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2022 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Honorees

April 13, 2022

We're excited to announce that two Drexel students and recent alumni received the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and three received Honorable Mentions. NSF GRFP recipients receive a three-year annual stipend as well as a cost of education allowance for tuition and fees and access to opportunities for professional development.

We are so proud of these students, who have demonstrated exemplary commitment to their research. We also extend our thanks to the over forty faculty and post-doctoral researchers who helped Drexel’s GRFP candidates strengthen their applications by contributing feedback during the campus anonymous review process this year, as well as to the many faculty who supported candidates through mentorship and letters of support. Special thanks go to Dr. Richard McCourt, Dr. Monica Illies, and Dr. Simon Danner, who offered insight at our GRFP Reviewer Q&A in the fall.

2022 NSF Graduate Research Fellows

Leah Friedman headshotLeah Friedman
BS Cognitive Neuroscience Custom-Designed Major '19, Honors
Faculty Mentors: Dr. Alison Kenner and Dr. Erin Solovey
Graduate Institution: Arizona State University

Leah M. Friedman is a researcher and dance artist from Philadelphia. Since graduating from Drexel in 2019, Leah has worked at the intersection of artificial intelligence, educational technology, and social sciences with Dr. Erin Walker at University of Pittsburgh and the Center for Integrative Research in the Computing and Learning Sciences. During her time at Drexel, Leah conducted research with Dr. Erin Solovey on neuroadaptive educational technology and with Dr. Alison Kenner on responsible innovation of technical systems. As a dancer, Leah has performed and worked with Philadanco! The Philadelphia Dance Company, #dbdanceproject, and Waheedworks, and has presented work in Philly FringeArts (2021) and more. Leah is also a volunteer researcher with community groups in Philly fighting for more just revenue building and fairer distribution of city resources. In August 2022, Leah will begin a Ph.D. program in Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology (HSD) at Arizona State University, and is grateful to receive support from NSF’s GRFP. Broadly, she is interested in understanding how our existing methods of innovation co-create/emerge from/perpetuate societal trends, and how public visions of technological futures can inform more responsible research.
As an undergraduate, Leah was involved with the Pennoni Honors College through the Honors Program, the Custom-Designed Major, and STAR Scholars.

Nicholas Sica headshotNicholas Sica
PhD student Electrical Engineering, BS Computer Engineering '21
Faculty Mentors: Dr. Baris Taskin

Nicholas is a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering at Drexel's College of Engineering. He graduated as an undergraduate student from Drexel University in computer engineering. During his time at Drexel, he worked at G3 and Arris as a general intern and at Susquehanna International Group as part of the FPGA team. He also participated in undergraduate research in the VLSI and Architecture Lab (VANDAL) under Dr. Baris Taskin and the Distributed, Intelligent, and Scalable Computing Lab under Dr. Anup Das. During graduate school, he continued his work in the VLSI and Architecture Lab under Dr. Baris Taskin.

2022 NSF GRFP Honorable Mentions

Abhishek Adhikari headshotAbhishek Adhikari
BS Computer Engineering '21
Faculty Mentors: Dr. Kapil R. Dandekar and Dr. P. Mohana Shankar
Graduate Institution: Columbia University

Abhishek (Abhi) Adhikari is a first year Ph.D. student in electrical engineering at Columbia University's Wireless and Mobile Networking Lab. His advisor is Prof. Gil Zussman, and his research focuses on mmWave communication and sensing for Beyond-5G wireless networks. He graduated from Drexel University with a B.S. in computer engineering in 2021, and his research advisor was Prof. Kapil Dandekar in the Drexel Wireless Systems Lab.

Talaial Alina imageTalaial Alina
BS Chemical Engineering '20, Honors
Faculty Mentors: Dr. Kara Spiller, Dr. Maureen Tang
Graduate Institution: University of Colorado at Boulder

Talaial studied Chemical Engineering with a concentration in Biological Engineering at Drexel. Talaial first began his research experience in STAR investigating the production of hydrogen peroxide in various medium and plasma regimes under the guidance of Dr. Abraham Lin and Dr. Vandana Miller at the C. & J. Nyheim Plasma Institute. His interest in research eventually led him to co-op at Janssen Pharmaceuticals where he explored novel protein purification devices and techniques for new antibodies in development. This experience led him to pursue a interdisciplinary Senior Thesis with Dr. Kara Spiller in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems where he explored the novel application of biotin and avidin binding to crosslink gelatin hydrogels. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He hopes to familiarize himself with biomaterials that focus on drug delivery so that he can one day work in tissue engineering startups.
As an undergraduate, Talaial was involved with the Pennoni Honors College through STAR Scholars.

This does not include the students or alumni who declined to be publicized or did not respond to our request. To view the national list of recipients and honorable mentions, visit

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforces its diversity. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions.

As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the GRFP has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The reputation of the GRFP follows recipients and often helps them become life-long leaders that contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin, and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.

Fellows share in the prestige and opportunities that become available when they are selected. Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees (paid to the institution), opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

NSF Fellows are anticipated to become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering. These individuals are crucial to maintaining and advancing the nation's technological infrastructure and national security as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large.

For more information about the NSF GRFP, visit To learn more about applying for this award through Drexel, visit our Fellowships Resource site. Access to this site is limited to Drexel users; alumni can request access by emailing