By Cheryl Reed, Graduate School

Washington State University engineering graduate students Kevin Estelle and Tyler Fouty have been awarded 2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Program Fellowships (NSF GRFP).

The NSF GRFP supports outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines who are attending accredited institutions. The program received more than 12,000 applications this year, with 2,000 fellowships awarded nationwide. The award provides three years of financial support that includes a stipend and funds to cover tuition and other university fees.

Estelle and Fouty join 16 other WSU students who are currently funded by a NSF GRFP.

The application requires students to demonstrate their potential for significant achievements in science and engineering research, and once selected are expected to become knowledgeable experts who can contribute to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.

“I had four people looking over my proposal,” says Fouty, whose advisor is Nick Engdahl. “I think I spent two months on it.”

Fouty was recruited to WSU through the combined efforts of Civil Engineering, the Plateau Center for Native American Studies, and the Graduate School, with funding for his first year from a Research Assistantship for Diverse Scholars (RADS). Fouty was also a participant in a NSF-funded alliance, PNW-COSMOS, supported by a grant to the  Graduate School from the NSF’s Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program that is aimed at developing and studying a model of culturally compatible recruitment and mentoring for American Indians/Alaska Natives. Fouty’s undergraduate institution, Salish Kootenai College, a tribal college on the Flathead Indian Reservation, is a partner institution in the AGEP alliance.

Fouty received his undergraduate degree in hydrology from Salish Koontenai College. Now a civil and environmental engineering master’s student at WSU, he is researching the resilience of simulated streambed culverts to prolong fish habitats. Because fish cannot swim through many of the culverts in Washington state to get to their spawning habitat, Fouty is creating a complex simulation of streambeds with culverts in the Albrook Hydraulics Lab to understand the problem.

“We’re designing how to lay out the sediment for a natural stream bottom to help the fish get through the culverts and back to their spawning grounds,” he said.

Estelle, who received his undergraduate degree in mechanical and materials engineering from WSU, worked closely with his advisor—Arda Gozen—and started his application long before the deadline. He also looked up the papers from previous winners to see what the committee looked for in applicants.

“You have to be very genuine,” he says, “and have experience, especially in community service.”

Estelle is a now a mechanical and materials engineering doctoral student conducting research on 3D-printed bio-dissolvable microneedles that can be mixed with medicines to treat disease.

“If a person has a localized skin cancer, or skin disease, you would put an array of these needles on the skin and they would dissolve into the capillaries with the medicine over a certain amount of time,” says Estelle.

Homeschooled on a farm with several siblings, Estelle credits his mother for his interest in engineering.

“My mom encouraged me to look into engineering,” he says. “After doing some reading about it, I found it was a perfect fit for both my math and creative sides.”