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Eight Villanovans Recognized by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program

Eight Villanovans Recognized by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Three Villanova University students and alumni have been recognized as National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellows and five more earned Honorable Mention, 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.

The University’s 2020 GRFP winners include Mackenzie Jorgensen ’20 CLAS of Seattle, Wash., who will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Philosophy, as well as two Villanova alumni: Elizabeth (Libby) O’Brien ’19 CLAS, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, who graduated cum laude with degrees in Environmental Studies and Philosophy, and Joseph Schaadt ’15 COE, of Sunnyvale, Calif., who graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Below are bios on the University’s three GRFP winners, as well as a list of the five Villanovans receiving Honorable Mention.

“The continued success of Villanova students and alumni in the NSF Graduate Research Fellows program illustrates the ability of our students to achieve great things along with the University’s commitment to providing research opportunities that enrich the student experience and that positively benefit society,” remarked University Provost Patrick G. Maggitti, PhD. “On behalf of the entire community, I want to congratulate our three NSF Fellows, as well as those 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.

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 University’s Center for Research and Fellowships website for more information.

Below are bios for each of Villanova’s 2020 GRFP winners:

Mackenzie Jorgensen ’20 CLAS of Seattle, Wash., will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Philosophy. She has completed research projects in the U.S., U.K. and Germany focused on topics such as big data analytics, multi-agent communication and coordination, and hate speech moderation through machine learning. Her research endeavors have resulted in multiple publications. Jorgensen founded a non-profit organization which runs coding clubs for young girls in the Seattle area, and went on to start similar programs in Philadelphia and in the U.K. After graduation, Jorgensen will pursue her PhD in Safe and Trusted Artificial Intelligence at King’s College London with a focus on algorithmic fairness and will continue her outreach to inspire girls to code.

Elizabeth (Libby) O’Brien ’19 CLAS, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, graduated cum laude with degrees in Environmental Studies and Philosophy. At Villanova, she served as the President of Phi Sigma Tao Philosophy Honors Society. O’Brien completed two National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates over summers 2017 and 2018. After graduation, she completed a Fulbright Research Fellowship in the Philippines. She serves as an alumni representative on Villanova Philosophy Department’s Diversity Outreach Committee. O’Brien has coauthored multiple forthcoming scientific publications. Next year, she will begin graduate school as a National Science Foundation Fellow.

Joseph Schaadt ’15 COE of Sunnyvale, Ca., graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and minors in Mathematics, Physics and Mechatronics. While at Villanova, Joseph was the Vice President of the ASME student chapter, and a member of the Pi Tau Sigma honor society. Joseph performed research with Dr. Alfonso Ortega, Dr. Aaron Wemhoff, and Dr. Kamran Fouladi in the Department of Mechanical Engineering as part of the on-campus Center for Energy-Smart Electronic Systems (ES2), a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC). After graduation, he was a Fulbright Student Research Fellow and a Swiss Government Excellence Scholar at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. Joseph is currently pursuing his PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, where his research focuses on the application of nano/microfabrication techniques to study the fundamentals of phase-change heat transfer through the development of an electrowetting thermal switch in the Nano/Energy Lab at UC Berkeley and the Prasher Research Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

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

  • Ryan Allen ’18 CLAS, Chemistry (PhD student at Emory)
  • Isabella Burda ’19 CLAS, Biology (PhD student at Cornell)
  • Michael Ryan Henderson ’20 CLAS, Psychology and Theology and Religious Studies
  • Christopher Israel ’20 COE, Electrical Engineering
  • Gianna Perez ’19 CLAS, Cognitive & Behavioral Neuroscience

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