Chemistry Grad Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

by Public Relations | May 18, 2017

May 17, 2017

Kathrine CurtinKathrine E. Curtin of Latrobe, who earned a bachelor of science degree with high honor in chemistry with a minor in biology as a college scholar of the honors program at Saint Vincent College on May 13, has been selected to receive a 2017 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Fellowship.

She is one of 2,000 awarded winners across all fields of study following a highly competitive process with more than 13,000 applicants.

“She has outstanding potential to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise,” commented Gisele Muller-Parker, lead program director for GRFP, in announcing the award. “The ranks of NSF Fellows include numerous individuals who have made transformative breakthrough discoveries in science and engineering, become leaders in their chosen careers and who have been honored as Nobel laureates. Selection for a GRFP award as an undergraduate is a significant accomplishment.”

During the summer of 2016, Curtin participated in the NanoSAFE Research Experience for Undergraduates Program at West Virginia University. Under the guidance of Dr. Nianqiang Wu, she conducted a research project titled “Fabrication of heirarchial nanostructures for surface-enhanced Raman scattering biosensors.” Working in a graduate-level setting in materials science and engineering confirmed the direction in which she would pursue her career. “What made the most significant difference was working at WVU,” Curtin commented. “Dr. Wu’s research group showed me the abundant possibilities of studying materials science and engineering at WVU and beyond. I felt welcomed and supported by my mentors and fellow students, making for work on a day-to-day basis both professionally and personally fulfilling. Because of the wonderful experience I had with Dr. Wu’s research group, I chose to pursue admission to WVU to work with his group as a materials science and engineering Ph.D. student. I chose to pursue the grant because, the recognition of an NSF graduate fellowship would allow me to pursue my research and professional goals while participating in public outreach programs to expose the public to the research done at WVU. With the Fellowship, I will share my experiences throughout my academic career with students coming from backgrounds where careers in science might be unknown. I want to inspire rising scientists just as my mentors have inspired me.”

Curtin will be attending West Virginia University to pursue a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering. In this program, she will be conducting research that will be funded by the NSF Graduate Research Program Fellowship in addition to taking classes. “As a graduate of a liberal arts college, I understand the value of holistic approaches and all-encompassing perspectives in addition to focused theoretical research,” she explained. “I believe I have a keen interest in application-based research because it focuses on exploring the broader societal impacts while integrating fundamental theory. During a special topics in chemistry course at Saint Vincent College, I was exposed to the world of materials science. This discipline provides a broader score of learning and research while fulfilling my desire to make societal impacts. From our computers, to our cars and to our clothing, we use and rely on materials every day. New materials offer greater sustainability in energy and transportation, faster technology, more effective medical equipment and improvements in safety.”

Upon completion of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Program Fellowship and the Ph.D. program, she hopes to obtain a post-doctoral fellowship. As a career, she would like to work in academia where she can teach and conduct research.

At Saint Vincent she was active as a member of the Chemistry Club, Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity and the Benedictine Leadership Studies Program.

A member of the Dean’s List every semester, she was also honored with membership in Alpha Lambda Delta honor society for first-year students, Beta Beta Beta biological honor society, Gamma Sigma Epsilon chemistry honor society and Alpha Chi national college honor society. She was recognized with the Award for Academic Excellence in Chemistry.

A Collaborative Learning Program facilitator in general chemistry for three years, she also completed a volunteer service learning trip to Haiti, volunteer service with Saint Vincent dePaul, Charter Oak Food Pantry and the Excela Health Latrobe Hospital Radiology Department. She served as a Hodge Education Intern at Powdermill Nature Reserve in Rector, part of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. She served as a research assistant in the Saint Vincent College Chemistry Department and as a Chemistry Laboratory Preparation Assistant.

Curtin said she enjoyed the unique opportunities outside of the classroom that Saint Vincent offers to students. “Because of Saint Vincent, I had the opportunity to experience things that I would not have experienced at another college from the Benedictine Leadership Studies Program, the Collaborative Learning Program and to serving in Haiti,” she said. “These opportunities have helped me to grow as an individual by taking me out of my comfort zone. By being a part of these programs, I was exposed to an environment where I can be of service to and engage the minds of others.”

Saint Vincent College’s academic program challenged her and has beyond prepared her for graduate school.  “I appreciate the liberal arts education because of its holistic approach and all- encompassing perspectives of the world,” she commented. “I feel that now I have a broader scope of understanding. It was a wonderful experience having professors who were invested in their students’ success. I am thankful for all of the faculty who helped me to achieve my goals.”

Daughter of Stephen and Julie Curtin, she is a 2013 graduate of Derry Area High School.

“During my senior year of high school, I was given the opportunity to be a dual enrollment student at Saint Vincent College,” she recalled.  “Experiencing the Saint Vincent community and classroom confirmed my desire to attend Saint Vincent for college. Additionally, I am a third-generation Saint Vincent student since both my grandfather, Jerome Curtin, and my father, Stephen Curtin, attended Saint Vincent for undergraduate studies.”

Curtin is a member of Holy Family Parish, Latrobe.

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Photo: Kathrine E. Curtin

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