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Two engineering students honored with National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships: UNM Newsroom


Two students in the College of Engineering have been awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships (NSF GRFP).

Ashley Apodaca Sparks, a master’s student in the Gerald May Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, and Mega Frost, a Ph.D. A student in the Optical Sciences and Engineering program received the awards.

The NSF GRFP was created to ensure the quality, vitality, and diversity of the U.S. scientific and engineering workforce. The GRFP seeks to expand participation in science and engineering for underrepresented groups, including women, minorities, people with disabilities, and veterans. The five-year fellowship provides financial support for three years with an annual stipend.

Ashley Apodaca Sparks

Ashley Apodaca Sparks

Apodaca-Sparks is currently developing a field sensor to detect uranium in natural water systems. She said there was a need for an affordable, easy-to-use field sensor, especially in New Mexico, which has a large number of abandoned uranium mines.

“Affected communities have to rely on expensive and often out-of-reach methods to obtain information about the safety of their water, and I hope to help provide a tool that can provide them with this information directly,” she said.

Additionally, it works on Shared. Futures, an ArtScience collaborative led by Professor Yolanda Lin of UNM’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies. Apodaca-Sparks is working with others on the project to connect artists and researchers through a fellowship program where they collaborate to create artwork that communicates scientific perspectives.

“I am extremely honored to receive this award, and I know that it would not have been possible without the people who supported and inspired me, especially Professors Jose Cerrato, Anjali Mulchandani, Yolanda Lin, and Andreas Hernandez, as well as my family. And friends,” Apodaca-Sparks said. I have always been passionate about pursuing higher education, and this fellowship will help me achieve that goal.”

In the long term, she said she would like to continue scientific research and promote scientific communication through means such as art.

“For many, science and engineering may seem out of reach, but I believe works of art have the potential to bridge the gap between researchers and the larger community,” she said.

Mega Frost

Mega Frost

Frost’s field of research is in the field of III-V semiconductor crystal growth, especially the development of antimonide-based structures on silicon for applications in optoelectronics.

“Receiving the NSF GRFP is an accomplishment that I am incredibly honored and humbled to receive,” Frost said. “It is a prestigious award that recognizes researchers who the National Science Foundation believes are major contributors to the future of science, and this will be a distinction that will help me in many future endeavors.”

Frost’s future plans include either pursuing a faculty research position or working as a researcher at a national research laboratory such as Sandia National Laboratories.

“My desire is to continue working on cutting-edge research to bring new and exciting technology to industry and to never stop contributing to the wealth of human knowledge,” Frost said. “As the need for semiconductor manufacturing capabilities within the United States grows, I know that my continued work in this area will continue to be relevant and necessary.”

Three College of Engineering students received honorable mention for the award: Kritan Subedi and Paige Haley, both master’s students in the Gerald May Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering; and Andrew Gekko, who earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science from UNM.

In addition, two UNM engineering graduates have received fellowships: Levi Bremer, who earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UNM and is now at Purdue University; and Shantae C. Gallegos, who earned a degree in biomedical engineering from UNM and now teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

A complete list of students who have received fellowships from UNM and around the country can be found on the website National Science Foundation website.



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