Rana Abdu ’22 and Aleesa Chua ’22 Recognized by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program

 From left: Rana Abdu ’22 and Aleesa Chua ’22 are friends who also each won awards from the National Science Foundation.

From left: Rana Abdu ’22 and Aleesa Chua ’22 are friends who also each won awards from the National Science Foundation.

Two Colorado College students, Rana Abdu ’22 and Aleesa Chua `22 recently were recognized with awards by the National Science Foundation. 

Rana Abdu `22 won the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program award. Both graduate and undergraduate students apply for this award, which means Abdu was among the youngest of the applicants. In addition to the prestige associated with this achievement, Abdu will receive a $34,000 stipend for three years of graduate school. The school where Abdu will continue her studies, the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, will receive $12,000 for three years.

As an undergraduate, Abdu’s proposal was focused on continued studies in a field she had experience in from the past summer, during which she participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. When working in a lab at Boston University with Chemistry Professor Linda Doerrer, Abdu studied the synthesis of complexes that have the potential to turn carbon-hydrogen bonds into carbon-oxygen bonds.

“Carbon-hydrogen bonds are abundant but many natural products and pharmaceutically active structures contain carbon-oxygen bonds,” Abdu explains. “You need to be able to perform C-H oxidation reactions to convert carbon-hydrogen bonds to carbon-oxygen bonds in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.”

She applied for the award in the fall of 2021. At that time, she was taking Instrumental Methods with Eli Fahrenkrug, assistant professor of analytical chemistry. “The class was structured in a way that they had two and a half weeks to collect the data, produce the result in a nice, concise way, and then tie their proposal into that piece of data,” says Fahrenkrug. 

Another Colorado College student, Aleesa Chua `22, was also recognized by the National Science Foundation. Chua received an honorable mention. Like Abdu, her proposal was based on work she did last summer. She studied with Heather Desaire at the University of Kansas. She will be studying there after she graduates. Chua’s work in data analytics, machine learning, and mass spectrometry earned her the honorable mention.

Abdu and Chua are close friends. Both wanted to recognize the Chemistry Department’s faculty. “The mentorship we have received has really helped us find confidence in ourselves to pursue opportunities like this and graduate school,” says Chua.

Fahrenkrug, meanwhile, emphasizes the students’ ability: “It’s their achievement. Everything I’ve ever done was just provide some framework. The capacity was theirs.”

Jessica Kisunzu, assistant professor of organic chemistry, worked with the students as they refined and developed their proposals. She echoed Fahrenkrug’s message: “Both Rana and Aleesa are amazing scientists and chemists. I’m excited for their next steps.”

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