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CS Education Researcher Morgan Fong Receives Coveted NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

8/7/2020 2:10:07 PM Laura Schmitt, Illinois CS

CS doctoral candidate Morgan Fong has received a 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a highly competitive grant that drew more than 12,000 applicants. These fellowships provide support for students who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education.

Morgan Fong
Morgan Fong

Fong will receive a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for the next three years.

A member of CS teaching associate professor Geoffrey Herman’s group, Fong is exploring spatial ability as an indicator for success in STEM fields. In a preliminary study, she analyzed instructional computer science-related videos on YouTube, looking at objects the instructors drew and language they used to determine spatially oriented instruction versus more procedural instruction.

“We’re teasing apart why spatial ability is so important for computer science,” said Fong, who is in her second year of the doctoral degree program. “We want to understand the mechanics for why this is important.”

According to Fong, earning this Fellowship provides flexibility in her research. “I can choose what I want to work on and with whom,” she said. “It also takes a lot of financial stress off my shoulders.”

Fong was one of eight CS graduate students who participated in a departmental-sponsored review process prior to submitting her application to the funding agency last fall. Samantha Hendon, coordinator of awards and stewardship, organized the effort, where previous NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) winners provide current applicants with suggestions on ways to improve their application materials.

Helen Wauck
Helen Wauck

“This definitely helped me improve my application,” said Fong, who received critical feedback on her research and personal statements from 2016 GRF winner Helen Wauck.

Since the review program was launched three years ago, Wauck has helped more than a dozen CS students strengthen their applications.

“After I won an NSF GRF I wanted to pay it forward and help other students win the award,” said Wauck, who earned her PhD this past spring and is now a research scientist at Smart Information Flow Technologies. “My Fellowship enabled me to pursue the research topic that I was most interested in—the design of video games for training visuospatial skills—and it led to a research collaboration with a psychology lab at the University of Basel in Switzerland, where I spent a summer working on games research.”

Other NSF GRF winners who participated in the review process include Doris Xin, Ian Ludden, and Bolton Bailey. Since 2010, 30 CS students have earned NSF GRFs.