ICS Students Awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

April 10, 2018

Three Ph.D. students in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences have received National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships: Amari Lewis, Samantha McDonald and Arash Nabili.

Since 1952, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) has helped the NSF develop a globally engaged workforce, recruiting high-potential, early-career scientists and engineers who work to advance the nation’s science and engineering research and innovation. In particular, GRFP aims to increase the diversity of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce, supporting master’s and doctoral students from various geographic regions as well as women, underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities and veterans.

Selected from more than 12,000 applicants, the 2,000 new awardees come from all 50 U.S. states, as well as from the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, and each will receive three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period. The three ICS awardees from UCI represent a diverse group of students and research interests.

Computer science Ph.D. student Amari Lewis was completely shocked by the news. “I screamed and cried with joy,” she says, noting how “instrumental” her research advisor, Professor Amelia Regan, and mentors, Professor Nalini Venkatasubramanian and Assistant Dean Sharnnia Artis from the Office of Access and Inclusion, have been throughout her journey at UCI. “I feel so honored to be a recipient of the NSF GRFP,” she says, “and I am truly excited about my research.” In particular, Lewis is working to produce a cyber physical paratransit system — that is, a system that provides transportation services for the elderly and disabled. Her goal is to “create a cloud-based client-server paratransit system using low-cost materials.” As a result, she hopes to “increase the accessibility and suitability of these systems for the specified populations.”

Check out a video on Lewis and her research. 

Informatics Ph.D. student Samantha McDonald was also so happy she screamed when learning about the fellowship, and she is grateful for her advisor, Professor Bonnie Nardi, for her “amazing support and enthusiasm for my work.” The focus of McDonald’s work is constituent-communication systems in congressional offices. “I am researching how the presence and use of information and communications technology affect how staffers in Congress manage contact from constituents,” she says, “and how those systems reflect deeper ideas of citizen engagement within a digitally mediated democracy.” McDonald is collaborating with Congress and partnering organizations to use her research as insight into creating better technology for higher quality relationships between citizens and policymakers.

Read more about McDonald and her research

Computer science Ph.D. student Arash Nabili says he owes this achievement to the generous support of his advisor, also Professor Amelia Regan, and to the invaluable guidance provided by his friends and mentors, UCI Professor Tony Givargis and Professor Frank Vahid from UC Riverside. Nabili is focused on developing a framework for cooperative driving for autonomous vehicles. “It involves combining autonomous vehicles’ sensors with V2X [vehicle-to-everything] communication to achieve increased safety and traffic throughput for vehicles on the road,” he explains. Upon receiving the acceptance email, Nabili says “the news gave me a renewed sense of motivation and determination to continue my research, as the award is, to me, a validation of my research efforts in graduate school.”

— Shani Murray