St. Olaf College | News

Two Oles pursue doctoral work with support of NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

As the academic year gets under way, St. Olaf College graduates Martha Barnard ’21 and Benjamin Wollant ’19 are pursuing doctoral work with the support of Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

NSF Graduate Research Fellowships support the most promising graduate students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by providing fellows with a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, 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.

Fellows are expected to become experts in their field who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering. Past recipients of the award include numerous Nobel Prize winners, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin, and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.

Martha Barnard '21
Martha Barnard ’21

Barnard worked as a post-baccalaureate researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where she modeled how changes in the climate affected the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. While at the laboratory, she also looked into biosocial responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other data science projects. 

This year, she is pursuing her Ph.D. in biostatistics at the University of Minnesota with the support of the fellowship. She is currently researching new methods for analyzing mobile health data.

“I have always been interested in improving human health, and biostatistics can influence many facets of health, from basic biological research to health policy and patient outcomes. I also love mathematics and statistics, so biostatistics combines my passion for quantitative methods with my desire to do work that meaningfully improves peoples’ lives,” she says. 

Biostatistics combines my passion for quantitative methods with my desire to do work that meaningfully improves peoples’ lives.Martha Barnard ’21

Barnard majored in mathematics at St. Olaf, where she was president of Math Club and vice president of the Association for Women in Mathematics. She also spent a summer doing ecological food web research through the college’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program, and studied for a semester at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and for an Interim in Morocco. 

In addition to her pursuits in STEM, Barnard also sang in Gospel Choir and played violin throughout her four years at St. Olaf.

Benjamin Wollant '19
Benjamin Wollant ’19

Wollant is currently a third-year Ph.D. student in electrical engineering at Stanford University. He is a member of the Soh Lab, which develops novel molecular biosensors to improve human health and open new windows for the study of complex biological systems — work that combines several disciplines. 

“This work has been a way for me to marry my training in physics and math at St. Olaf with interests in biology and biomedical research,” he says.  

He is currently working to develop new tools for highly sensitive protein detection in biomedical applications.

At St. Olaf, Wollant majored in mathematics and physics. He conducted research both in the lab of Associate Professor of Biology and Physics Jay Demas, and in the Biomedical Acoustics Development and Engineering Research Laboratory (BADER Lab) at the University of Chicago through a grant from the American Association of Physicists in Medicine. In 2018 he was named a Rossing Physics Scholar, an award given each year to outstanding physics students selected from across the nation.

This work has been a way for me to marry my training in physics and math at St. Olaf with interests in biology and biomedical research.Benjamin Wollant ’19

In 2019 Wollant was one of 13 St. Olaf recipients of a Fulbright fellowship, and spent a year conducting research in Germany on proton therapy, a promising alternative to traditional X-ray radiation in cancer treatment. 

Wollant is a Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford, joining a cohort of 80 students pursuing graduate degrees at the university who receive three years of full funding for their program of choice. The cohort also provides support and education in global leadership. 

Wollant also played flute in the St. Olaf Band throughout his four years at St. Olaf, serving as co-principal of the flute section his junior and senior years and as manager of the band during his senior year.