WPI Presidential Fellowship

The WPI Presidential Fellowship launches the PhD career of highly talented students to WPI. Students selected are US citizens pursuing a PhD in STEM or business, and demonstrate leadership in their field. Five students have been selected in 2022-2023.

Julia Nicolescu


Julia Nicolescu graduated from Union College in 2022 with her Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering. This Fall she will be joining WPI as a PhD student in the Biomedical Engineering Department. During undergraduate studies, Julia’s research focused on the biomechanics of heart and brain development of embryos. Through her graduate research and future career, she will pursue a role where she can address the underrepresentation of minority groups in research, while also combating medical racism and homophobia. Julia is incredibly excited to be joining WPI as a Presidential Fellow and a Perry Initiative Fellow.



Roger Richards


Roger Richards will be joining the Entrepreneurship Ph.D. program at the WPI Business School as a WPI Presidential Fellow. He is a business and technology strategist, entrepreneur, and innovator who specializes in leveraging innovation and technology as a success enabler to build and transform businesses globally. Roger is a serial entrepreneur and has been a founder and principal in several successful startups. He has over fifteen patents and many software intellectual property in Ai & Machine Learning, SaaS platforms, broadband communications, and biotech. He has a BS degree in Electrical Engineering from Rutgers University where he graduated with honors, and an MBA from The University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin), where he graduated with highest honors. Roger is excited to be working with Dr. Rosanna Garcia to pursue his passion for and Ph.D. in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Endowed Fellowships and External Fellowships

Brandon Asencio


Brandon Asencio received his Bachelor of Engineering degree in mechanical engineering from the City College of New York in 2020. During his undergraduate years, Brandon completed internships supporting public school HVAC retrofits with the NYC School Construction Authority and organ manufacturing research with the United Therapeutics Corporation. After graduation, he worked as a Safety Support Engineer at Amazon Robotics where he ensured optimal safety performance of global operations. Brandon is excited to pursue an M.S. degree in Robotics Engineering at WPI as an Arvid Anderson Fellow and GEM Fellow.  Brandon’s research interests include human-robot interaction and medical robotics. Brandon’s overall goal is to create safer, more efficient robotic environments.


Patrick Chernjavsky


Patrick will be continuing his journey with WPI this Fall by joining the Mechanical Engineering PhD program as a William B. Smith Fellow. He recently completed his B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from WPI. As an undergraduate, Patrick’s research focused on flexible driveshaft fixed abrasive grinding, metal additive manufacturing, and surface epolishing. Additionally, this summer he completed an internship with Saint-Gobain Research North America which focused on fixed abrasive grinding of silicon carbide wafers. 



Gabrielle Conard


Gabrielle Conard is a recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program.  Gabrielle recently completed her undergraduate studies at Lafayette College this past May where she earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Physics.  During that time, she conducted robotics research with a focus on quadruped robots, including developing a low-cost quadruped platform, became a member of the PA Epsilon Chapter of Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, and served as a peer tutor and Supplemental Instructor for several physics and engineering courses.  This fall, Gabrielle will begin pursuing her M.S. degree in Robotics Engineering at WPI and conduct research in the Soft Robotics Lab.


William DeMaria


William DeMaria has been awarded the Stedman Smith Fellowship. William is from Millbury, MA and received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Rochester in 2019. As an undergraduate, William conducted research related to the study of macular degeneration in Dr. Danielle Benoit’s lab, received three internships at Medtronic in North Haven, CT, and served as the president of Engineers Without Borders. William’s research in the Benoit lab was published in the Cell Stem Cell journal, and his work at Medtronic was published in the 2017 and 2018 BMES Annual Meetings. As a Ph.D. candidate at WPI in the Biomedical Engineering department, William has published his work in the 2020 BMES Annual Meeting and enjoyed participating in and leading community outreach and STEM education events.


