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Two Eberly College students awarded prestigious NSF summer research fellowships

Four West Virginia University students will spend their summer researching thermodynamic models, new material for aircraft under impact, glass in crime scene evidence and the dynamics of how proteins change. 

2019 NSF Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows

Daniel Baker, Chad Hite, Oriana Ovide and Katrina Rupert will spend 11 weeks contributing to ongoing research at National Institute of Standards and Technology sites in Boulder, Colorado and Gaithersburg, Maryland. 

“Their experience as undergraduate researchers with WVU faculty members was crucial in their competitive selection to NIST SURF,” Michelle Richards-Babb, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, said. “The NIST experience will aid these students after graduating, as they apply to competitive graduate schools and establish themselves as experts in the field. We are very proud that our undergraduate students are being recognized for their skills in research.”

Rupert, Hite and Ovide will work in Gaithersburg. 

This summer is Rupert’s second at NIST-SURF. The recently-graduated Honors College senior earned a bachelor’s of science in forensic and investigative science with double minors in history and biology. Her research will focus on better understanding how proteins change from one stable conformation to another. Studying the dynamics of proteins has wide implications, from better understanding how the body responds to drugs, to developing treatments for disease, or even determining side effects and unintended consequences using the gene-editing tool CRISPR. Rupert, of Stafford, Virginia, will pursue a master’s of science degree in forensic and investigative science this fall at WVU. 

“It’s definitely positively influenced my life and given me a new perspective on forensic science and the scientific community as a whole,” Rupert said. “Without doing undergraduate research, I wouldn’t be going to grad school because I wouldn’t have been exposed to any of the intriguing aspects that go into conducting scientific research.”

Hite, who is from Harpers Ferry, is a senior double-majoring in mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. He’ll assist in testing new material for aircraft, helmets or body armor under impact. Although his first interest was in artificial intelligence in robotics, his classroom and research experience helped him find a passion for materials science; Hite plans to pursue a master’s degree in that field.

“It seems boring to a lot of people, but it has just drawn me in,” Hite said.

Ovide, a senior Honors College student double majoring in chemistry and forensic & investigative science at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, got started in research with the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience with the Office of Undergraduate Research in summer 2018. In the SURE program, students receive a stipend to research full-time for eight weeks under the direction of a WVU faculty research mentor and a graduate or post-doctoral mentor. This experience helped Ovide, who is from Columbia, Maryland, discover her love of research. She plans to pursue a master’s in chemistry or forensic science, later finding work as a drug chemist for a local crime lab, working her way up to someday working with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“I did not expect to like research that much,” Ovide said. “I know a lot of it is the same thing every day, but when you get to do something that’s never been done before—it’s a really cool feeling to be a part of that.” 

Baker, of Glen Dale, will be stationed in Boulder. A senior majoring in chemical engineering in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, he participated in WVU’s Research Apprenticeship Program in spring and fall 2018, and presented his research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in April. His research will focus on validating current thermodynamic models using the stability and oxidation properties of materials. Baker plans to pursue his Ph.D. in chemical engineering before pursuing employment researching with NIST.

“It’s a huge step forward,” Baker said. “NIST is renowned for rehiring their applicants if you do a good job, so this is kind of like the first step on hopefully the rest of my life.”

NIST is a federal agency that develops technology, metrics and standards that are the basis for innovation and industrial competitiveness.

The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship seeks to inspire undergraduate students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers through research experience.

Students interested in participating can apply directly to the program. Students can learn more about opportunities for research both on and off campus by making an appointment with WVU’s Office for Undergraduate Research. These fellowships are one of many research opportunities available to undergraduate students.