Three West Virginia University engineering students have received prestigious University Fellowships.

Upcoming doctoral students Jared Strader and Alixandra Wagner were awarded three- and one-year University Provost Fellowships, respectively. Praveen Majjigapu was awarded WVU’s Outstanding Merit Fellowship for Continuing Doctoral Students. The fellowships provide a University tuition waiver, college tuition scholarship, stipend and health insurance.

Strader is currently a mechanical engineering master’s candidate in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and holds bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering from WVU and mathematics from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, respectively.

“I’m really thankful to have received this fellowship,” said Strader, a Clarksburg native. “There are many students doing fantastic research and making great discoveries at WVU, so it’s really rewarding to be picked from among them for this honor.”

Strader works with Yu Gu, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, in Gu’s Interactive Robotics Laboratory. His master’s research focuses on software for autonomous navigation and computer vision for object recognition, which is especially important for Cataglyphis, WVU’s NASA Sample Return Robot.

“The goal for this robot is to demonstrate its autonomous capability to locate and retrieve samples from locations over a wide terrain,” said Strader. “Cataglyphis’ ability to navigate and sense samples is vital to the mission.”

Strader will build upon his current research over the next three years, focusing on navigation and perception for multi-robot systems and tensegrity structures – or flexible structures built entirely of interlocking struts and cables.

“Jared is one of the sharpest students I have ever taught and has made numerous technical innovations as a researcher,” said Gu. “Furthermore, his extraordinary leadership skills help create positive peer pressure that motivates everyone in the lab, including myself, to work harder and be more creative.”

As an undergraduate biology major at WVU, Wagner worked as a conservation intern and field research assistant, collecting data on the habitat and population of American ginseng, then organizing a large-scale reintroduction of the plant into local habitats. After years in the field, Wagner decided to pursue a doctoral degree in chemical engineering where she could gain experience in laboratory research.

Working with Cerasela Zoica Dinu, associate professor of chemical and biomedical engineering, Wagner investigates toxicity of different types of organically modified nanoclays – or layered mineral platelets –on human lung epithelial cells.

“For this specific project, I am looking at nanoclays used in food packaging materials,” said Wagner. “I look at the morphology and molecular compositions, then degrade the nanoclays under high temperatures to model inhalation toxicity at manufacturing and disposal levels.”

This research will help government and industry better understand the effects of these nanoclays on the health of manufacturers, consumers and the environment during disposal.

“I am very grateful to have received this fellowship so I can continue my research and education, helping me become a better researcher and contributor to my community” said Wagner, a Morgantown native.

“Alix’s selection for this fellowship is a superb investment in the future of women in engineering,” said Dinu. “Coming into our program from a biology background, Alix did not spare any efforts to engage in scientific and outreach activities. She is an outstanding student and a testimony of the high quality graduate students in our department.”

Majjigapu received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Chaitanya Bharthi Institute of Technology, Osmania University in India before relocating to WVU as a graduate student to focus on structural engineering. As a graduate research assistant in the Constructed Facilities Center housed in the Statler College, Majjigapu’s doctoral research focuses on economical solutions to repair deteriorating infrastructure.

“Our nation’s infrastructure is failing and will cost $3.6 trillion to fix,” said Majjigapu. “By developing new structural repair processes utilizing advanced materials, we can cut the future costs of crumbling infrastructure.”

Working with Hota GangaRao, director of the CFC, Majjigapu has designed innovative, patent-pending fiber reinforced polymer composites – material that can be wrapped around existing concrete, timber and steel to strengthen structures.

“Not only does this process cut costs, it strengthens the infrastructure, especially at the joints,” said Majjigapu. “This is critical when you consider the earthquakes, wind, blasts and other forces of nature our infrastructure is exposed to every day.”

A leader in the CFC, Majjigapu also received the 2016 Kenneth D. Gray Leadership Award, a merit for outstanding student leaders at WVU.

“Praveen has exhibited exemplary leadership qualities and through his research has brought great recognition to the University,” said GangaRao. “He works relentlessly to advance the field of composite material applications and will find great success in his career.”

“I am extremely honored to receive this prestigious fellowship,” said Majjigapu. “The award has boosted my confidence as a researcher and further motivates me to pursue my dreams of advancing the nation’s infrastructure.”



CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

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