Three University of Alabama College of Engineering departments have been awarded U.S. Department of Education grants to fund graduate students in the fields of mechanical engineering, computer science, and chemical and biological engineering.
The Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need, or GAANN, program provides financial support to graduate students planning to pursue the highest available degree in a field designated by the Education Department as an area of national need.
This year marks the first time UA has received three GAANN grants in separate engineering departments at the same time.
The three-year fellowship — which includes a stipend of up to $34,000 a year in addition to tuition and other costs — is awarded to domestic doctoral students whose research aligns with overall needs of their respective fields and who demonstrate a financial need.
This fellowship will help each department with its goal to expand graduate student enrollment. Recipients will be chosen through an ongoing application process starting this year.
The mechanical engineering department will receive a total of $1.2 million throughout this three-year grant. The focus is in the area of smart combustion systems incorporating automation, additive manufacturing and alternative energy. Specifically, it will cater to the nation’s emerging energy infrastructure.
“Through this fellowship, we are seeking to bring the field of combustion to the next level,” said Dr. Ajay Agrawal, Robert F. Barfield Endowed Chair in Mechanical Engineering and department lead for the grant. “Our past PhD graduates, we were able to place them in very important positions, and we hope to do the same [again].”
Agrawal, who has received three GAANN grants since his start at UA in 2005, said seven or eight doctoral students will be awarded the fellowship.
“Mechanical engineers are very diversified, and they are needed everywhere,” Agrawal said. “As things get more modernized and more technologically savvy, we need more mechanical engineers and we need thinkers, leaders and that’s what the PhD level of education seeks to provide.”
The computer science department’s lead professor for the GAANN grant is Dr. Jeffrey Carver, and the focus will be in the cybersecurity field.
“Every year there are more jobs in computer science and cybersecurity than there are people to fill those jobs,” Carver said. “With the ever-increasing threat to our personal safety and privacy that comes with cybercrime, there is a critical need to develop more people who can research solutions to these problems.”
The $746,250 award will fund five computer science doctoral students for three years.
“The PhD students funded by this grant will help to increase the research and expertise of the computer science department related to cybersecurity,” Carver said. “Also, because some of the research projects will be partnered with faculty from other disciplines, this grant will help build and solidify interdisciplinary collaborations within the University.”
Chemical and Biological Engineering
While the GAANN fellowship is restricted to domestic students, the chemical and biological engineering portion allows students to work as teaching assistants in a study-abroad course. The $746,250 grant will focus on polymers and soft materials, which coincides with current research projects within the University.
Dr. Heath Turner, chemical and biological engineering interim department head and departmental graduate program director, is lead professor on the grant. He said the department chose to apply for the grant in an effort to grow the graduate program.
“There has been a pretty big push to try to increase research and graduate enrollment, and so we really tried to look for external resources for doing that,” Turner said. “This is a really good resource for supporting graduate students. It provides a lot of financial support directly to graduate students.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.