Three McNair Scholars Receive the NSF GRFP

Geena Ildefonso is a second year doctoral student at Vanderbilt’s Mathematical Biology doctoral degree program.

Three McNair Scholars from the University of Central Florida were awarded the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. More than 12,000 applications from across the country were received by the National Science Foundation and only 2,000 awards were offered.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based masters and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions. The program’s purpose is to ensure a diverse population among the scientific and engineering fields. Benefits include a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, a $12,000 annual cost-of-education allowance, international research and professional development opportunities.

Two of the UCF McNair scholars awarded are current UCF undergraduate students, and one is a UCF McNair Program alumni. Joey Velez-Ginorio graduates this year with his bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering and will be pursuing his doctoral degree in order to continue his research in Artificial Intelligence. Sarah Davenport will also be receiving her bachelor’s degree this Spring in Anthropology and plans to enroll at Brown University this upcoming Fall semester. Geena Ildefonso is a second year doctoral student at Vanderbilt’s Mathematical Biology doctoral degree program.

Joey Velez-Ginorio credits the McNair Program’s emphasis on preparing scholars for fellowships for his winning NSF application. He notes, “I knew well in advance that the NSF GRFP was something I would apply for, because I had seen other McNair cohorts before me prepare for the application. In the Fall semester of my senior year, the program placed me and my peers in a writing course meant specifically to prepare students for the NSF GRFP application and other fellowships. The course helped me pace my writing in a healthy way, provided writing strategies, and offered feedback on each of my drafts — in addition to translating my informal understanding of the NSF GRFP’s review criteria towards a more targeted and formal understanding”.

Beyond the impact that the program had on their preparation for fellowship applications, all of the recipients emphasized the important role that the AAP Office and the McNair Scholars played in their successful journey towards graduate school. Geena Ildefonso shared: “The AAP office and staff helped me find my purpose. I found their office when I was a sophomore at UCF, and my life was not going on the right track. My brother and father both had cancer, and I was trying to work three jobs to help support my family. I withdrew from classes, I felt lost. Becoming a part of the McNair program gave me a home away from home. I had a place where I felt safe, where I could go to whether things were good, or bad. They helped me get back on track with my school and made it so that I only had one job to work, and that was conducting research which I Ioved to do. My parents never went to college, and because of the McNair program, I was the first in my family to graduate college.”

In addition, Sarah Davenport articulated that the guidance and support she has received through the McNair Scholars Program inspires her to give back and create a more equitable society, “Being a McNair Scholar, to me, means that I now have the support to achieve my greatest goals and, more importantly, it means that I have a responsibility to mentor and set a legacy for other underrepresented people who wish to pursue higher education. Just like Dr. Ronald E. McNair, the actions I take now are greater than myself and this particular time in history; I see myself and the work I do as part of a larger history of people of color who are working toward expanding equity and diversity in higher education.”

Since 2007, eighteen UCF McNair Scholars have been awarded the NSF fellowship. The program sends special thanks to Dr. Laurie Pinkert, Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at UCF, for her amazing work developing and teaching the McNair NSF GRFP course this past year.


UCF McNair Scholar Winners, Current Graduate Institutions, and Year Awarded:
Sarah Davenport, Brown University (2018)
Joey Velez-Ginorio (2018)
Geena Ildefonso, Vanderbilt University (2018)
Antonia Bass, University of Pennsylvania (2017)
Stephanie Matos, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (2017)
Samantha Mensah, Universityof California Los Angeles (2017)
Serenela Pelier, University of Florida (2016)
Monica Thomas, Duke University (2013)
Tatiana Viecco, Cambridge University (2013)
Lilian Milanes, University of Kentucky (2012)
Christina Restrepo, University of Central Florida (2012)
Elise Hernandez, University of Michigan (2011)
Rene Diaz, Georgia Tech University (2010)
Keon Vereen, University of Washington (2010)
Anamary Leal, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (2010)
Roberto Miguez, University of Michigan (2009)
Melonie Sexton Williams, Vanderbilt University (2009)
Enrique Ortiz, University of Central Florida (2007)