Qingli Ding


Qingli received a Bachelor degree in Chemistry and Materials Science from Northwestern University (Shaanxi, China) in 2017. She received the MS degree in Materials Science and Engineering from WPI in May 2019. Qingli participated in research on the Synthesis and Properties of Near-Infrared Fluorescent Dyes during her undergraduate years. While pursuing her master’s degree, Qingli worked on rare earth and copper elements recycling in the Center for Resource Recovery and Recycling (CR3) at WPI. Qingli is excited to enroll in a Ph.D. program at WPI as a William B Smith fellow working on Corrosion testing and measurement with Professor Mishra Brajendra 


Melissa Wojnowski


As the recipient of the Aberdale Fellowship, Melissa Wojnowski is eager to continue her research in functional biomaterials for tissue engineering and drug delivery, specifically focusing on their applications in neuroregenerative medicine. A recent graduate of the university’s B.S./M.S program, she received both her Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from WPI, after which she matriculated into the WPI PhD program in Biomedical Engineering during the Fall of 2020. Under her advisor Prof. Jeannine Coburn, Melissa is currently developing biomaterial-based cell therapy delivery systems for the treatment of traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). Through her dissertation research, Melissa aspires to improve the efficacy of pre-clinical SCI cell therapies, ultimately contributing to the clinical realization of their potential to recover lost neurological functions in SCI patients. 

Previous Fellowship Recipients


Darren Cole, IMGD, WPI Presidential Fellow 

Steven Hyland,  Robotics Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow

Timothy Jones, Robotics Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow

Brianna Raphino, Mechanical Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow & GEM Fellow

Timothy Woodard, Chemical Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow


Dayna Mercadante, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program

Avery Harrison, Learning Sciences & Technologies, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program

Zhaotong Yang, Manufacturing Engineering, William B. Smith Fellowship

Yasmina Benkhoui, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mohammad A. Bin Khaled Alshawaf MD Graduate Engineering Distinguished Fellowship

Jabari Stegall, Electrical Engineering, Robert S. Parks Fellow

Michael Yereniuk, Mathematical Sciences, SMART (Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation Scholarship-for-Service Program) fellowship

Bonnie Wang, Materials Science and Engineering, Norton Fellowship

Alicia Howell-Munson, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Alden Fellowship

Esai Lopez, Chemical Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow

Adriyel Nieves, Electrical Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow and GEM Fellow

John Owens, Electrical Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow and GEM Fellow

Bryanna Samolyk, Biomedical Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow

Kiara Sanchez, Mathematical Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow

Heather LeClerc, Chemical Engineering, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program/Fulbright Fellow



Sara Amato, Mathematical Science, WPI Presidential Fellow

Charles Bales, Robotics Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow

Elizabeth Belden, Chemical Engineering, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, WPI Presidential Fellow

Kelsey Butler, Joint PhD WPI and UMass Medical School, WPI Presidential Fellow

Alexander Moore, Data Science Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow



Alex Castaneda, Mechanical Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow

Brittany Lewis, Computer Science, WPI Presidential Fellow

Jocelyn Petitto, Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, WPI Presidential Fellow

Lynnette Robinson, Mathematical Science, WPI Presidential Fellow and GEM Fellow

Janelle Vultaggio, Biology and Biotechnology, WPI Presidential Fellow

Alycia Abbott, Biomedical Engineering, Stedman Smith Fellow

Geri-Louise Dimas, Data Science, Robert and Esther Goddard Fellow

Juan D. Florez-Castillo, Robotics Engineering, Bruce Mannooch Memorial Fellow

Tofunmi Ogunfunmi, Materials Science, GEM Scholar Fellow

Jessica Rosewitz, Civil Engineering, Spaulding Fellow

Zhanyue “Jimmy” Zhao, Mechanical Engineering, William B. Smith Fellow



Dayna Mercadante, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, WPI Presidential Fellow

Veronica Kimmerly, Fire Protection Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow

Alexandra Rose Valiton, Robotics Engineering, WPI Presidential Fellow 

Laura Reyes, Materials Science and Engineering, George I. Alden Fellow

Avery Harrison, Learning Sciences & Technology, Marietta Anderson Fellow

Yasmina Benkhoui, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mohammad A. Bin Khaled Alshawaf MD Graduate Engineering Distinguished Fellow

Caitlin Walde, Materials Science and Engineering, Helen E. Stoddard Fellow

Andrei Koch, Aerospace Engineering, Bruce Mannooch Memorial Fellow

Zhaotong Yang, Materials Science and Engineering, William B. Smith Fellow

Maryam Masroor Shalmani, Mechanical Engineering, William B. Smith Fellow

Lydia Hantsche, Aerospace Engineering, William B. Smith Fellow

Mengqiao Yang, Mechanical Engineering, William B. Smith Fellow