News

April 7, 2004

Lauren Sefcik ’04 Awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship

A chemical engineering major, the Marquis Scholar will pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.

Marquis Scholar Lauren Sefcik ’04 of Saddle Brook, N.J., has achieved national distinction as the recipient of a three-year Graduate Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

NSF Graduate Fellowships provide financial support for advanced study to outstanding graduate students in the mathematical, physical, biological, engineering, and behavioral and social sciences, and to research-based Ph.D. degrees in science education. Awards carry an annual stipend of $30,000 and an annual cost-of-education allowance of $10,500.

A chemical engineering major, Sefcik will use the fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. She is currently selecting a graduate school.

It’s the second straight year that a Lafayette woman engineering student has received an NSF Graduate Fellowship. In 2003, Jessica Molek ’03, also a chemical engineering major, received an award to pursue doctoral studies at Penn State University. In 2000, electrical engineering major Ian Rippke ’00 was awarded an NSF Graduate Fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. at Cornell University.

NSF recognized four other Lafayette students and graduates with honorable mentions this year, Buffie Longmire ’02, Daniel Ruddy ’03, Alison Campbell ’04, and Elizabeth Ponder ’04. Longmire is pursuing a doctorate in psychology at New York University, Ruddy a Ph.D. in chemistry at University of California, Berkeley. Campbell, a biochemistry major, and Ponder, a biochemistry major with a second, individualized major in cultural biomedicine, plan to pursue doctoral studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, respectively. Campbell and Ponder are 2003-04 Goldwater Scholarship recipients. Ruddy received a Goldwater for the 2002-03 academic year.

Last year, five students and graduates received honorable mention, Christine Thomas ’01 (chemistry, California Institute of Technology), Megan Brennan ’02 (chemistry, Stanford), Eric Hauck ’02 (mechanical engineering, Penn State), Tim Wetzel ’02 (chemical engineering, Johns Hopkins University), and Ruddy.

Sefcik says, “I wish to apply the basic principles that I have acquired in my undergraduate study as a chemical engineer to bioengineering research. I have gained both a breadth and depth of knowledge through the chemical engineering curriculum at Lafayette and through outstanding research opportunities.”

An internship in research and development at Specialty Minerals in Bethlehem, Pa., during the summer following her sophomore year gave Sefcik experience doing research in an industrial setting as part of a four-person team.

It was an “extremely hands-on experience,” she says. “The main focus was the synthesis of calcium carbonate from different lime sources for use as paper coatings and fillers.”

Last summer she did research in cardiovascular tissue engineering in the NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program at Georgia Institute of Technology, under the auspices of Georgia Tech/Emory Center for the Development of Living Tissues. Working with the research group of the center’s director, Dr. Robert M. Nerem, she was “introduced to the graduate school environment and exposed to the importance of independent research. It deeply sparked my curiosity and reinforced my desire to attend graduate school.”

Lafayette has given her a “solid educational foundation,” Sefcik says. “The environment fosters excellent student-faculty interactions. The individual attention that students receive from professors is unique to Lafayette, and I feel that all chemical engineers greatly benefit from the lack of graduate students. Research opportunities are prevalent and abundant, and often integrated into class laboratories and independent studies.”

James Ferri, assistant professor of chemical engineering, has “served as a role model for my academic future,” Sefcik says.

“Professor Ferri served as my mentor throughout the NSF application process. After the positive research experience I had this past summer, he suggested that I apply for some fellowships. He offered suggestions for improvement on my application and I listened to his advice,” she says.

“His creative and dedicated teaching style has caused me to work harder and search further for the answers to my questions. He definitely presents his students with an intellectual challenge that, if accepted with the right attitude, will lead to success,” Sefcik continues. “The presence of dedicated and attentive faculty at Lafayette, such as Professor Ferri, allows students to recognize their potential and be rewarded for their achievements.”

Sefcik, who has served as a Writing Associate in the College Writing Program, cites Lafayette’s emphasis on communication skills as an important factor in her preparation for graduate school and her career.

“Lafayette and, more specifically, the chemical engineering department, have really focused on the importance of possessing excellent written and oral communication skills through the submission and delivery of numerous papers and presentations to peers, professors, and professional engineers alike,” she says.

“Through my opportunity as a Writing Associate, I have also experienced the peer review process and served as both submitter and reviewer on many different occasions. These opportunities have prepared me for the future, as I will be writing and submitting journal articles for publication, delivering presentations at meetings and conferences, and, in general, trying to effectively communicate with the scientific community.”

In January Sefcik traveled to East Africa to take a distinctive three-week Lafayette course, “Modern Sub-Sarahan Africa: Kenya and Tanzania,” during interim session. Taught by Rexford A. Ahene, associate professor of economics and business, and Kofi Opoku, professor of religious studies, the course enabled Sefcik to learn first-hand about Africa’s precarious balance between traditions and modern developments in the expression and interpretation of its social culture, music, art, literature, economic development, and politics.

Program costs for the course, including tuition, airfare, room, fees, and some meals, totaled about $4,300, but Sefcik paid nothing for these as a benefit of being a participant in Lafayette’s Marquis Scholars program.

“This is the best attribute of the Marquis Scholars program and one of the reasons I chose to attend Lafayette,” she says. “The Marquis program has been a wonderful part of my Lafayette Experience. I have also taken advantage of the semester weekend trips, the various luncheons, and theatrical productions.”

Sefcik has dedicated herself to mentoring younger Lafayette students in several ways.

“Through the campus chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, I have mentored girls entering their first year of engineering at Lafayette,” she says. “My role as a peer mentor was to support these new women in a predominantly male environment through casual conversations, emails, lunches, and activities.”

She also is a peer counselor, guiding first-year students in the transition from high school to college, and has served on Student Government’s Freshman Class Council, which provides support and coordinates activities for first-year students.

An active member of the campus chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, she is vice president of her sorority, Alpha Phi, and has also participated in voluntary community service and philanthropic efforts.

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