Published: April 28, 2021 By

Elizabeth Hjelvik wearing white lab coat
Elizabeth Hjelvik

Elizabeth Hjelvik of the Straub Research Group was selected by the National Science Foundation for the prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), which provides significant annual funding and professional development opportunities to outstanding graduate students working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. One of the benefits of the NSF GRFP is the generous funding students receive—$34,000 a year, for five years.

“My interest in NSF started in my undergraduate laboratory,” Hjelvik said. “The researchers would talk about how the NSF was the highest honor a graduate student could achieve.”

Hjelvik had been interested in applying for the fellowship since she began her research as a graduate student, but finally followed through with the support and encouragement of her adviser, Assistant Professor Anthony Straub of the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering.

Working with Straub enabled her to develop a research goal that combined her previous experience and expertise with current problems in membrane research.

“Elizabeth is an outstanding student who is poised to use her NSF fellowship to conduct high-impact research and serve as a mentor for others,” Straub said. “For her NSF proposal, Elizabeth successfully merged her expertise in chemistry with our work on membrane separations, creating an innovative project that will develop more effective water purification systems."

Hjelvik says that Straub’s enthusiasm for materials research and expertise aligned with her prior experience working on surface chemistries on polymeric substrates.

Thanks for the support!
“I would like to thank my family, wonderful fiancé and friends for their never-ending support as I have pursued my career in science," Hjelvik said. "I also would like to thank all my mentors at the University of New Mexico, Los Alamos National Laboratory and CU Boulder. Research is difficult, but having the support system in the form of my many mentors and loved ones has really encouraged me to persevere through failure and adversity. However, I would really like to thank my mom, who has always been my biggest role model, mentor and cheerleader. As the youngest daughter of a Filipino immigrant family, the expectation for her life was to stay home to care for her aging parents. Instead, she was driven to begin college at the age of 24 and eventually went on to receive her PhD in chemistry. Because of her background, my mom has been an awesome example as a successful woman in STEM for me to look up to. She has always been open and honest with her experiences in her career and has offered so much insight and support for my own career. I can only hope that one day I can offer the same type of mentorship and support that she provided to me to other aspiring young women scientists.”

“From the get-go, Tony was incredibly enthusiastic about his research as well as incredibly supportive of his students and their lives outside of the lab,” Hjelvik said. “Working with Tony, particularly on my NSF proposal, made me excited about research and the prospect of getting my PhD again, especially after going through such a challenging time prior to meeting him.”

Hjelvik plans to use the resources furnished by the fellowship to conceive, execute and share the findings of her own research projects. The fellowship will also provide her with the opportunity to connect with and mentor young women scientists and engineers.

She began her time at CU Boulder in the chemistry program, but after meeting with many enthusiastic materials science and engineering (MSE) students, she realized that her variety of research interests would be better suited for a career in materials research, rather than specializing in a narrower field.

“I was also really drawn to how the MSE program allowed me to branch out to the different departments at CU Boulder rather than just keeping me within one department,” she said. “The biggest aspect of the MSE program that has benefited my education is the support system that the staff provides. After I left my first group, I was struggling to find my footing in the program again but the advisors in MSE really helped me through everything, and I truly do not think I would have gotten the NSF fellowship if it were not for their support and guidance.”

Hjelvik also cites the support and collaboration of her fellow students in the research group as a strong contributing factor in her success.

“Everyone maintains a positive outlook toward research, even when our work inevitably gets frustrating,” she said. “Having such a positive environment to work in has really motivated me to continually work hard toward research and my PhD.”

After graduating, Hjelvik hopes to find work at a national laboratory, where she will apply her scientific and engineering expertise to be of public benefit, as well as be in a position to mentor young women scientists and engineers.

Hjelvik graduated with a degree in chemistry from the University of New Mexico in 2018. She hails from Los Alamos, New Mexico. She is one of 38 scholars from CU Boulder to be selected for the fellowship, 22 of whom are in the College of Engineering and Applied Science.