Seven Clemson University students have been awarded the 2021 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a highly competitive grant aimed at building future scientific and engineering leaders. Seven others received Honorable Mentions.

“As an R1 research institution, we are committed to research and excited to see the research endeavors of our students,” said Robert H. Jones, Clemson’s executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “We are proud of their efforts and their success in earning prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowships.” 

These students were among 2,000 selected from more than 12,000 applicants nationwide who are pursuing graduate work in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship provides three years of support for graduate education, including a $34,000 annual stipend and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance. Fellows have access to a wide range of professional development opportunities over the course of their graduate careers.

Of the seven Fellowship recipients, four represent the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences and three represent the College of Science.

NSF Graduate Research Fellows

College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Department of Mechanical Engineering

Daniel Custer, an Honors College graduate with a major in mechanical engineering, will pursue a Ph.D. at Stanford University. He plans to research new materials for energy applications.

Daniel Custer

The Clemson native completed his Departmental Honors Thesis with Ethan Kung, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering.

After graduation due to the uncertainty of COVID, Custer declined an offer of admission to Cambridge and chose to work in industry while reapplying to NSF. He also joined the lab of Zhaoxu Meng, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and collaborated on a project exploring nanomaterials, which resulted in a coauthored publication.

Custer received a 2020 NSF Honorable Mention and the 2020 Eastman Award for Excellence given to the top graduating senior in mechanical engineering, along with a variety of departmental merit scholarships.

Custer taught English in a cultural exchange program to Vietnam and participated in significant STEM outreach to local high schools. He expanded his outreach to homeschool students during COVID. He was involved with the Navigators Campus Ministry and was on the club ultimate frisbee team. 

School of Computing

Deyrel Diaz, is a second year Ph.D. student in the School of Computing at Clemson University. Born in Cuba and raised in Fort Myers, Fla., his research focuses on investigating the effects a virtual surrounding has on users’ short-term memory, spatial cognition and travel techniques.

NSF Fellowship recipient wearing a suit and tie and smiling.
Deyrel Diaz

He is also investigating the differences in distance estimation and reach behavior between augmented reality and virtual reality. Within the Virtual Environments Group, he works with The School of Computing’s Andrew Robb, assistant professor, Sabarish Babu, associate professor and Chris Pagano, professor of psychology.

At Clemson he has been part of the LatinX Graduate Student Association, The Graduate School (GEM Fellowship student adviser), Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Clemson CU HackIT and HelloWorld Hackathon (Mentor), Oregon STEM MESA/ LSAMP (Career/ College Coach), and has been part of various presentations and panels toward encouraging underrepresented students to pursue graduate school.

Department of Bioengineering

Amanda LeMatty, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering and minoring in nonprofit leadership, will pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering – bioInnovate track at the University of Utah.

NSF Fellowship recipient in front of a brick wall smiling, woman
Amanda LeMatty

The Summerville, S.C. native has worked in a low-resource medical device design creative inquiry in the Department of Bioengineering with Delphine Dean, professor, Melinda Harman, associate professor, and John DesJardins, associate professor, for the past three years.

Her projects include a STEM outreach program, medical device reprocessing research, the creation of an umbilical cord care kit, and the creation and implementation of a low-cost isolation device for COVID patients.

The CI also allowed her to travel to Tanzania to conduct needs assessments on the diagnosis of non-communicable diseases and HIV, which is where she discovered a passion for global health. 

She worked at SCBIO as a Technology & Innovation intern, where she works on the innovation initiatives which engage, support, and develop start-ups and entrepreneurs. She also organized STEM outreach and networking events, including the Young Women in Life Sciences Conference, SCBIO Bootcamp, and various Student-Industry Engagement events. 

LeMatty was awarded the 2021 Jonathan Black Undergraduate Leadership in Bioengineering Award as well as the 2020 R. Larry Dooley Entrepreneurship Award from the Bioengineering Department.

Holcombe Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
NSF Fellow Luke Snow
Luke Snow

Luke Snow, an Honors College senior majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in mathematics will pursue a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Cornell University, where he’ll study the mathematical foundations of signal and information processing systems.

The Columbia, S.C. native participated in research in the Micro-Photonics Lab with Eric Johnson, professor of electrical and computer engineering, where he worked on free-space optical systems which employ the ‘orbital angular momentum’ of photons for communication and sensing in turbulent environments.

Snow received the 2020-2021 W.M. Riggs award for “Most Outstanding Senior in Electrical Engineering.”

Alumni recipients who are pursuing graduate work at other institutions include Adam Beitz (Biomedical Engineering ‘19) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Reid Smith (Mechanical Engineering ‘20) at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

College of Science

Department of Physics and Astronomy

Paul “Marston” Copeland, an Honors College senior majoring in physics, will pursue a Ph.D. at Duke University studying theoretical nuclear and particle physics. He is also a 2020 Goldwater Scholar and will graduate with Departmental and General Honors from the Clemson University Honors College.

