UC Riverside Undergraduate Students Win Prestigious National Awards

Research and mentor opportunities continue to be on the rise for students at UCR

UCR’s National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFs) winners, from left to right, are Zizhong Xiao, Joselyn Soto, Travis Wrightsman, and Peter Stokes.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) – Fourteen students at the University of California, Riverside, have been honored with prestigious national awards during the 2016-2017 academic year.

“I am very proud of the accomplishments that UCR students are making at the national and international level,” said Gladis Herrera-Berkowitz, the director of Student Success Programs in the Office of Undergraduate Education. “A goal of ours is to expose students to opportunities they did not know existed, and inspire them to believe that they are competitive to apply and win.”

Since 2012, the Office of Undergraduate Education (UE) has experienced tremendous growth in the number of awards at UCR students win from Gates Cambridge, Goldwater, Fulbright, National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship Program, and the Donald A. Strauss Scholarship, and, the list continues to expand. UCR undergraduate students have received 87 highly competitive scholarships since 2012 – a figure unprecedented at the university.

Herrera-Berkowitz said that – with support from a faculty committee – UE can host related program information sessions, workshops, and interviews. They can also spend time with student candidates – getting to know them and their professional goals – and providing mentorship and advice that will help them to be competitive.

“Our scholarship recipients also play a major role in sharing their experiences to motivate future applicants. I love the fact that students who go through a competitive award process recognize that they gain so much from the experience. Regardless of the award outcome, they find the process to be a rewarding learning experience, and they share this knowledge with their fellow students,” Herrera-Berkowitz said.

 Barry Goldwater Scholarship Program

Shannon Sweitzer

Shannon Sweitzer, a third-year mathematics major at UCR, is the recipient of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. Sweitzer, who grew up in Moreno Valley, will be partaking in a research project on the “eigenvalue distributions of random matrices.” While the field has ties to mathematical and theoretical physics, especially in modeling heavy atomic nuclei, Sweitzer will focus purely on the mathematical aspect of it.

“I’m really excited and proud to be doing research in the random matrix theory, a field where women are under-represented,” Sweitzer said.

This summer, she will also be working on a research project in number theory at Williams College in Massachusetts. Her academic and professional goals include applying for other prestigious scholarships and fellowships, attending graduate school for a Ph.D. in mathematics, and becoming a mathematics professor at a research university.

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship Program was created to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering and to foster excellence in those fields. More information about the scholarships can be found here. Six UCR students have been selected for this award since 2013; of those four of them have been women. This year, UCR students Korbin Kleczko and Louis Penafiel were named Honorable Mention.

Fulbright U.S. Student Program

Two UCR students have been awarded a Fulbright Research Award: Travis Wrightsman and Joselyn Soto. Wrightsman, a biochemistry major, and Soto a cell, molecular, and developmental biology major, have received an award to conduct research in Germany. Wrightsman plans to pursue his graduate education in the Plant Breeding and Genetics Program at Cornell University, and Soto will pursue a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at UCLA.

Zizhong Xiao, a psychology major at UCR, and Brian Yang, a comparative literature and foreign languages major, have been waitlisted by Fulbright.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the leading international education exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of other countries, according to the program’s website. Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as their records of service and demonstrated leadership. The program, which awards about 8,000 new grants annually, was established in 1946 under legislation by Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It operates in more than 150 countries.

Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation

Phong Au-Hong

The highly competitive Strauss Scholarship is a public service scholarship given to university students in California, and Phong Au-Hong has been awarded with a scholarship. He is working on a refugee empowerment project funded by the Strauss Foundation.

“The Refugee Empowerment Project is the first UCR-community partnership program that mobilizes resources for Syrian and Afghan refugee women,” Au-Hong said. “Addressing refugees’ well-being holistically, the project proposes programs promoting English learning and public health interventions through establishing partnerships among university faculties, students, and community members.”

Au-Hong, a junior in the entomology department, was also awarded one of 20 spots in the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute (PPIA JSI) at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College in Pennsylvania.

National Science Foundation Research Fellowship Program

Four current UCR undergraduates have been awarded the National Science Foundation Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP). Fulbright recipients Wrightsman and Soto are among the students. Others include:

  • Peter Stokes, plant biology. Stokes will be enrolling in the Ph.D. program in plant biology at UC Berkeley.
  • Zizhong Xiao, psychology. Xiao will be attending the masters of science Research and Psychology and Data Analytics program at Azusa Pacific University.

The NSF GRFP has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. Fellows benefit from a three-year, annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 allowance for tuition and fees, opportunities for research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-5893
E-mail: mojgan.sherkat@ucr.edu
Twitter: mojgansherkat

Additional Contacts

Gladis Herrera-Berkowitz
Tel: (951) 827-1010
E-mail: gladis.herrera-berkowitz@ucr.edu

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