Mica Rivera ’21 earns prestigious research fellowship from National Science Foundation

Mica Rivera ’21 of River Falls, Wisconsin, has received a prestigious award from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. The highly competitive award, considered one of the nation’s highest academic honors, is given to students pursuing graduate studies in science, technology, engineering or mathematics and recognizes academic excellence and their potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education. Each fellowship is worth a stipend of $37,000 per year for up to three years, along with $12,000 per year to the student’s educational institution to offset tuition costs.

“This is an amazing opportunity to get funded by the NSF,” Rivera says. “I won’t have to work as a teaching assistant or stress about the financial burdens of school. Also, because I plan to go to a different university for my Ph.D., the funds will follow me.”

Rivera currently is studying integrated bioscience at the University of Minnesota Duluth where he is working in the lab of Dr. Allen Mensinger. His current master’s thesis is on the physiology of hearing in animals. His goal for his Ph.D. will be focused on understanding vocal and social behaviors in animals. This summer, he is doing research at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

“I really like research because it’s all about learning,” Rivera says. “The basis of research is going through all obstacles and problem-solving to answer a question. It gives me a direction for my search for knowledge, asking my own questions and learning more about the animals I work with.”

At Ripon, Rivera majored in psychobiology and worked primarily with Professor of Biology Memuna Khan and Associate Professor of Psychology Julia Manor. “There is no way I would have gotten this fellowship without the support I got at Ripon College,” Rivera says. “(Kahn and Manor) were the letter writers for this fellowship, and throughout my time at Ripon, they really mentored me on how to become a scientist.”

Kahn says, “I am so incredibly proud of Mica’s accomplishments, and I couldn’t think of a better young scientist to receive this funding.”

NSF states that the purpose of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) “is to help ensure the quality, vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States.” More than 60,000 fellows since 1952 have been identified by NSF as researchers likely to contribute to the scientific and technological advancement of the nation. Past recipients include Sergey Brin, Google co-founder; Steven Chu, former secretary of energy and 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics; and 41 other Nobel laureates.

Rivera says receiving a fellowship is “incredible. It means that I really belong in science and my work is exciting and acknowledged by others. As a student of color and a transgender student, I can signify to others in marginalized communities that we are recognized and our potential is great.”

Ripon College has done well in this prestigious award category with several awardees and honorable mentions in the last eight years. Recent NSF GRFP awardees:

  • Rylie Morris ’19, currently in the Ph.D. program in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Robert Enright ’17, earned a Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts in polymer science and engineering and is employed at Werewool Inc., an early-stage biotech company based in New York City that is developing biodegradable fibers.
  • Jordan Buhle Nutting ’15, earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at UW-Madison and is now a scientific writer at Promega Inc., manufacturer for biochemistry and molecular biology in Madison.
  • Ray Allen ’15, earned a Ph.D. in genetics at Duke University and now is a post-doctoral researcher for UW-Madison in the Center of Limnology at Trout Lake Station, Wisconsin.

Recent honorable mention NSF awardees:

  • Emily Cliff ’17, in the Ph.D. program in chemistry at the University of Washington.
  • Derek Saxon ’15, earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Minnesota and now is a research and development polymer scientist at Amcor in Neenah, Wisconsin.
  • Elizabeth Walsh ’14, earned a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University and is now a research entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Christine Anhalt-Depies ’09, earned a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from UW-Madison, is now a research scientist with the Office of Applied Science at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and coordinates Snapshot Wisconsin, a statewide citizen science project for monitoring wildlife.

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