Marston Copeland, a NSF Fellow holding a book in his hand
Marston Copeland

Copeland is interested in researching problems in Quantum Chromodynamics (the theory of the strong force that holds protons and neutrons together) and using effective field theories to frame the problems in ways that make them easier to solve. 

He has worked with Joan Marler, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, at Clemson University for a year researching experimental atomic physics. He’s also been researching theoretical nuclear physics with Wally Melnitchouk of the Jefferson Lab and Chueng Ji from North Carolina State University for the past two years through the Jefferson Lab REU and SULI programs. 

The Simpsonville, S.C. native participated in the Science Student Advisory Board, organizing and participating in different events like SciWeek and a physics REU panel. He has also served on the SciSAB Grant In Aid of Research review committee.

He was selected for the L.D. Huff Junior award for outstanding junior in physics, nominated for the Outstanding Junior in Science award, and nominated for the Outstanding Senior in Science award. 

Department of Biological Sciences
Tristan, a NSF Fellow, smiling
Tristan Schramer

Tristan Schramer, is a biological sciences graduate student from Wheaton, Ill. His research in Christopher L. Parkinson’s lab involves the use of phylogenomics to better understand how processes like gene flow impact the evolution of genomes and speciation, specifically in North American watersnakes.

Outreach has drastically changed since the onset of the pandemic, but he has been working on producing media resources—photographic guides, infographics, and posters—of local (i.e., Experimental Forest) species of amphibians and reptiles for digital engagement. He was also a 2019 NSF Honorable Mention recipient.

woman filing wearing a mask
Cierra Sullivan

Cierra Sullivan is a second year graduate student in the Department of Biological Sciences at Clemson University in the lab of assistant professor Matthew Koski.

Her research interests largely center on investigating the ecological and evolutionary reasons why certain plant species can physically appear (e.g. color) or operate (physiological processes) differently, despite being regarded as one, single species. 

The Chesapeake, Va. native is a member of the Biological Sciences Graduate Student Association where she serves as the secretary. She’s also a member of the department’s recently formed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion workgroup.

She graduated magna cum laude from Christopher Newport University, where she graduated with Organismal and Environmental Departmental Honors and was accepted into the Alpha Chi National Honors Society.

Honorable Mentions

Students receiving Honorable Mention status submitted applications that were deemed “meritorious” and worthy of funding if more was available. Undergraduates who receive Honorable Mention are eligible to apply for the Graduate Research Fellowship again during their graduate studies.

College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Department of Bioengineering

Kharimat “Lora” Alatise, is a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Bioengineering. She works under the advisement of Angela Alexander-Bryant, assistant professor, in her Nanobiotechnology Lab. She was a McNair Scholar as an undergraduate and at Clemson she was awarded the 2020 Call Me Doctor Fellowship.

Maureen Buckley, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, will pursue a Ph.D. in biological engineering at MIT this fall.  She is the recipient this year of the Samuel B. Earle Outstanding Senior Award for the College of Engineering, Computing, and Applied Sciences.

Mario Krussig is pursuing his Ph.D. at Clemson in the Department of Bioengineering. His research focuses on regenerative therapies for Intervertebral Disc Herniation repair.


Department of Mechanical Engineering

Nathan Brown, is pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Clemson University. He received his BS ‘19 and MS ‘20 from Clemson. He’s a member of CEDAR lab and his adviser is Gang Li, professor of mechanical engineering.

College of Science

Department of Genetics and Biochemistry

Daniel Freeman, an Honors College (’19) graduate with a degree in biochemistry, will pursue a Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School, where he’ll study how to use artificial intelligence to personalize treatments to patient’s unique genetic makeup. 

Department of Biological Sciences

Harrison “Chris” Moss is an Honors College senior majoring in biological sciences. He will pursue a Ph.D. in Immunology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He’s a 2020 Astronaut Scholar.

Department of Chemistry

Nathan Clement is a graduate teaching assistant in chemistry. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Georgia. He hails from Peshtigo, Wisconsin. In his research, he applies machine learning and information theory to locate allosteric sites in proteins.

Alumni Honorable Mentions recipients who are pursuing graduate degrees at other institutions are Sean Buechele (Physics ’18) at University of California, Santa Barbara and Katherine Floyd (Biological Science ’20) at Washington University.

About the National Science Foundation

Since 1952, the National Science Foundation has funded over 60,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants. Currently, 42 Fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates, and more than 450 have become members of the National Academy of Sciences.  

Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, former U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, Google founder, Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author, Steven Levitt.

Students interested in the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship or other nationally competitive programs should contact the Office of Major Fellowships at 864-656-9704 or

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