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Villanova Engineers Recognized as National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Six Villanova University students and alumni have been recognized as National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellows, the NSF announced. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based Master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions. In addition to the six Villanovans named fellows, seven others have received honorable mention.

“I am continually impressed by the remarkable achievements of our students and alumni,” said University Provost Patrick G. Maggitti, PhD. “The success of Villanovans in the NSF Graduate Research Fellows program reflects the University’s commitment to enabling research that enriches the student experience and positively benefits society. Congratulations to our six NSF fellows, as well as the seven other Villanovans who received honorable mention, on this outstanding recognition of their work.”

The NSF-GRFP helps to ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the U.S. by recognizing and supporting outstanding graduate students engaged in full-time, research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education. NSF especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, persons with disabilities, veterans and undergraduate seniors to apply. The GRFP provides three years of support for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education.

The 13 Villanova students and alumni recognized—six as winners and seven as honorable mentions—nearly doubles the University’s previous GRFP record according to Michael T. Westrate, PhD, director of Villanova University’s Center for Research and Fellowships (CRF).

“The overall national success rate is 22-26 percent and our Villanova applicants achieved an impressive 62 percent success rate—with 13 Villanovans recognized out of the 21 that applied,” said Westrate. “It is a great pleasure for the CRF team to support such amazing students and alumni.”

NSF Fellows are anticipated to become experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching and innovations in science and engineering. These individuals are crucial to maintaining and advancing the nation’s technological infrastructure and national security as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large. Since 1952, NSF has funded over 50,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants. Currently, 42 Fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates, and more than 450 have become members of the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program has a high rate of doctorate degree completion, with more than 70 percent of students completing their doctorates within 11 years.

Villanova students and alumni interested in applying for this and other external awards, including the Fulbright program, should visit the CRF website for more information.

Savannah Benbrook ’17 EE
Savannah Benbrook ’17 EE
Bridget Gile ’19 CE
Bridget Gile ’19 CE
Andrew Lee ’19 ME
Andrew Lee ’19 ME
Scott Leighow ’17 ME and Biology
Scott Leighow ’17 ME and Biology

Villanova’s 2019 GRFP winners are:

Savannah Benbrook ’17 COE of Washington, N.J., graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and a minor in Chinese Language and Cultural Studies. During her time at Villanova, she served as chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), vice president of Panhellenic, and a member of Eta Kappa Nu honor society and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. She conducted research with Prof. Robert Caverly and Prof. Pritpal Singh in the ECE department and interned at SpaceX. Savannah is currently pursuing her PhD in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, where she researches wide-bandgap semiconductors for space electronics in the EXtreme Environment Microsystems Laboratory (XLab).

Bridget Gile ’19 COE of Morris, Ill., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. A Presidential Scholar at Villanova, Bridget aspires to solve critical water resources challenges and become director of the US Environmental Protection Agency Water Infrastructure Division. She interned at the Villanova Center for Resilient Water Systems, at AKRF Water Resources in Philadelphia, and at LyondellBasell in Illinois, and was a research fellow in the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and at Virginia Tech. At Villanova, she was vice president of the Villanova Environmental Group and President of Peers Enhancing Educational Resources for Students, a tutoring and mentoring program. Bridget will enroll in Stanford University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD program as a Knight-Hennessy Scholar.

Darryl Hannan ’18 CLAS of Carrboro, N.C., graduated in May of 2018 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and a concentration in Cognitive Science. He is now a computer science PhD student at UNC-Chapel Hill and a member of the UNC-NLP group. During his time at Villanova, he was secretary of the Villanova Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) chapter, organizing computer science education and outreach events. Darryl was also a Villanova Undergraduate Research Fellow and spent two summers at Los Alamos National Laboratory as a student research scientist. He will use his NSF Fellowship to fund his PhD research in natural language processing, developing algorithms that allow computers to reason over text by combining it with other information sources, such as images and video.

Andrew Lee ’19 COE from Leonardtown, Md., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering with minors in Mathematics and Physics. A Presidential Scholar at Villanova, Andrew aspires to meet the challenges of climate change and the energy crisis by developing novel materials that fuel the next generation of global energy processes. At Villanova, he was a research assistant in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a coordinator in the Math Learning Resource Center. Internationally, he surveyed jungle terrain for clean water systems in Nicaragua and developed a system to passively collect water as part of the GIANT Internship Program in France. As a PATHWAYS intern in the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Andrew advanced understanding of corrosion prevention. Andrew will enroll in Stanford University’s Materials Science and Engineering PhD program as a Knight-Hennessy Scholar.

Scott Leighow ’17 COE of Lewisburg, Pa., graduated from Villanova with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and Biology. During his time at Villanova, Scott served as a Math Tutor at the Math Learning Resource Center, where he tutored students in calculus, differential equations, and other courses. Scott was also a student intern with the Naval Research Enterprise Intern Program at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where he worked in dynamic systems modeling and optimization. Scott is currently a PhD student in bioengineering at Pennsylvania State University, where he develops innovative ways to combine targeted cancer therapy with gene therapy. He hopes that this approach to treatment will prove effective in eradicating unknown resistant populations before they become clinically detectable.

Alexander Vetter ’19 CLAS of Omaha, Neb., will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics. A Presidential Scholar at Villanova, Vetter has pursued research opportunities through the Villanova Match program and the National Science Foundation REU programs at Clemson University and the University of Minnesota, as well as at the Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics. During fall 2017, he participated in the Budapest (Hungary) Semesters in Mathematics study abroad program; during spring 2018, he participated in the Math in Moscow (Russia) study abroad program.  Alex received the Goldwater Scholarship in April 2018. With his NSF Fellowship, Vetter will pursue a PhD in mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania where he intends to study algebraic combinatorics and combinatorial representation theory.

The seven Villanovans who received Honorable Mention from the GRFP are:

·         Ashley Arcidiacono ’18 CLAS, Chemistry (currently a PhD student at Florida State University)

·         Liam Jones ’18 CLAS, Astronomy & Astrophysics (currently a professional researcher at Villanova)

·         Joseph Michail ’19 CLAS, Physics and Astronomy & Astrophysics

·         Katrina Milbocker ’17 CLAS, Comprehensive Science (currently a PhD student at the University of Delaware)

·         Gianna Perez ’19 CLAS, Cognitive & Behavioral Neuroscience

·         Devin Smith ’17 CLAS, Geography and Environmental Science (currently a PhD student at Ohio State University)

·         Connor Williams ’19 CLAS, Physics


About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit