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2013-2014 Student Fellowship Recipients

Nebraska Indian Community College


Sarah ZavalaHan mitakuyepi, Cante waste hape iceyuzapi Sarah Zavala emakiyapiye. Sarah Zavala is currently studying Native American Studies and Tribal Leadership at Nebraska Indian Community College. She currently holds the title of Student Senate President. Sarah has worked closely with two of her fellow students to develop an inter-campus climate monitoring system that will serve the Santee and Omaha Nations. This project will also work directly with local elementary and high school science programs.



Breanna BickerstaffBreanna Bickerstaff is currently a freshman at Nebraska Indian Community College and will expect to graduate in May of 2015 with an Associates of Arts degree in Native American Studies. Breanna has worked closely with two of her fellow students to develop an inter-campus climate monitoring system that will serve the Santee and Omaha Nations. This project will also work directly with local elementary and high school science programs.



Donald Pike IIIDonald Pike III is sophomore at Nebraska Indian Community College and is expecting to graduate in the spring of 2014 with an Associate of Arts degree in Business Administration. Donald has work closely with two of his fellow students to develop an intercampus climate monitoring system that will serve the Santee and Omaha nations. This project will also work directly with local elementary and high school science programs.  




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University of Nebraska - Lincoln



Brad ChristensenBrad Christensen is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He is a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) club where he participated in NASA’s University Student Launch Initiative (USLI) and Lunabotics Mining Competition. This year, he will take a lead role in designing UNL AIAA’s rocket for the 2014 Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC). Upon graduation, he plans to pursue a master’s degree.


Blake Stewart is a junior Mechanical Engineering major attending University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Last year, he was part of the UNL Microgravity Research Team. He conducted research on the design of a free flyer which helped to test the accuracy of NASA's ARGOS in simulating microgravity. Blake hopes to acquire a job in the aerospace industry and eventually attain a master's degree in aerospace. This year he is participating in the Design, Build, Fly (DBF) Competition. DBF consists of students designing an RC model airplane from the ground up to compete in four missions including payload carrying and speed runs. Manufacturing and testing of the plane are entirely the students' responsibilities. In order to develop a competitive plane, a sound design must be created, the most efficient manufacturing methods must be used, and testing must be comprehensive. The annual competition is held in mid-April and is in Wichita this year.

Rachel HorzewskiRachel Horzewski is a junior mechanical engineering major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). Rachel is involved in the UNL Honors Program, and she was recently inducted into Tau Beta Pi. Rachel has also recently begun research with Dr. Kevin Cole on a methane gas tank-filling simulation. This is her first year as part of the AIAA club on campus and the Design Build Fly team. Rachel hopes this experience will provide an outlet for her interest in airplanes, as well as an opportunity to explore whether or not she would enjoy aerospace engineering.


Taylor KerlTaylor Kerl is a sophomore Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She is interested in pursuing a career in the aerospace industry and therefore became a member of the AIAA club on campus. Within this club she is on the Design, Build, Fly team as well as RockSat-X. Design, Build, Fly is a program in which college students are presented with a mission, and are to design a working model airplane that can successfully perform under the given parameters. RockSat-X works directly with NASA engineers to design a payload to carry an experiment 100 miles off the surface of the earth. Within these teams she leads nose cone design and is a part of sealant and damping systems sub teams.


Jordyn StoverJordyn Stover is currently a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Fisheries and Wildlife with a minor in Psychology. The project she is working on is about Wearable Technologies. Jordyn plays the alto saxophone in the Cornhusker Marching Band and is also a member of the University Honors Program. The Wearable Technologies Project will introduce students in grades 4 through 8 to the subject of wearable technologies through workshops that will be lead by project staff and facilitators. The project will also include a technology fair that public and media will be invited to join so they can see the students' projects and participate in activities lead by students. The students will also develop basic business plans to support the production of their designs. The goal of this project is to encourage the students in learning and to use their own skills to solve engineering problems and encourage them to pursue education and careers within STEM fields.


John JasaJohn Jasa is a junior mechanical engineering student at University of Nebraska-Lincoln who has interests in aerospace, fluid mechanics and materials science. He is President of the local ASME chapter, team lead for the Design, Build, Fly (DBF) project of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and is a member of Pi Tau Sigma, Tau Beta Pi, and the Honors Program. John hopes to continue his career as a design engineer at an aerospace company, perhaps focusing on hydraulic systems. His project involves the design, fabrication, testing and flight of a small RC plane for competition in April. The design parameters for DBF change yearly and this team event is put on by AIAA."


