CUNY Undergrads Win NSF Fellowships

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Students plan to pursue neuroscience and astrophysics research


  • Hala Haddad is a psychology major at Hunter College. Photo: CUNY

  • Ellianna Schwab majors in physics at Macaulay Honors College at City College. Photo: CUNY

Two current undergraduates in the City University of New York system are among the winners of this year’s prestigious National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships.

Hala Haddad, a senior at Hunter College, thought it was unlikely that she’d be selected for the highly selective fellowship, but awoke one morning to a text message from her program coordinator telling her she had won. “I texted her back, hazy-eyed and sleepy, and said, ‘No, I didn’t.’ And then she was like, ‘No, go check the results,’” Haddad remembers with a laugh. “It took me half an hour to sit there in disbelief and look at my name in the list of winners, and then I texted her back saying, ‘Hey, I won!’”

Haddad, a psychology major, developed a passion for neuroscience research working in the laboratory of Hunter professor Dr. Amber Alliger. Under Alliger, she studied environmental enrichment, examining the effects of physical and social stimuli on animal behavior and brain morphology. In the fall, Haddad will begin her doctoral studies at Brown University, where she plans to focus on the role environmental enrichment plays in motor development and apply her research in the context of diseases like ALS. “My project touches a lot of bases, so I can kind of apply it to different areas within the realm of neuroscience,” she said.

Ellianna Schwab, a physics major at Macaulay Honors College at the City College of New York, received an NSF fellowship for her research proposal to study gravitational waves in close binary stars. Last year, she won a national award from the American Astronomical Society for her research on brown dwarfs, celestial bodies between the size of a large planet and a small star. She hasn’t yet decided where she will attend graduate school after completing her undergraduate degree at Macaulay this spring.

NSF graduate research fellowships support students pursuing advanced degrees who have shown potential for significant research achievements in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or in education in those fields. The three-year fellowships are worth $138,000 and are funded by the NSF, a federal agency. The NSF selected the 2,000 students who received this year’s fellowships from a pool of more than 13,000 applicants. Along with Haddad and Schwab, ten other students affiliated with CUNY — nine recent alumni of CUNY undergraduate programs and one current Ph.D. student at the CUNY Graduate Center — also won graduate research fellowships.

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