Pamela Fuller ’09 Awarded NSF, NDSEG Fellowships
Doctoral student Pamela Fuller ’09 has been awarded two of the nation’s most prestigious fellowships: the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship. Both recognize and support outstanding students who are pursuing graduate degrees in science or engineering.
Fuller expects to receive her Ph.D. in applied mathematics by year-end 2014. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in applied mathematics from Rensselaer in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Her research focuses on the dynamics of biological and social networks. As an undergraduate, Fuller developed computer simulations to predict the spread of human papillomavirus (HPV) and the effectiveness of HPV vaccination in a network of individuals whose relationships change over time. Peter Kramer, associate professor of mathematical sciences, served as adviser for the research, which was supported by a grant from the NSF Computational Science Training for Undergraduates in the Mathematical Sciences program.
Fuller’s doctoral research builds on the experience gained from designing those earlier simulations and applies it to neuronal networks.
“The behavior of neurons and people is somewhat similar,” Fuller said. “Just like people, different neurons interact in different ways. Some excite or energize other neurons; some have an inhibiting effect. All interact with one another and change the behavior of the network as a whole.”
In the short term, Fuller’s research will improve understanding of how the brain works. Longer term, her discoveries could play a role in developing new ways of diagnosing and treating brain disorders.
“She has been an excellent teacher, and the students just love her. She was born to be a college professor.”
Fuller’s goal, ultimately, is to be a university professor. She is intrigued by research but also loves the classroom. She was a teaching assistant as an undergraduate and graduate student and has served as a substitute lecturer. Last year, Fuller was awarded Rensselaer’s Ralph Ernest Huston Prize in recognition of her “unusual promise and ability as a teacher.”
“She has been an excellent teacher, and the students just love her,” said her adviser, Gregor Kovacic, associate professor of mathematical sciences. “She was born to be a college professor.”
He describes Fuller’s research as “impressive” and considered it “a pleasure and a privilege” to recommend her for NSF and NDSEG
She, in turn, gives credit to Kovacic. “It’s much easier to apply and be successful when you’re getting so much support from your adviser,” Fuller said.
She views the fellowships as both an honor and “motivation to continue to work hard.” Fuller will use the funding from the awards consecutively, starting with the NDSEG fellowship.