Alumnae awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships - The University of Tulsa
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Alumnae awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Hannah Reeb

The University of Tulsa is proud to announce that two recent Oxley College of Health & Natural Sciences alumnae have received prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) awards for 2024: Karina Cunningham (B.S. ’22) and Hannah Reeb (B.S. ’24).

“I feel grateful for the research mentorship and experiences that have led me to the GRFP,” Reeb said. “I am lucky to have had some amazing opportunities during my time at TU, and I very much credit becoming a fellow to those experiences.”

The program bolsters the quality, vitality, and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States by recognizing outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. Fellowships come with a three-year annual stipend of $37,000 and a $16,000 allowance for tuition and fees, as well as access to opportunities for professional development.

“This fellowship is a huge accomplishment for any young scientist,” Cunningham said, “but receiving the NSF GRFP is the result of a mosaic of support and community from mentors, friends and educators.”

Karina Cunningham

Cunningham attributes many factors to her achievement but particularly praised to her UTulsa liberal arts courses, like those taught by Jan Wilson, Wellspring professor of history and women’s & gender studies, and Mark Lewis, applied associate professor of art. She also notes the influence of Syed Hussaini, professor of chemistry & biochemistry, with whom Cunningham was involved in the Oklahoma Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (OK-LSAMP) Program, an alliance-based program made up of 12 Oklahoma higher education institutions collaborating to diversify the nation’s science, engineering, technology and math workforce.

“Karina was an exceptional LSAMP scholar,” Hussaini said. “Not only was she a good student, but she was also excellent at finding all the resources that could help her achieve her goals. In fact, when she graduated, I asked her to send me a list of such resources, which I now share with other OK-LSAMP scholars from UTulsa. She is a leader, a team player, intelligent, resourceful, and a hardworking student. I am very happy that she received the GRFP award. However, I am not surprised, as she is a highly qualified candidate for the award.”

For Reeb, her taste for research traces back to her first year when she was a research volunteer for Matthew Toomey, assistant professor of biological science. She began studying the underlying mechanisms of plumage coloration and signaling in house finches. Reeb went on to do a field study and further research with Toomey and Charles Brown, professor of biological science, on a project examining a potential plumage social signal in cliff swallows. “I am glad to have discovered my taste for research early, and to have been able to jump in on some hands-on work,” she said.

Reeb is pursuing an accelerated master’s in biological science at UTulsa and working in Toomey’s lab with advising from Brown, as well. She plans to spend the coming academic year analyzing data, writing a thesis, and applying to doctoral programs.

Cunningham is a doctoral candidate in plant biology at the University of California – Berkeley, where she is studying photoprotective mechanisms in green algae. She hopes to contribute to sustainable fuel research, such as algal biofuels or sustainable agriculture.