Adriana Payan-Medina poses in a lab
Adriana Payan-Medina

When Adriana Payan-Medina first arrived at the University of Utah, she wasn’t sure a career in engineering was in her future. Her time on campus culminated by earning a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, and accepting a position as an MIT Presidential Fellow and member of the Harvard-MIT Medical Engineering and Medical Physics PhD program.

The highly-competitive NSF fellowship recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who have demonstrated the potential to be high-achieving scientists and engineers early in their careers. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship provides three years of financial support, including an annual stipend of $37,000 plus funding for tuition and fees.

“Our department was very fortunate to have Adri as an undergraduate,” says Eric Eddings, Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering. “As a first-generation college student from rural Utah, her path to becoming an engineer and researcher was hindered by several significant hurdles along the way that would have deterred the majority of potential engineering students. In overcoming those challenges, she became our department’s top undergraduate researcher and earned this prestigious Fellowship.”

Originally interested in studying cosmetology at a local community college, Payan-Medina’s interest in engineering was sparked during her involvement in the Refugees Exploring the Foundations of Undergraduate Education in Science (REFUGES) program, which brought her to the University of Utah.

Once on campus, she pushed through her initial doubts and excelled in her studies, demonstrating an aptitude for mastering a wide range of laboratory equipment and skills. She also became involved in the Science Research Initiative program on campus, working in electrosynthesis chemistry, bioinformatic research, and machine learning applications in the context of the National COVID Cohort Collaborative.

On her way to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, Payan-Medina’s dedication earned her several undergraduate accolades, including the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship and the John & Marcia Price College of Engineering Outstanding Undergraduate Student Researcher Award. Her work has also led to significant societal impact, particularly through her involvement in K-12 outreach programs, where she has proven to be an inspiring mentor and advocate for underrepresented communities in STEM.

Adriana Payan-Medina’s journey is a story of triumph over adversity and a shining example of the talent and dedication present in the next generation of engineers. Her impact on the field of STEM and the communities she engages with is sure to be profound, making her an alumna poised to make significant contributions to the world of research.