UNT students win NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 - 15:47

DENTON (UNT), Texas — Two University of North Texas undergraduate students have received National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, which are given to students who plan to earn research-focused master’s and doctoral  degrees in science, social science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Katherine Lester, a senior geography major, and Daniel Munro, a senior biology major and Honors College student, will receive stipends of $30,000 each year for three years to fund their research, a $10,500 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees for a master’s or doctoral degree program, and opportunities for international research and professional development.

Approximately 2,000 students who are finishing or have already completed bachelor’s degrees at U.S. colleges, universities and medical schools are awarded the fellowships each year. Lester and Munro are among 79 students from Texas colleges, universities and medical schools to receive the fellowships this year. Seven UNT students have received the fellowships during the past four years.

Lester, from Richmond, Va., is conducting medical geography research with Joseph Oppong, professor of geography. She is mapping the distribution of mental health services in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, using geographic information systems, to determine areas that are underserved by mental health services. She notes the homeless population may particularly lack access to the services, despite the fact that mental illnesses and addiction often lead to homelessness.

Munro, from Lake Quivira, Kansas, is using computational methods to study microbiomes — communities of bacteria and other single-cell life forms found in specific parts of the human body — in the Bioinformatics Research Laboratory, which is directed by Qunfeng Dong, UNT assistant professor of biology. He has used the computational methods to understand human microbiomes in relations to HIV infection, gum disease, diabetes and other medical conditions. Munro has already presented his research at BIOCOMP’12 — The International Conference on Bioinformatics & Computational Biology.

James Duban, director of the UNT Office for Nationally Competitive Scholarships, said both Lester and Munro “are destined to make significant contributions to their areas of study and to improve the lives of others.”

“They and their faculty research mentors have likewise demonstrated the intensity and productivity of UNT undergraduate research-based education,” he said.

Lester, who is currently a finalist for a Harry S. Truman Scholarship, is a student assistant in the Toulouse Graduate School and was named to the President’s List for having a perfect grade point average. She was a volunteer with AmeriCorps VISTA at the Houston Galveston Institute for a year. At the institute, she coordinated mental services for the Greater Houston Long-Term Recovery Committee, a group of nonprofit agencies and government officials that assisted those impacted by Hurricane Ike after it hit the Texas coast in September 2008. Lester also helped others at the institute perform outreach and write grants to assist survivors of both Ike and Hurricane Katrina.

Munro was also named to the President’s List for having a perfect grade point average. He was recently honored by the UNT Honors College with the David B. Kesterson Outstanding Student Award. He also received the Outstanding Senior Award from the Department of Biological Sciences, and is a member of the UNT chapters of Beta Beta Beta National Biological Honor Society and Phi Kappa Phi academic honor society. He received several scholarships, including a UNT Meritorious Scholarship for being a National Merit Finalist, the Rollie and Sue Shafer Award from the UNT Department of Biology and the Dean’s List Scholarship.

Lester will receive her bachelor’s degree later this year. She plans to stay at UNT and earn a master’s degree in applied geography, concentrating on courses in medical geography. She also plans to earn a doctoral degree in environmental science from UNT’s Institute of Applied Science to better understand human interactions with the environment and write her dissertation on mental health geography. Lester would also like to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship with the National Institute of Mental Health and teach health geography as a university professor.

Munro will graduate on May 11. He will enter the doctoral program in quantitative and computational biology at Princeton University this fall.

Note to editors: A photo of Lester and Munro is available at this link.

UNT News Service
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