Earlham alum awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship | Earlham College
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Earlham alum awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

April 06, 2020

Flannery CurrinFlannery Currin, a 2019 Earlham College graduate with degrees in computer science and psychology, has been awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

The prestigious, highly selective fellowship provides a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, and access to research opportunities and professional development at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose. Fellows become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching and innovations in science and engineering. Past fellows include Google founder Sergey Brin, Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt, and Nobel Prize winners in several categories.

Currin said Earlham’s curriculum, faculty, and institutional commitment to social justice and community engagement helped strengthen her application.

“The way the application is structured also fits well with the skill sets that I developed at Earlham,” Currin said. “Applicants are asked to describe their intellectual merit and social impact along with the intellectual merit and social impact of their proposed research. The classes that I took at Earlham taught me research methods that I described in my application but also taught me to constantly think about the social impact of any project I work on, which made that portion of the application relatively easy for me to write.”

Currin is currently in her first year of graduate school pursuing a Ph.D. in computer-human interaction at the University of Iowa. Her scholarly interests are related to technology that can yield solutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I am currently being funded through the University of Iowa for work that I do as a graduate assistant, which means my funding is tied to teaching or research assistantship positions,” Currin said. “This fellowship provides funding independent of these positions. Now I can focus more time and energy on my research instead of trying to balance it with teaching commitments or commitments to other projects. That freedom, flexibility, and ability to focus as I start working on my dissertation is probably the most important aspect of this fellowship.”

Despite Currin’s focus on technology, she often shares that she once dreaded computer courses.  Earlham, however, paved a path that forever changed that mindset.

“Computer science requires creativity and problem solving,” she said. “It has a lot of flexibility. I didn’t know that going in. It’s a lot like learning a language in that there are syntax and conventions to follow, but you can stray and it still works. There’s so much potential with what can be done with computers and technology.”

At Earlham, Currin participated in a number of initiatives to prepare for her professional ambitions. During the 2016 Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, she began working with a Hungarian startup that was creating an app to help the visually impaired with banking services. She also participated in collaborative computer programming competitions called hackathons and was on the Earlham team that won first place in 2018 at the University of Cincinnati’s annual event. She also was a member of the College’s computer science applied group called Helping Others Program, which offers drop-in tutoring sessions for students in the evenings.

At the University of Iowa, Currin is participating in research with her co-advisers that is focused on child interaction with technology and accessibility and assistive technology for people who are blind. Last fall, she helped a senior Ph.D. student evaluate a system to teach preschool-age children how to execute skills through sociodramatic play. This semester she intended to start testing the effectiveness of that system with young children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. However, given the global COVID-19 pandemic, that plan is on hold.

“We are instead working on software development and trying to make the system available for parents to use at home with their children,” she said.

Stephanie Petry, a 2018 Earlham graduate with degrees in chemistry and English, was named an honorable mention for the award. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemistry at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a College That Changes Lives. We aspire to provide the highest quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences. We expect our students to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success.

Princeton Review ranks Earlham in the Top 20 nationally for Best Classroom Experience, and U.S. News & World Report recognizes the College as one of 55 institutions taking pioneering approaches to serving students, and ranks EC 7th for the percentage of international students on campus, 25th for “Best Undergraduate Teaching” and 34th for “Best Value.”

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.


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