22 Columbia Engineers Named NSF Graduate Research Fellows

Apr 08 2020 | By Jesse Adams

Twenty-two students and alumni of Columbia Engineering have won graduate research fellowships from the National Science Foundation. These fellowships represent some of the nation’s most prestigious honors for young engineers and scientists, and this year’s group represents one of the largest cohorts from the school.

Fellows, who the NSF expects to “become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering,” receive three-year annual stipends of $34,000 as well as $12,000 educational allowances to pursue graduate-level degrees and research. Among just 2,076 awardees selected from more than 13,000 applicants, their research interests span quantum computing to solar energy. Three more alums earned an honorable mention.

The honorees will begin their fellowships this fall, circumstances permitting.


Adina Bechhofer

Adina Bechhofer ’20

Currently studying electrical engineering, Adina Bechhofer works with Professor James Teherani modeling electrostatic properties and scattering in two-dimensional semiconductors. She plans to pursue a PhD focusing on optimization and machine learning methods for nano optoelectronic devices.

Ethan Bendau

Biomedical engineer Ethan Bendau is a second-year PhD candidate in Professor Elisa Konofagou’s Ultrasound Elasticity and Imaging Lab. His research involves non-invasive brain stimulation using ultrasound for applications ranging from studying neural function to developing clinical practices for treating neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Amar Bhardwaj ’20

Previously a recipient of the prestigious Goldwater, Marshall, and Udall scholarships, chemical engineer Amar Bhardwaj has worked with Professors Daniel Esposito and Ngai Yin Yip on producing emissions-free hydrogen directly from seawater. After two years studying sustainable energy and solar fuels in the UK, he will begin a chemical engineering PhD researching more effective delivery of solar energy to market.

Jessica Huynh

Jessica Huynh ’20

Currently studying computer science, Jessica Huynh focuses her research on affective computing for dialogue systems to both identify human emotion through speech and text and respond to those emotions more intelligently. The fellowship will enable her to continue her work exploring human communication.

Alyssa Hwang

Alyssa Hwang ’20

A computer science major, senior Alyssa Hwang has worked with Professor Kathleen McKeown on utilizing natural language processing to understand slang and non-standard English dialects on social media. She will pursue a PhD in computer science this fall.

Patricia Jastrzebska-Perfect ’20

An electrical engineer, Patricia Jastrzebska-Perfect has worked in Professor Dion Khodagholy’s Translational Neuroelectronics Lab on designing new organic materials and devices for bioelectronics. She will begin her PhD this fall at MIT, where she will continue working at the convergence of electrical engineering and biology.

Leon Kim ’20

Mechanical engineer Leon Kim is interested in increasing capabilities for contact-rich autonomous systems through the development of novel control, planning, and learning algorithms. During his time at Columbia, he has conducted research between Professor Matei Ciocarlie’s Robotics Manipulation and Mobility Lab and Professor Shuran Song’s lab focusing on machine learning for robotic manipulators.

Amanda Liu

Amanda Liu ’20

Computer scientist and mathematician Amanda Liu is interested in leveraging the powerful logical constructs that programming languages provide to build and verify secure software. The fellowship will support her research into a novel approach to systems that need to be both secure and resource-efficient.

William Meng ’20

Currently studying electrical engineering, William Meng has worked in Professor Ken Shepard’s Bioelectronic Systems Lab and in Professor Hod Lipson’s Creative Machines Lab. He plans to spend his fellowship conducting research on integrated bioelectronic systems and neural interfaces.

Veronica Over ’18 MS’20

A mechanical engineer interested in making structural 3D-printed parts more standard in manufacturing, Veronica Over is pursuing her PhD in Professor Y. Lawrence Yao’s Advanced Manufacturing Lab. She plans to study a technique known as laser shock peening that promises to improve parts’ strength and quality.

Abhishek Shah

Abhishek Shah ’19

A computer scientist pursuing graduate research with Professors Simha Sethumadhavan and Suman Jana, Abhishek Shah calls himself an “exterminator” of bugs in computer software. The fellowship will support his work on a new bug-finding technique utilizating deep learning and optimization.

Haley So

Haley So ’20

Electrical engineer Haley So is interested in harnessing photonics for a wide array of applications from quantum computing to the medical field. During her time at Columbia, she has conducted research in Professor Keren Bergman’s Lightwave Research Lab.


Kelly Conway ’18

An earth and environmental engineer during her time at Columbia, Kelly Conway earned her masters in the field at the University of California, Berkeley, and is now pursuing PhD research in novel desalination technologies, in particular anti-fouling membranes for more efficient reverse osmosis desalination.

Kai-Zhan Lee ’18

Currently a machine learning engineer at Bloomberg, Kai-Zhan Lee will concentrate on interpretability and fairness in machine learning as studied through the lens of causal inference. At Columbia, he studied computer science with a focus on intelligent systems, and he is set to return to Columbia this fall to join Professor Elias Bareinboim’s lab.

Kevin Lin ’18

A PhD candidate in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, Kevin Lin aims to leverage the structure of language to help machines efficiently learn to understand human language. During his time at Columbia, he conducted research with Professor Eugene Wu.

Shifra Mandel ’19GS (Visiting Student)

An astronomer, Shifra Mandel has been working on developing an algorithm to automate analysis of tidal debris that result from galaxy mergers and to better understand our universe. She will begin her PhD studies this fall.

Stephanie O’Gara ’16

Mechanical engineer Stephanie O’Gara is a first-year graduate student at Caltech researching microfluidics for diagnostics, particularly new technologies for inexpensive point-of-care antibiotic susceptibility testing. She aims to take the guesswork out of diagnosing bacterial infections and prescribing antibiotics.

Vaibhav Vavilala

Vaibhav Vavilala ’17

After graduating with a degree in computer science, Vaibhav Vavilala joined Pixar Animation Studios to collaborate with artists and engineers to render computer-generated images faster using deep learning techniques. He is particularly interested in deep generative models for image synthesis.

Mark Wang ‘16

Civil and environmental engineer Mark Wang focuses on urban water and infrastructure challenges, especially those caused by climate change and population growth. He will begin graduate study in environmental and water resources engineering this fall, aiming to develop an urban flood forecasting tool that can be run in real time during storms.

Connie Zhang ’18

Currently a graduate student at the University of Southern California, computer scientist and mechanical engineer Connie Zhang is interested in developing multi-agent mobile robots, such as drones, for perpetual monitoring of ocean systems.

Christopher Lam ’17 and Saarthak Sarup ’18

Christopher Lam and Saarthak Sarup have also been awarded fellowships.


In addition, Evan Walter Clark '19, Lianna Gangi '20, Zewen Liu '19, and McKenzie Sup '18 all earned honorable mentions.