Three U of A Students Named NSF Graduate Research Fellows

l-r:  Olivia Caillouet, Brayley Gattis and Alexander O'Brien
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l-r: Olivia Caillouet, Brayley Gattis and Alexander O'Brien

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Three University of Arkansas students – two undergraduates and one graduate student – have received National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Each fellowship is worth $34,000 per year and can be renewed for up to three years.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellows from the U of A are:

  • Olivia Caillouet, from Little Rock, a master’s student in agricultural and extension education
  • Brayley Gattis, from Fort Smith, an honors chemistry and French major
  • Alexander O’Brien, from Springdale, an honors chemical engineering and physics major

The highly competitive awards are given to students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and recognize academic excellence and the potential contribution that each student will make to his or her field and to society at large.

“The University of Arkansas extends heartiest congratulations to our newest group of NSF Graduate Research Fellows. I know from personal experience that the NSF GRFP can be a career-shaping opportunity,” said Chancellor Joe Steinmetz. “These students have successfully competed with the most talented STEM students in the country. Their successes reflect well on them, their research mentors, their departments and colleges, the university, and the state. They will undoubtedly bring new discoveries and innovations to their respective fields.”

Along with fellowships, each student’s institution will receive $12,000 per year to offset tuition costs, bringing the total amount of funding awarded to these three students to nearly half a million dollars.

“The support for student research is a campuswide effort,”said Jim Coleman, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Our three 2019 NSF Graduate Research Fellows represent three academic colleges — the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. To receive an NSF GRFP, students must have extensive research experiences. The partnership between faculty and students is key. The students are incredibly talented and deserving, but without research support receiving a grant like the NSF just would not be possible. Their research mentors deserve kudos as well.”

NSF Fellowship Recipients

Olivia Caillouet currently works with Kate Shoulders, associate professor of agricultural education, and Lisa Wood, clinical assistant professor of crop, soil and environmental sciences. She graduated cum laude with a degree in horticulture and minor in sustainability in 2016 from the University of Arkansas. She has studied abroad in Mozambique and Timor-Leste, and has received an NSF Professional Awareness, Advancement and Development Grant.

“It is an honor to continue my research and academic studies to understand further agricultural education, particularly with a focus on STEM education,” said Caillouet. “My passion for agricultural education hit me on a study abroad trip to Mozambique. From that moment, I knew my life’s pursuit would be to empower people through STEM education to improve lives and agricultural practices. Ultimately, this fellowship has provided financial support that will bring deep satisfaction to my educational, professional and personal life pursuits.”

Caillouet will use her NSF funding to pursue a doctorate at the University of Florida.

“Olivia is one of the most capable and informed graduate students with whom I have had the pleasure of working,” said her mentor, Lisa Wood. “She is committed to becoming one of the best in her field of agricultural education. She is most deserving of this award.”

Brayley Gattis has researched with Jingyi Chen, associate professor of physical chemistry. In addition to her on-campus research, Gattis has participated in an NSF research experience for undergraduates at the University of Iowa and completed an internship at the University of Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, France.

“I am very grateful to have received this fellowship before I start my graduate studies,” said Gattis. “As I begin my chemistry doctorate, being self-funded will likely allow me to join whichever lab that I want to perform the research that I find most interesting. My research goal is to combine chemotherapy and immunotherapy while using nanoparticles as drug-delivery devices to selectively target cancerous cells.”

Gattis will use her NSF funding to pursue a doctorate at Northwestern University.

“Brayley Gattis is simply an amazing student,” said Chen. “Building on her solid background in chemistry, she is passionate about chemical research. After she was introduced to nanoscience and nanotechnology, she spent most of her spare time in the lab carrying out experiments to solve biomedical-related problems. She has also found every possible opportunity to broaden her research experience through summer undergraduate research programs in the U.S. and around the world. I believe Brayley will continue to do great work and make us proud.”

Alex O’Brien performed undergraduate research with Keith Roper, former professor of chemical engineering. As a freshman, O’Brien interned with Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. He has also studied renewable energies in Pamplona, Spain, and attended the American Chemical Society’s Summer School for Nuclear Radiochemistry at San Jose State University in 2017.

“For the last four years, I have performed research in chemical engineering,” said O’Brien. “After graduating, I will switch over to nuclear engineering and start a doctoral program at MIT. This award means a lot to me, not only because of the financial support that it will bring, but also because it means that I have convinced people that I can succeed, even in a new field. I am very grateful for all of the support from Dr. Roper and the rest of the university that has brought me to this point.”

“It’s been a pleasure having Alex assist in research in my NanoBioPhotonics Laboratory these past two years,” said Roper. “My optimism in the future of nuclear energy in the U.S. is increased knowing that Alex is pursuing a career in the field.”


Three U of A students also received honorable mentions:

Suzana Ivandic is a doctoral student in chemical engineering. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas in 2018 with a degree in chemical engineering. Her research mentor is Lauren Greenlee, assistant professor of chemical engineering.

Kathleen McClanahan is a senior honors biology and chemistry major. Her research mentor is T.K.S. Kumar, professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

Peter Justin Reed is a doctoral student in chemistry. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas in 2015 with a degree in biology and chemistry. His research mentor is Robert Coridan, assistant professor of chemistry.

nsf graduate research fellowships

Since 1952, the National Science Foundation has awarded the highly competitive Graduate Research Fellowship to around 50,000 students in the STEM fields. The graduate fellowship program is one of the NSF’s oldest and most highly competitive, with roots in the foundation’s original 1950 charter. Each year, approximately 2,000 applicants are selected through a rigorous NSF peer-review process. Each grant supports graduate study that leads to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree. NSF Graduate Research Fellows are promising young mathematicians, scientists and engineers who are expected to pursue lifelong careers marked by significant contributions to research, teaching and industrial applications in science, mathematics and engineering. This group of fellowship recipients raises the total number of awardees from the U of A to 135.

University of Arkansas students and recent alumni interested in applying for scholarships and fellowships such as the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship should contact the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards at or 479-575-3771. More information is available at

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2.7 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.


Suzanne McCray, director
Office of Nationally Competitive Awards

Steve Voorhies, manager of media relations
University Relations


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