FIU students awarded prestigious NSF Research Fellowships
Pamela Pimentel is interested in juveniles in the justice system, tracking this potentially vulnerable group’s path from questioning to incarceration.
Mario Consuegra is focused on advancing the field of power efficient, or “green,” computing in a world that shows no signs of slaking its need for technological advances.
Both FIU graduate students are pursuing their doctorates this fall as National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSFGRF) awardees, a distinction shared by numerous Nobel Prize winners, government and public policy leaders, and private industry trailblazers. They are two of the 2,000 NSFGRFs that were awarded from 12,000 applicants.
According to the National Science Foundation, the GFRP is the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, with 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.”
“When you get a GRFP, it’s a game-changer,” says Lindsay Malloy, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts & Sciences. Malloy served as Pimentel’s mentor in the long, arduous process of applying for the fellowship. “It’s a great thing to apply for, even if it’s a ‘needle in the haystack’ to get, which was how it was described to me by someone at the NSF. But for faculty mentors, it’s truly a labor of love. There is really nothing like a student letting you know they’ve gotten a grant. It helps the student and it helps me as we collaborate on the project together.”
For her part, Pimentel notes that her faculty mentor Malloy gave her the courage and the push to apply for the fellowship. “I felt insecure and overwhelmed, but I really wanted to do the best I could for Dr. Malloy.”
Born and raised in Mexico City, Pimentel, her parents and her two siblings moved to the greater Chicago area after she finished high school.
Like many immigrants to this country, Pimentel did not speak the language. She also did not know the society, culture or values – critical elements for someone who envisioned a future in law and psychology. So she chose to go back to high school as a junior and repeat the last two years. After high school, she went to community college for two years before matriculating at University of Illinois at Chicago, where she would graduate with a bachelor of arts in psychology.
For graduate school, Pimentel was recruited by many different schools and eventually applied at 12 different institutions. Her top choice? FIU. “This was my dream university – the faculty, the community, the city,” she says. And now FIU has helped her realize another dream – to win the NSF fellowship. “I’ve learned that in order to achieve anything in life, you have to believe in yourself, you have to search for opportunities, be persistent and above all – be passionate about education,” says Pimentel.
Consuegra ’10 was born in Cuba, the only child of two high school teachers. Dedicated to the principles of teaching and unwilling to “politicize education,” Consuegra’s parents refused to bow to pressure and were eventually forced out of their chosen professions. His father had to leave Cuba, and after several years of separation, the family was reunited in the United States when Consuegra was 16 years old.
Consuegra spoke very little English when he arrived as a teenager. But he also believed that “this ‘Land of Opportunity’ rewards hard work,” so he threw himself into an English-only high school where he was compelled to learn the language as quickly as possible, and then was accepted into FIU as a computer science major.
For three of his four years as an undergraduate student at FIU, Consuegra participated in a programming competition team, which helped him gain valuable training in the area of algorithm development and problem solving.
Under the tutelage of his mentor Giri Narasimhan, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering and Computing, Consuegra applied for the NSFGRFP in 2011.
He did not get it.
But Narasmimhan encouraged him to take another look at his application to try to refine it and to apply again. Consuegra broadened the scope and impact of his original concept, which was based on researching algorithms that would focus on making storage systems in data centers more efficient and sustainable for future generations: “If successful, this project …will result in next generation storage systems, in next generation data centers, and in next generation computing with resource allocation solutions that are efficient for a range of systems from the personal computer to data centers. It would be an environmentally conscious and socially responsible solution for the future. Reducing the power consumption of large server farms and data centers is vital for the planet. A successful outcome of this project would contribute to saving the environment for future generations,” Consuegra described in his application.
Consuegra notes that he had been recruited by private industry and had a job lined up when he graduated university. “But I’m young and hungry and I want to be part of something greater, more interesting and with more societal impact while I can.”
“Mario should be proud of himself that his NSF Graduate Research Fellowship application stood out among thousands of applicants,” says Narasimham. “He has combined youthful idealism with intellectual curiosity and has developed a passion to work toward ‘green computing.’ His persistence has helped him overcome many hurdles in his life, and will continue to do so in the future as he prepares to take on the intellectual challenges of his dissertation work.”
“Receiving the fellowship has encouraged me to see that other people recognize that my research is relevant, and it has definitely made me more confident,” Consuegra says.