GW Student Scientists Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

The competitive fellowship recognizes outstanding students pursuing a research-based graduate degree.

April 14, 2021

RyeAnne Ricker and Sarah Beethe

GW Ph.D. candidate RyeAnne Ricker (left) and Sarah Beethe, B.S. ’20, both received the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in recognition of their outstanding contributions in STEM disciplines.

By Kristen Mitchell

A George Washington University graduate student and graduate teaching assistant were recently recognized by the National Science Foundation for their outstanding contributions in STEM disciplines with the Graduate Research Fellowship, a prestigious five-year fellowship to support their continued education.

RyeAnne Ricker, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering, and Sarah Beethe, B.S. ‘20, a graduate teaching assistant in the Geological Science program, were both awarded the highly competitive fellowship, which recognizes those likely to become knowledge experts in their field. Two GW students—Claire Charpentier, a Ph.D. candidate in genomics, and Megan Anderson, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering—also received honorable mentions from the program.

Thirty-six GW students have previously been awarded the fellowship.

Ms. Ricker, who came to GW in fall 2019, is studying how machine learning tools can be used to identify various types of cancer. In a recent paper, she and her co-authors analyzed CT images of kidney tumors using machine learning algorithms, classifying them as low- or high-grade tumors, a determination that impacts medical decisions and treatment.

“Many things biologically-based are just too complicated for a human to take in so many variables, but a computer can do that beautifully,” she said. “They can process high loads of information, and they can do it really, really quickly. Humans cannot handle that many variables, but they also are prone to bias in decision making. The future of medicine is definitely machine learning.”

Ms. Ricker studied microbiology and biological engineering as an undergraduate at Montana State University, where she took her first biology class and discovered a passion for the subject. Ms. Ricker spent her childhood living off the grid in the backwoods of Montana with her family and was encouraged by her older brother to attend college.

She came to GW after working for the state of Washington’s Division of Disease Control and Health Statistics. Ms. Ricker is also the recipient of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) intramural training award and will be moving forward in her Ph.D. research through a partnership with GW and the NIH.

Ms. Beethe got involved with research while pursuing her undergraduate degree at GW. She came to Foggy Bottom planning to study political science but pivoted to geology when a general education course she took during her first year sparked her interest in the field.

“After the first day of geology class, I dropped my political science courses and registered for another geology class and just kind of dove right in,” she said. “It was probably the best thing I've ever done.”

As an undergraduate, she received a Luther Rice Undergraduate Research Fellowship to study the eruptive histories of older volcanoes in Oregon. Her work aimed to predict and understand the implications of future volcanic eruptions. Ms. Beethe’s undergraduate research experience has helped prepare her to start a Ph.D. program this fall at Oregon State University, where she will be dating and tracking the movement of submarine volcanoes in the West Pacific, among other things.

Ms. Beethe currently serves as a teaching assistant for the undergraduate-level Historical Geology course and has continued to contribute to a long-term project to develop a field guide to the Oregon Cascades with her undergraduate adviser. 

In addition to Ms. Ricker and Ms. Beethe, a number of GW alumni pursuing graduate degrees at other institutions were also awarded the fellowship.