National Science Foundation Selects UA Graduates for Competitive Fellowships

Sarah McFann
Sarah McFann

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Two graduating seniors at The University of Alabama have accepted admittance to the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Sarah McFann from Arlington, Tennessee, and Samantha Tilson from Littleton, Colorado, both in chemical and biological engineering, are two of 2,000 NSF Graduate Research Fellows selected from more than 13,000 applicants. The students from UA will receive financial support for graduate studies.

Since 1952, NSF has provided fellowships to individuals selected early in their careers based on their demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering. The ranks of NSF Fellows include individuals who have made breakthroughs in science and engineering research and become leaders in their fields.

Samantha Tilson
Samantha Tilson

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is part of NSF’s overall strategy to develop a globally engaged work force necessary to ensure the nation’s leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation.

The program provides three years of financial support, $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution, within a five-year fellowship period to be used in the pursuit of a research-based master’s or doctoral degree.

By underwriting the training of graduate students with the demonstrated potential to be high-achieving scientists and engineers, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program represents long-range investments for the future of society, according to the NSF.

About the students

Sarah McFann, daughter of Ted and Rebecca McFann, is seeking a research career in systems biology and mathematical modeling. At UA, she conducted several independent research projects that involve the development of computational cellular models to aid in optimizing bacterial cells for biobutanol production and mammalian cells to produce cancer-treating monoclonal antibodies. Her on-campus research mentors include Dr. Anthony Arduengo III, Saxon Professor of Chemistry; and Dr. Margaret Liu, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering. A student in the Computer-Based Honors Program, she also has minor areas of study in chemistry and biology. In 2015 she was named a Goldwater Scholar by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program. Earlier this year she was selected for an elite Fannie and John Hertz Foundation Fellowship.

Samantha Tilson, daughter of Susan and Terry Niner, is in UA’s Computer-Based Honors Program. She has conducted research in biochemical engineering on cancer stem cells for three years under her faculty mentor, Dr. John Kim, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering. She plans to obtain a doctorate in biomedical engineering through the National Institutes of Health Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program before pursuing a career as a primary investigator with the NIH researching regenerative medicine. Last year, she was named a Goldwater Scholar by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program.

Along with the two current UA students, seven alumni studying for graduate degrees at other institutions were selected for a fellowship. They are:

  • Nicholas Bolus, a 2015 graduate in chemical engineering.
  • Carley Fernandez, a 2013 graduate in political science.
  • Tyler Goode, a 2015 graduate in mechanical engineering.
  • Tarif Haque, a 2015 graduate in computer science.
  • Margaret Holland, 2015 graduate in psychology.
  • Ryan Jones, a 2014 graduate in biology.
  • Joshua Moon, a 2014 graduate in chemical engineering.


Adam Jones, UA media relations, 205/348-6444,