Fellowships for Engineers: 3 Questions With GEM Fellow Richelle Thomas

Jun 26, 2012
Richelle Thomas, 2012 Fulbright Scholar and 2010 GEM Fellow

Richelle Thomas is another shining example of a ProFellow. Richelle is currently a Fulbright Scholar at the Edmund Cohen Vascular Research Laboratory at the University of the West Indies and is also a 5th year doctoral student and GEM Fellow studying chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. The National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, Inc. (GEM) sponsors the GEM Fellowship Program, which provides graduate and doctoral fellowships coupled with paid summer internships. The fellowship program includes an MS Engineering Fellowship, a Ph.D. Engineering Fellowship and a Ph.D. Science Fellowship. The goals of these programs are to increase the number of underrepresented minority students (African Americans, American Indians, and Hispanic Americans) pursing graduate and doctoral degrees in engineering and natural science and to promote the benefits of a graduate degre within industry.

1. Why did you decide to apply for the GEM Fellowship? 

The GEM Consortium (the organization that operates the fellowship) was housed at University of Notre Dame, where I did my undergraduate degree. Therefore I became aware of the fellowship well before I was eligible to apply. I actually applied a few times before I was selected. I knew being a GEM fellow would introduce me to a network of science professionals from diverse backgrounds. I love meeting new people and learning about how I can improve myself and my skills. The GEM Fellowship specifically is for students interested in going into industry after graduate school. I had a number of internships during my undergraduate years but I was not sure what opportunities there were for me with a graduate degree. I thought the GEM Fellowship would help with that, and it did.

2. What do you think made your application stand out?

GEM is not a typical fellowship in that the focus is not solely on your academic research. Instead, the process is very similar to applying for a job or internship. That being said, my application was focused more on speaking to what would be pertinent to a hiring manager in terms of my interests, skill set and value added to a company. I think my application stood out because I discussed my research in the context of how it helped hone skills that may be applicable in an industrial research setting. I tried to make a direct link from my academic research and the variety of industries I could make a contribution in as opposed to focusing solely on my specific academic research specialty.

3. What tips would you give others applying for the GEM Fellowship?

When applying to fellowships I think it is important to speak to the audience reviewing the application. For GEM I was sure to make an explicit link between my research, the industry background I had, how the research experience I had could be beneficial in a variety of industries/applications and the role I felt GEM could play in my future career. It is very important to make the case the mutual benefit that would take place if you are selected – the sustainable impact the award will have on you/your career and what you will offer in return.

Richelle C. Thomas is a fifth year doctoral student in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Currently, Richelle is establishing a translational research laboratory collaboration at the University of the West Indies, Barbados, WI through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Richelle received the Virginia & Ernest Cockrell, Jr. Endowed Fellowship in Engineering upon entry to the University of Texas and was awarded as 2010 GEM Fellow with DuPont as her sponsoring company. Richelle holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame.

© Victoria Johnson 2012, all rights reserved.