Jonathan ReyesJonathan Reyes has a B.S. with a major in mathematics and a minor physics as well as an M.S. with thesis in atomic, molecular, and optical physics from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is currently a Ph.D. student working in theoretical plasma physics. With advisor Dr Bradley Shadwick, his research involves identifying, analyzing, and implementing efficient numerical methods for modeling electromagnetic plasma dynamics. The Nebraska Space Grant-funded project will make use of his numerical work in application to modeling of heliophysics and space weather phenomena. The ultimate goal is to dramatically increase the speed and efficiency of relevant computer models while maintaining numerical accuracy. In his free time he enjoys being in the mountains, hiking, photographing nature, and especially hiking in the mountains while photographing nature.


Corey KruseCorey Kruse is a second year graduate student at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. He enrolled at UNL in 2008 majoring in mechanical engineering. In his undergraduate he was very involved in the UNL Baja SAE program. He was the president of this group for his junior and senior year. In his senior year the team placed 4th overall out of 100 other teams in a national competition. He completed his undergraduate in 2012 and enrolled in graduate school at UNL. His graduate research is focused on improving heat transfer through the use of femtosecond laser-assisted functionalized surfaces.


Justin BurnettJustin Burnett earned his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from Gonzaga University in 2010. Justin began an internship building remotely operated underwater vehicles for observation and sampling in Antarctica. One of these vehicles ended up discovering several new species in areas that were previously thought to be uninhabited. After the NSF grant period was complete, Justin went to work in industry developing a variety of telecommunications systems before ultimately returning to the Antarctic science program in 2012. At that time he was hired by the University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL) to aid in the design and construction of the world's largest mobile hot water drill system. The drill was successfully towed by tractors across 600 miles of Antarctic terrain and used to drill through 1/2 mile of ice. This team became the first ever to retrieve water and sediment samples from a sub glacial lake environment, discovering numerous new species of microbes in the process. Currently, Justin is a student in the Mechanical Engineering graduate program at UNL where he is balancing coursework with the design and construction of a new hot water drill system, as well as his NASA funded research to create a new underwater vehicle for investigation of ice covered marine environments.


Joan DreilingJoan Dreiling graduated summa cum laude in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degrees in both physics and mathematics from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. She then began a PhD program in physics at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. There, she works in the research group of Professor Timothy Gay studying collisions of spin-polarized electrons with chiral molecules. The results of this work will provide valuable information regarding the molecular evolution of life, specifically why many biological molecules exhibit homochiral properties.


Piotr SlawinskiPiotr Slawinski is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. Currently, Piotr is a research assistant in UNL's Intuitive Biometrics Laboratory under faculty mentor Dr. Benjamin Terry. His NASA Space Grant project involves simulating biomechanical properties of the human intestine to provide a cost effective in vitro method for testing Robotic Capsule Endoscope (RCE) performance. Development of RCEs will be geared towards continuous astronaut biosensing via intestine during long term space flights. Piotr's interests lie in robotics, controls and design of biomedical devices. During the last two summers, he has interned with Molex Inc. and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in coming years


Andre GrimesAndre Grimes is a freshman Mechanical Engineering major at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. He also plans on earning minors in Physics and Aerospace Studies. He is currently involved in the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition, through the Aerospace Club at UNL. He also is active in the Nebraska Legends, Nebraska Institute of Excellence, and the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was encouraged to enter the engineering and aerospace field by his high-school physics teacher. After college, Andre plans on entering the Air Force to design and develop new instruments and mechanisms to meet future needs.


Bryan KubitscheckBryan Kubitschek is serving as the President of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics UNL student chapter (AIAA). He has experience in high power rocket design and launches after taking a lead role in the 2011 Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) and is participating in this years IREC team. He was an active member of the 2011-2012 University Student Launch Initiative (USLI) and led the 2013 USLI team. He served last year as the Outreach Coordinator and was determined to integrate the outreach into the design of the USLI rocket. He was also an active member of the RockSat-C team, who launched their design experiment into space. The experiment will verify the reliability and usage of Electrohydrodynamic (EHD) pump in a microgravity environment. The EHD pump is the leading method in non-mechanical cooling methods. Last summer he interned at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center working on 3D printed critical space flight material that was included on the EHD experiment.


Jacob ClarkJacob Clark is a freshman Electrical Engineer at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. He is a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) club, and is participating in the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition leading the payload and flight computer teams. He plans on specializing in power systems, and working in the private space industry upon graduation.


