VCU Engineering students, alumni honored in NSF graduate fellowship program

From left: Shuyu Tian, Justin Yirka, Austin Gouldin, Campbell McColley
From left: Shuyu Tian, Justin Yirka, Austin Gouldin, Campbell McColley

Two VCU Engineering students and two alumni have received recognition in the highly prestigious National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

The program recognizes outstanding students pursuing research-based graduate degrees in the U.S. in disciplines supported by the NSF.

Graduate Research Fellow

NSF Graduate Research Fellows are selected for their potential for significant achievements in science and engineering research and receive up to three years of support for their graduate education, including an annual stipend and allowances.

Fellows often go on to become leaders who contribute significantly to scientific innovation and teaching and their ranks include dozens of Nobel Prize winners.

Campbell McColley (B.S.’16)

McColley earned an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from VCU and is currently an environmental engineering Ph.D. student at Oregon State University. He is investigating the role of organic matter eco-coronas in the fate of transport of emerging particulate contaminants such as engineered nanoparticles and microplastics in aquatic environments. While at VCU, McColley completed internships with Altria and ChemTreat. His faculty advisers included Kenneth Wynne, Ph.D., now professor emeritus, and B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., the Floyd D. Gottwald Junior Chair in Pharmaceutical Engineering, both in the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering.

Honorable Mentions

The fellowship is competitive. NSF received more than 13,000 applications for this year and 2,076 applicants received award offers. Another 1,827 received honorable mention recognition.

Shuyu Tian

Tian, a current graduate student in VCU’s Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, investigates the effects of superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) on the 3D bioprinting liver and other organ tissues. Studying under Nastassja Lewinski, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, his project is working toward improved tissue organization and formation by applying external magnetic fields to manipulate the magnetic particles in cell-laden hydrogels.

Austin Gouldin

Gouldin, a current VCU biomedical engineering doctoral student, investigates age-related musculoskeletal injuries. More specifically, he studies changes in collagen and cells with age that lead to these injuries. He works in the laboratory of Jennifer Puetzer, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and is a teaching assistant for biomedical engineering courses. Gouldin is vice president of the Biomedical Graduate Student Council at VCU. He began the Ph.D. program in 2018.

Justin Yirka (B.S.’18)

Yirka earned undergraduate degrees in computer science and mathematics from VCU. He is currently a Ph.D. student in computer science at the University of Texas at Austin. His research is focused on quantum computing, with specific interests in quantum computational complexity, algorithms and connections to applications. At VCU, Yirka was an undergraduate research assistant in VCU Engineering’s Department of Computer Science and the recipient of numerous undergraduate research honors. He also received an honorable mention in the NSF graduate research fellowship program in 2019.