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Doctoral Candidates Win NSF Honors - and Stipends

"Knowing that I have funding will keep me going"
Claudia Melendez
May 07, 2009 —

Ross Mead (CS) and Samantha Cunningham (BME) have been named National Science Foundation Graduate Research fellows.

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Ross Mead

As part of the award, the students receive three years of funding, a $30,000 a year stipend and a $10,500 a year as an education allowance.  For both, the award represents peace of mind.

“It’s the best thing that could have happened,” Mead said of the award.  “It’s an excellent opportunity, it gives me a bit of freedom. Knowing that I have funding that will keep me going.”

A  Ph.D. student in computer science, Mead is exploring non-verbal communication in robots to improve their interaction with children with autism. He says the goal is "to try these kids to become interested in the robots and get closer to them of their own volition and grow the interaction from there.

“We are taking it a bit further and developing (robots) for people who need the assistance,” he said.

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Samantha Cunningham
Cunningham is a first year student in biomedical engineering who came to USC way of Stanford University. Her research involves retinal prosthesis. Working with functional MRI, the budding scientist wants to understand how the implants affect the occipital lobes of the patients over time and see if the neurons create new pathways as a result of the renewed ability to see.

Her specialty involves finding a special class of blind persons:

“It’s important that (the patients) had vision before so they can describe what they see,” she said.

And that award? “I’m very excited,” she said.

story and photos by Claudia Melendez