John CasiasJohn Casias is a freshman mechanical engineering major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is a Chancellor’s Scholar and also a Dean’s Scholar within the College of Engineering. This is John’s first year involved in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and specifically the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC).  John hopes to use his experience gained from the competition to pursue a career in the Aerospace industry after his schooling.



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Creighton University

Creighton University



AJ HagenAugust (AJ) Hagen is a junior at Creighton University. He plans to graduate in the Spring of 2015 with Bachelor of Science degrees in both Physics and Mathematics. AJ is deeply interested in the educational aspects of Physics and Math, and he works as a TA and tutor in both departments. His passion for physics developed out of an early love for astronomy, which is reflected in his desire to pursue research related to astrophysics. AJ's research focuses specifically on detection of low-mass WIMPs.


Gina GilsonGina Gilson is a senior at Creighton University double majoring in Biology and Environmental Science. Her research utilizes remote sensing techniques to quantify the relative density of algae in tidal mudflats, using correlations between close-range reflectance patterns and hyperspectral aerial imagery. She conducts her field work on Sapelo Island, GA at the University of Georgia Marine Institute with Dr. John Schalles. At Creighton, she is involved with the Delta Zeta Sorority, the Honors Program, Chamber Choir, Magis Ambassadors, CU Stars and the Welcome Week program.


Elizabeth BraccianoElizabeth Bracciano is a senior Exercise Science major on the Pre-Occupational Therapy track at Creighton University. She recently completed an internship with an Occupational Therapist at ProCare3, where she observed pediatric and orthopedic patient evaluations, and assisted with modalities. Her research with Dr. Jorge Zuniga of the Creighton University Exercise Science Department focuses on neuromuscular, metabolic, and muscle morphology parameters and their contributions to fatigue of the quadriceps muscle group between individuals with a history of knee injuries and a healthy control group.


Chelsee JamesChelsee James is a senior at Creighton University pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree from the Exercise Science department. Currently, Chelsee is employed at ProCare3 as a Rehabilitation Technician and is a member of the pre-PT club at Creighton University. Her future plans involve getting accepted into a doctorate of Physical Therapy program.




Matthew BubakMatthew Bubak is a senior Exercise Science Major at Creighton University. He is researching the effects of temperature on the assessment of the mean power frequency at the fatigue threshold. At Creighton, he is a member of the Exercise Science Club, Running Club, and a Brother of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. After graduation, he plans to continue his education pursuing a master degree in Exercise Physiology.



Ben SchmachtenbergerBen Schmachtenberger is a student at Creighton University. He is currently pursuing a dual degree in Physics and Mathematics, with plans to attend graduate school in either engineering or astrophysics. Ben’s research with Dr. Jack Gabel’s astrophysics research group is focused on quasars, mass outflows and the connection between super massive black holes and the galaxies they reside in. Two nights a week, he can be found tutoring undergraduate calculus. Ben is fond of playing soccer, helping organize physics club activities, and spending time with friends. Having grown up in Colorado, Ben is an avid hiker and camper, and enjoys spending time in the mountains with his family.

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Little Priest Tribal College





Karen ScottKaren Scott is a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska attending Little Priest Tribal College in Winnebago, Nebraska. She is a first year student persuing a Liberal Arts Degree in Computer information Systems. She is a 57 year old college freashman who believes it is never to late to back to college.



Christian LaPointe SrChristian LaPointe Sr is currently an enrolled member of the Winnebago tribe of Nebraska. He is a full time student at Little Priest Tribal College and will graduate in May 2015. He has three children whom he dedicates his life and most of his time to outside of school. He is very interested in learning more about biologoy and how or world works. When he finishes at LPTC he wants to return to Winnebago and teach at the high school.


Sarah AlvaradoSarah Alvarado is a full time student at Little Priest Tribal College majoring in Computer Information Systems. She also works full time as a hourly kitchen manager at Golden Corral.



Kayleen BlackhawkKayleen Blackhawk is 21 years old and a student at Little Priest Tribal College pursing an AS degree in Indigenous Science-Health. She plans to graduate in May 2015. After graduation she plans to transfer into a 4-year program and earn a BS degree in Nursing and from there enroll in a Master's program.



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University of Nebraska at Omaha




Erika MackinErika Mackin is a non-degree seeking graduate student studying Computer Science and Russian at the University of Nebraska Omaha, but plans to begin working towards a graduate degree in Computer Science in the fall of 2014. She was a national merit scholar at Carleton College in Northfield, MN and graduated with a B.A. in Mathematics in June 2012.



