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Two G-RISE Scholars at ODU Earn Prestigious STEM Fellowships

Two Old Dominion University doctoral candidates who are Graduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enchancement (G-RISE) scholars at ODU's Center for Bioelectronics were recently awarded prestigious STEM fellowships.

Christopher Animashaun, who's working on his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, became the first ODU student to earn a National Graduate Degrees for Minorities (GEM) Associate Fellowship.

Nathan Holland, a mechanical and aeronautical engineering doctoral student, was awarded a Commonwealth of Virginia Engineering & Science (COVES) Policy Fellowship.

The G-RISE program, funded by a $1.6 million renewable grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), is designed to increase the diversity of biomedical researchers by attracting underrepresented students from minority, military, socioeconomically disadvantaged and disability groups to the field.

Animashaun's research project at ODU is "Assessing the Biocompatibility of Bacterial Nanocellulose."

"The objective is to develop wearable biosensors able to identify relevant biomarkers in open wound sites in order to properly treat chronic wounds in patients," he said.

He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"I was lucky enough to have participated in multiple research internships, ranging from infectious disease pathology and computational chemistry to materials science and bioengineering," he said. "My research interests include biotechnology/bioengineering and tissue engineering."

The fellowship, by virtue of the long-term commitment of financial support from ODU, provides a stipend, tuition and fees, a travel award to attend the GEM Conference, and significant networking and professional development opportunities.

The National GEM Consortium, which consists of more than 120 schools, seeks to enhance the value of the nation's human capital by increasing the participation of underrepresented groups at the master's and doctoral levels in engineering and science.

ODU, which joined the consortium in 2021, is one of five Virginia institutions in the organization. The others are the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech and Norfolk State University.

When ODU joined the consortium, Robert Wojtowicz, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School, said: "This will help to diversify and strengthen our graduate student population and enhance our overall institutional profile."

Holland's fellowship has him spending the summer with the Port of Virginia, which is the third-largest economic engine in the state. He has been working on the port's decarbonization efforts in an effort to align with its customers' commitments to the environment. The port has committed to a goal of zero emissions and to use only renewable energy by 2040. As a part of this commitment, the port has begun replacing terminal equipment and establishing contracts to use renewable energy.

"My project requires data mining," Holland said. "I am trying to find relationships to establish fuel usage and emissions for equipment they have already replaced and then to a larger extent older equipment on the port. This has required me to deep dive into their databases. What I find will then be used to create slide decks, memos, etc., for the port's sales team, customers, and the community at large - environmental justice neighborhoods near the terminals."

Holland added that though his fellowship doesn't directly align with his work as a Ph.D. student focusing on biomechanics, "I have enjoyed using transferrable skills and learning about the port and its efforts."

The COVES Fellowship program, which began in 2020, aims to strengthen ties between the scientific community and Virginia state government while encouraging and equipping more scientists and engineers to be effective advisors for public policy in the state of Virginia. COVES Fellows are placed within host offices throughout Virginia, including legislative offices, executive agencies, and prominent companies and nonprofit organizations.

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