Six Recent University of Richmond Graduates — The Most in One Year — Awarded Prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

April 27, 2023

UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND — Six recent University of Richmond graduates — the highest number of UR recipients in a single year — have received competitive National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

The five-year fellowship provides three years of financial support, including an annual stipend of $37,000, to support outstanding graduate students who have demonstrated the potential to be high-achieving scientists and engineers. Applicants must be pursuing full-time, research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in STEM fields.

UR’s recipients include:

  • 2020 graduate Justin Airas, a chemistry major who was mentored by chemistry professor Carol Parish. Airas is in graduate school at MIT.
  • 2021 graduate Joann Chongsaritsinsuk, a biochemistry & molecular biology major who was mentored by chemistry professor Julie Pollock. Chongsaritsinsuk is in graduate school at Yale.    
  • 2021 graduate Matthew Heyrich, a physics major who was mentored by physics professor Jerry Gilfoyle. Heyrich is in graduate school at the University of Colorado Boulder.   
  • 2019 graduate Jamie Katz, a double major in leadership studies and psychology who was mentored by leadership studies professor Crystal Hoyt. Katz is in graduate school at Arizona State University.
  • 2023 graduate Molly Kate Kreider, a double major in physics and English who was mentored by physics professor Mariama Rebello de Sousa Dias. Kreider will begin graduate school at University of Colorado Boulder this fall.
  • 2018 graduate Hannah Small, a biology major who was mentored by biology professor Linda Boland. Small is in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University.

“To have one student receive this award is wonderful. To have six in one year is remarkable, and it’s a wonderful testament to the amazing research experiences and foundations that our faculty provide to our students while they are undergraduates,” said Carol Parish, associate provost for academic integration and Floyd D. and Elisabeth S. Gottwald Professor of Chemistry. “Our graduates are continuing their education at some of the world’s most prestigious Ph.D. programs and are in good company with other leading institutions.”

Two 2021 graduates — Petra Hafker and Richard Conk — received honorable mentions.

Since 1955, nearly 90 UR graduating seniors or recent graduates have been selected to receive either NSF graduate research fellowships or been named an honorable mention. The Office of Scholars and Fellowships assists graduating seniors and recent alums with their applications for this fellowship opportunity.


More details:

Justin AirasJustin Airas, a 2020 graduate from Glastonbury, Connecticut, is currently at MIT working on a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry. Airas, a chemistry major, was mentored by chemistry professor Carol Parish. His undergraduate research focused on using molecular dynamics simulations to study interactions of drug-like molecules with various protein targets. Airas published five research papers while at UR and participated in the URISE program.

“I’ve dedicated my entire academic career to research, so I am deeply honored to have been selected for such a prestigious fellowship,” Arias said. “This award will help me to pursue my dream of becoming a professor and paying forward all that my undergraduate and graduate professors have taught me.”

Joann ChongJoann Chongsaritsinsuk, a 2021 graduate from Arlington, Virginia, is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemical biology at Yale, where her research is focused on better understanding ovarian cancer. At UR, she majored in biochemistry & molecular biology and minored in integrated science. Chongsaritsinsuk, who participated in URISE, researched biological processes in diseases and protein interactions in breast cancer under the mentorship of chemistry professor Julie Pollock and biology professor Shannon Jones.

“As a woman from a first-generation, low-income background, I have benefited extensively from research programs aimed to increase diversity and the number of underrepresented groups within STEM,” Chongsaritsinsuk said. “With the NSF GRF, I am able to work toward enhancing STEM diversity and breaking down institutional barriers to the pursuit of scientific careers.”

Matt HeyrichMatt Heyrich, a 2021 graduate from New Hope, Pennsylvania, majored in physics and minored in mathematics. Heyrich conducted computational nuclear physics and optics research under the mentorship of physics professors Jerry Gilfoyle and Ovidiu Lipan. Heyrich is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado Boulder studying atomic, molecular, and optical physics.

I'm excited to receive this award as it will allow me the flexibility to pursue truly cutting-edge research at the interface of ultrafast, nonlinear, and quantum optics, a relatively unexplored intersection ripe with potential discovery and scientific impact,” Heyrich said.

Jamie KatzJamie Katz, a 2019 graduate from Gaithersburg, Maryland, double majored in leadership studies and psychology and minored in religious studies during her time at UR. Leadership studies and psychology professor Crystal Hoyt served as Katz’s research mentor. Katz is now pursuing a Ph.D. in social psychology at Arizona State University, where she is researching the cognitive and social effects of experiencing awe. 

“My journey to graduate school was nontraditional and uncertain, but receiving this award affirms my ability and my drive to pursue this career path,” Katz said. “I feel incredibly lucky to have been selected from a large pool of incredibly talented candidates, and I plan to use this privilege to produce research to help vulnerable populations.” 

Molly KreiderMolly Kate Kreider, a 2023 graduate from Franklin, Tennessee, double majored in physics and English and minored in math. Kreider conducted research under the mentorship of physics professor Mariama Rebello de Sousa Dias on modeling the merit of various thin film materials for use in gas/biosensors. Kreider, who is also a Goldwater Scholar, will begin graduate school this fall at University of Colorado Boulder where she will conduct research in the Frequency Comb and Quantum Metrology group.

I plan to specialize in AMO Physics, particularly optics, and I’m excited for the flexibility that this award will give me,” Kreider said. “I’m grateful for the opportunities that this award will open up as I enter this next chapter.”