Student Highlights

Alavala Vishnupriya stands in front of the Egyptian building in a white lab coat
Vishnu Alavala

Sophomore Selected for Prestigious Fulbright Fellowship in Scotland

Vishnu Alavala, a sophomore majoring in biology, was selected as a student fellow to participate in a Fulbright U.K. Summer Institutes program this past summer.

The Summer Institutes form part of the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Commission’s work to promote leadership, learning and empathy between nations through educational exchange. Alavala attended a three-week academic and cultural program at the Glasgow School of Art and University of Strathclyde. Through lectures, seminars and study visits, participants learned about the development of Scotland as a technological nation.

“Upon learning I earned a place in the Summer Institutes, I was absolutely ecstatic at the prospect of developing my perspective at the intersection of art, technology, humanities and design in the vibrant city of Glasgow,” Alavala said ahead of the program. “I’m certain the experience will prepare me to thoughtfully practice medicine for diverse patients. I hope the people I meet and the skills I gain will transform my approach to addressing inequities in Richmond during my time at VCU and beyond. I cannot wait to apply myself and mobilize my passions through this experience.”

The award covers participants’ major costs and provides them with a distinctive support and cultural education program, including comprehensive pre-departure guidance, enrichment opportunities in the U.K. and an opportunity to be part of the Fulbright alumni network.

The commission selects participants through a rigorous application and interview process. In making these awards, the Commission looks for not only academic excellence but a focused application, a range of extracurricular and community activities, demonstrated ambassadorial skills and a plan to give back to the recipient’s home country upon returning.

Gabreilla Daire stands in front of a window, wearing a lab coat
Gabriella Daire

Goldwater Scholarship awarded to student researching disuse-induced bone loss

Gabriella Daire, a senior biology major, was selected as a recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship, a prestigious national honor for undergraduate students in STEM fields.

The Goldwater Scholarship program fosters and encourages outstanding students to pursue research careers in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. VCU has had 16 Goldwater Scholars, including Daire, in the past 17 years.

Daire studied disuse-induced bone loss within the context of cellular senescence as a Goldwater Scholar under the guidance of Henry Donahue, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the VCU College of Engineering. She is also investigating whether or not mitochondrial dysfunction has a role in the disuse-induced bone loss. Her research will continue until her graduation.

“I’m excited about where the work will go,” Daire said. “I’m using my research for my biology capstone project, so I’m looking forward to the moment I share it with the biology community here at VCU.”

After completing her undergraduate studies, Daire plans to pursue a Ph.D. in either biomedical sciences or cell and molecular biology, with a focus on space medicine.

Andy Shar, left, and Daeha Joung, Ph.D., center, inspect the flexible 3D printing ink
Andy Shar, left, and Daeha Joung, Ph.D., center, inspect the flexible 3D printing ink Andy has developed.

Biology Student Develops Groundbreaking Conductive, Flexible 3D Printing Ink

Andy Shar, a junior majoring in biology and minoring in religious studies, developed a flexible 3D printing ink that conducts electricity. The material will allow researchers in their lab and other scientists to make wearable devices and eSkin technologies that empower patients to better monitor and take charge of their health.

Finding an ink like that has been a goal of materials scientists around the world since 3D printing began — scientists like Daeha Joung, Ph.D., who Shar worked with as a research assistant. Somehow, Shar discovered the recipe.

The discovery has opened up new opportunities for Shar. Alongside Phillip Glass, a student in the Ph.D. in nanoscience and nanotechnology program, Shar has published two academic papers, including one in the journal Advanced Functional Materials for which he served as the first author. He also has submitted another — plus a book chapter — and has been invited to present at conferences about the discovery.

Incredible opportunities weren’t the only thing Shar was able to get out of his scientific discovery.

“There were a few things I got out of it. Definitely knowledge, learning about the materials science aspect of it, a lot of lessons in perseverance. It took dozens of trials — Dr. Joung has seen my array of vials with hundreds of failed attempts. So just being able to learn from your past mistakes. And I didn’t give up, because I knew I was getting closer and closer to the end result.”

He and Joung hope this technology, infused with bioprinted information that would allow cells to regrow, can help people with spinal cord injuries regain sensory and motor function.

Sierra Tutweiler sits in an empty classroom next to a laptop
Sierra Tutweiler

College Alum, Doctoral Student Chosen for National Science Foundation Grant

With a degree in mechanical engineering from the College of Engineering and in physics from the College of Humanities and Sciences, Sierra Tutwiler, who graduated in May, was one of four VCU students and three alumni selected for this year’s National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

This highly competitive national initiative helps exceptional graduate students advance their studies in STEM-based disciplines.

The five-year fellowship provides three years of financial support, including an annual stipend of $37,000 and a cost-of-education allowance of $12,000 to the institution.

Vineeth Vaidyula, left, and Ryan Jackson, right
Vineeth Vaidyula, left, and Ryan Jackson, right

Two College students received Critical Language Scholarships to study Russian

Two students in the College, Vineeth Vaidyula (Biology) and Ryan Jackson (Mass Communications), were selected for the highly competitive Critical Language Scholarship and CLS Spark Program. The programs allow students to study languages with the goal of helping improve U.S. diplomatic relationships.

Recipients of the Critical Language Scholarship spend the summer abroad intensively studying their target language.

Vineeth Vaidyula, a student in the Honors College who graduated in May of 2023 with a bachelor’s in biology, and Ryan Jackson, a member of the Honors College who will graduate in 2026 with a bachelor’s in mass communications from the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, studied Russian this past summer.

CLS Spark provides students the opportunity to study critical languages virtually when they may not have access to studying these languages on their campuses. Participants will spend the summer learning either Arabic, Chinese or Russian through online classes and activities facilitated by native speakers at a host institution abroad.

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