Student wins NSF Fellowship

May 11, 2011

Desiree White, a Biochemistry major, is one of only 40 college students nationwide to receive a 2011 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in her field.

Kettering University senior Desiree White, a Biochemistry major from Detroit, is one of only 40 college students nationwide to receive a 2011 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) grant to pursue an advanced degree in Biological Science.

After graduating from Kettering in June with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biochemistry, she plans to attend Purdue University to pursue a Doctorate in Biomedical Engineering, working with Dr. James Leary and Dr. Riyi Shi.

White credits her cooperative education experience and research opportunities at Kettering as instrumental in being chosen as an NSF Fellowship recipient. “It was due to the work I have done both on campus and on-the-job, that I have been awarded the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Fellowship, which is a major honor in the scientific community,” she said.

White worked both on and off campus while earning her bachelor’s degree, and collaborated with her academic adviser Dr. Montserrat Rabago-Smith on research into the DNA of eye color. They were recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Human Genetics, a publication of the Nature Publishing Group.

Originally employed by General Motors (GM), White also worked for Argonne National Lab in Lemont, Ill. “I enjoyed my positions at both companies, but the latter gave me a new perspective (industry versus research), helped me develop a new set of skills, and was an amazing experience to prepare me for going to graduate school,” she said.

Her co-op experience impressed prospective graduate schools as well. “During the numerous interviews at different graduate schools, many commented on the strength of my co-op education and the experiences it provided,” said White.

The NSF GRFP grants awardees a stipend of $30,000 for three years of graduate study, tuition is waived at the graduate institution, and it provides $10,500 per year to the graduate institution for any additional costs of the student’s education.

“The NSF grant is an award that represents the culmination of the scientific skills and achievements I have obtained thus far,” said White. For graduate schools and continuing my academic career, it makes me extremely marketable and lets me go almost anywhere and do what I want to do,” she added.

“Ultimately, I would like to work in a biotechnology company developing products such as assays or drug delivery systems for use in the medical field,” she said.

According to the NSF’s web site, the purpose of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is to help ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees in fields within NSF's mission.

For White, who is financing her own education, the NSF GRFP is extremely helpful. “One of the things I found challenging while being a student was managing my finances,” said White. “I have had to make sure I filled out paperwork on time, such as the FAFSA and loan applications. Beyond that, I lived and saved my co-op earnings so that I did not take out any additional money for living during the school terms. Most of the time I succeeded in saving enough that I could pay for books without my loans, as well, but that was not always the case,” she added.

While at Kettering White managed the student-run radio station, WKUF 94.3 LPFM, for three years in addition to serving as an editor for The Technician, the student newspaper, and is currently president of the Chemistry Club. She has also served as a Teacher’s Aide at Durant Tuuri-Mott Elementary School since her freshman year.

White’s early years were spent moving with her family following her father’s military career. “Before I was twelve, I had lived in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Germany and had traveled quite a bit,” she said. By middle school she was living in Metro Detroit. Now she’s headed for West Lafayette, Indiana. According to the NSF GRFP web site, as one of their graduates she may someday add international travel to the list, visiting Stockholm, Sweden, as a Nobel Prize winner.

Contact: Dawn Hibbard