Josh PickhinkeJosh Pickhinke, BA, joined the Biomechanics Research Building (formerly NBCF) at UNO in January 2013 as a volunteer assistant and entered the graduate program in August pursuing a Master’s in Exercise Science with an emphasis in Motor Control. He is originally from Hastings, Nebraska and earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in Philosophy and Political Science. He currently works under the direction of Dr. Mukul Mukherjee on projects using virtual reality environments to study human movement variability. He also works under the direction of Dr. Jenna Yentes on her NASA Mini-Grant-supported project which will examine entropy in large data sets.


Madison MapesMadison Mapes is a sophomore majoring in Finance and Chemistry at UNO. She is currently assisting Dr. Alan Gift in his research in the Chemistry Department. Along with her research, Madison is also actively involved in Phi Beta Lambda as the President of the organization's UNO chapter and Student Government as the sophomore class senator. In addition to these organizations, Madison is a member of the UNO's honors program and a Regents Scholar. She plans to graduate in 2016 and pursue medical school after receiving her degree.



Scott McGrathScott McGrath is a first year doctoral student in Biomedical Informatics at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Specializing in bioinformatics, Scott’s research interest involves public health and genomics. Recent work involved analyzing consumer comprehension levels of results from the consumer genetic test company 23andMe. Originally from Bozeman, Montana, he received his Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Linfield College in Oregon and his Master’s in Biomedical Informatics from UNO in December 2013. An avid skier and recreational triathlete, he enjoys his time competing outdoors. The scope of the Nebraska Space Grant-funded project will be exploring the adaption of the UNO telemedicine module, STATPack, for application on long distance space travel for inflight diagnosis of disease and infection.


Brittney TweedyBrittney Tweedy is a senior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and will be graduating in the Fall of 2014. Brittney is working towards earning a Bachelor’s degree in biology as well as a minor in chemistry. She will also graduate with a concentration in pre-nursing and as a member of the honors program. She works at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center and volunteers at the Nebraska Medical Center. Brittney starting working with Dr. Jodi Kreiling (UNO chemistry) in the summer of 2013 on a project to determine how protein structure and protein associations are related to the overall function of a tumor suppressor protein, the mannose 6-phosphate/insulin-like growth factor II receptor (Man6P/IGF2R).  


Oliver Bonham-CarterOliver Bonham-Carter holds a Bachelors degree in Biology (Creighton), a Masters in mathematics (University of Nebraska at Omaha). He is currently completing his third year towards a Doctorate degree in bioinformatics (University of Nebraska at Omaha, The Peter Kiewit Institute). His research interests include muscle-protein interaction, as influenced by microgravity exposure. In his research, he applies skills from biology, mathematics and computer science to discover sites of oxidation (points of failure) in proteins (both mitochondrial and non-mitochondrial) which could eventually initiate ailments suffered by astronauts (during space missions) and aged-persons on Earth. His career goals include becoming a protein researcher in bioinformatics who works to understand how such failures occur. He intends to contribute this knowledge to medical science to prevent protein disease and its associated poor health.


Han ChenHan Chen is a junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha seeking a Biotechnology degree with accompanying minors in Mathematics and Chemistry. His current work includes investigating CAV1 behavior across cancers and fulfilling the duties of Vice President for the student-run organization, NE STEM 4U. Following his graduation in 2015, he wishes to pursue a medical degree to achieve his goal of becoming a certified surgeon.



Brittany ConroyBrittany Conroy is a senior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha pursuing a Biotechnology degree with minors in Chemistry and Spanish. Her work spans STEM outreach and also biomedical research with extensive focus on the role of CAV1 in the immune response. After graduating in May of 2014, Brittany aspires to become a Physician’s Assistant.



Alek DiffendafferAlek Diffendaffer is a graduate student at the Nebraska Biomechanics Core Facility. Previously, Alek received his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Hastings College in Hastings, NE. Currently, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Alek is a graduate research and teaching assistant for the Nebraska Biomechanics Core Facility, working under the supervision of Dr. Nicholas Stergiou and Dr. Sara Myers. Through the support of the NASA NE Space Grant, Alek will investigate a comparison of joint moments and powers between overground and treadmill walking. 


Amanda LudesAmanda Ludes is in her second year of graduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, working toward her MA in mathematics. Previously, she has been published in the Journal of Undergraduate Research in Physics and has presented physics research at UNO's 5th Annual Student Research and Creative Activity Fair. During her time as a graduate student she has presented math research at UNO's Math Awareness Month symposium and attended the Spring Central Sectional Meeting of the American Mathematical Society. This summer, she received the Graduate Research and Creative Activity grant from UNO to further pursue her research in Boolean network modeling of edge-of-chaos. Amanda will continue this research, particularly as it applies to modeling the operation of subsystems, through this year's NASA Nebraska Space Grant Fellowship.


