengths and interests in learning how the world functions from a scientific perspective. Sherfinski recently added an emphasis in neuroscience after conducting research in a developmental neurobiology lab.

“The brain is really what distinguishes us from other species as it is the center of emotion, memory and thought,” Sherfinski said. “I think studying the brain is in some ways analogous to studying the core principles of what makes us human, so it is important to learn about how such a complex organ functions.”

But Sherfinski is more than a biology major. She teaches dance classes to children, works as a tutor and volunteers at the WVU Core Arboretum and the WVU Children’s Hospital.

After graduation, Sherfinski hopes to attend medical school and become a practicing physician at an academic institution where she can teach up-and-coming physicians while treating patients.

“Going from having absolutely no knowledge on my topic of research to what I know now and being recognized for it has been such a great accomplishment for me,” Sherfinski said of receiving the fellowship. “I think, in order to become a great doctor, you must first be an informed scientist and be able to understand the world from a scientific perspective.” 

All NASA scholars are required to conduct a research project under the supervision of their faculty adviser. They are also invited to present the results of their research at the annual Undergraduate Research Day at the state capitol held in February in Charleston, West Virginia. 

To learn more about the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium’s Undergraduate Affiliate Fellowship Program and other awards from WVU’s Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, visit https://eberly.wvu.edu/students/current-students/scholarships