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University of Nebraska Medical Center






Brenda DaviesBrenda Davies is a Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She has a BS in Kinesiology from Texas Lutheran University and a MS in Exercise and Sport Science from Texas Tech University. Brenda currently works as a graduate research assistant in the Motion Analysis Laboratory at the Munroe-Meyer Institute. The focus of Brenda’s current research is on the biomechanics and motor control of human movement. She is also interested in the neural activations related to the control of human movement. Under this grant, she will be exploring the neural processes underlying the motor planning stage of simple leg movements.


David ArpinDavid Arpin received a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science in May 2009 from Creighton University, and a Master of Science in Exercise Science in August 2012 from the University of Nebraska – Omaha. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Nebraska Medical Center where he works as a Graduate Assistant in the Motion Analysis Laboratory. His research interests are exploring how the brain is involved in controlling balance and walking.


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Western Nebraska Community College

Western Nebraska Community College




Quinn FogleQuinn Fogle is currently a student at Western Nebraska Community College. He is pursuing an Associate of Science in Computer Science. His grant project is to work on autonomous navigation. The current project vehicle used to be a 1/10th scale remote control car, but the technology can be applied to just about any vehicle.




Spencer GowinSpencer Gowin is currently a sophomore majoring in Computer Science at Western Nebraska Community College. He has been programming since the age of fifteen, and knows eight different computer languages. He plans to get his Master degree in Computer Science, and then wants to become a software developer. Spencer’s fellowship is to create an autonomous quadcopter by using a programmable microprocessor (Arduino) and GPS module.



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College of Saint Mary

College of Saint Mary




Haden MikesellHaden Mikesell graduated from Papillion South High School in Papillion, NE in 2012. She was a four-year varsity athlete and Honor Roll student. While at South, she was selected to attend the Health Academy at Midland's Hospital where she earned her CMA certification, along with experience in various hospital settings. Haden continues to be employed as a CMA at Mable Rose, an assisted living facility in Papillion. She was accepted into The College of St Mary, Omaha, NE on several academic and cross country scholarships. Haden earned NAIA All-Conference and "Freshman of the Year"running honors and a spot in the NAIA National Cross Country meet in her first year of college competition. Haden recently completed a volunteer/job-shadowing at the Omaha Zoo, is active in Student Senate, is the secretary in Math and Science Club, volunteers at the local animal shelter, and is an active member in the new aquarium project at CSM. She is also an active participant on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, overseen by the school Athletic Director. Haden is carrying a 3.75 GPA majoring in Biology and intends to attend Medical or Veterinary School upon undergraduate degree completion.

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Chadron State College

Chadron State College


Maggie DarnellMaggie Darnell is a senior majoring in Education with a dual endorsement in Physical Science and English at Chadron State College. She is one of the Nebraska Education Space Ambassadors and is involved with her local middle school’s after school program where she teaches robotics and rocketry. Maggie is also president of Chadron State’s Natural Science Club/Sigma Gamma Epsilon chapter and works to bring science to non-science majors. She looks to continue sharing her passion for science with her students after she graduates. 


David KeimDavid Keim was an astronomy tutor at Western Nebraska Community College. He not only tutored individual students when they needed help with astronomy (or any other science class if they were bold enough to ask), but he was in charge of setting up the telescopes during class outings and instructing the students in astronomy while in the field. After Graduating from WNCC, he continued his education at Chadron State College. His goal is to become a high-school science teacher after he graduates and hopefully hold a professorship at a college or university after that.


Sarah BlackstoneSarah Blackstone is pursueing her bachelor’s degree from Chadron State College and then plans to go on to medical school. Currently she wants to be a neurosurgeon, but that could defiantly change. Back in Colorado, where she grew up, she climbs 14ers, which are mountains that are over 14,000 feet. This has taught her that she can do anything that she sets her mind to, even if it seems intimidating at first. 



Ben BrechtelBenjamin Brechtel is a nontraditional student, pursuing his interests at Chadron State College, and majoring in Physical Science, emphasis Geoscience, with double minors of Human Biology and Chemistry.  He has lived in Chadron, NE for 13 years with his wife and, more recently, two daughters.  He enjoys science, exploring, and learning more about interaction of life and universe.  He spends his spare time with family doing projects and exploring the outdoors.