Two UB undergraduates win prestigious Goldwater scholarships

Hannah Seppala (left) and Dennis Fedorishin pose together in Davis Hall.

Hannah Seppala (left) and Dennis Fedorishin pose together in Davis Hall.  Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Release Date: May 14, 2019

“My mentor talked up the scholarship semester after semester, calling it the golden ticket to higher education. It definitely feels amazing being recognized for the research I do, giving me more motivation and drive to push forward the field of artificial intelligence.”
Dennis Fedorishin , UB computer science major and Goldwater winner

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A physics and math major whose self-proclaimed strength is to problem-solve from multiple directions, and an immigrant from Belarus determined to become a “pioneer” in how artificial intelligence can improve national security are UB’s latest Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship winners.

Sophomore Hannah Seppala and junior Dennis Fedorishin are recipients of the country’s most prestigious and competitive research scholarship offered for undergraduate STEM students.

Seppala has conducted research on sleep deprivation and biomolecules, but pulls no punches about keeping her vast research options open.

“For my career goals and applications, I am still very much figuring out what I am most interested in,” says Seppala, who as a sophomore will receive the $7,500 Goldwater stipend for two years instead of the single year stipend that juniors receive.

“I hope that the Goldwater will allow me to explore more of my interests,” she says. “The most interesting and groundbreaking science often takes place where different fields intersect; my research project was half biology and half physics. In the future, I can see myself doing research that is a similar intersection of disparate fields.”

Fedorishin is a computer science and engineering major whose family came to the U.S. with $600 and only speaking Russian.

“It is absolutely a huge honor being named a Goldwater scholar,” he says. “My mentor talked up the scholarship semester after semester, calling it the golden ticket to higher education. It definitely feels amazing being recognized for the research I do, giving me more motivation and drive to push forward the field of artificial intelligence.”

UB administrators call the Goldwater the premier scholarship in the U.S. for undergraduate students pursuing research careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM.

Seppala and Fedorishin are among nearly 500 sophomores and juniors in the U.S., from the 5,000 who applied, to receive Goldwater scholarships for the 2019-20 academic year. The program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor the work and memory of Sen. Barry M. Goldwater.

“Since UB is a research-intensive school, undergraduates who intend a PhD come and engage in research,” says Elizabeth Colucci, director of UB’s Office of Fellowships and Scholarships. “Many start the minute they arrive on campus. Those are the students who are perfect candidates for the Goldwater scholarship.

While Seppala and Fedorishin will receive the Goldwater scholarship during each of their remaining years at UB, the academic prestige, networking possibilities and entry into the highest echelon of their respective research circles are more valuable than the scholarship award itself, according to Colucci.

Past UB Goldwater winners have gone on to prestigious graduate programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of California, Berkeley; Cornell University; and the University of Oxford. They also have won other prestigious awards, including the Marshall scholarship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Hannah Seppala

Seppala is a physics and math major. She has conducted research in the lab of Priya Banerjee, assistant professor of physics in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences, since fall 2017, including a full-time summer internship in 2018.

Seppala contributed to studies on nucleic acid droplets as a model for primordial membrane-less organelles, which are regarded as organizers of diverse biochemical and signaling processes in cells.

She is a graduate of Penfield High School, but her family moved recently to Penn Yan. Her parents are Michael and Laura Seppala of Penn Yan.

More info on Seppala: http://www.buffalo.edu/ubnow/stories/2019/05/goldwater-scholarships.html.

Dennis Fedorishin

Fedorishin is a computer science major and graduate of Williamsville North High School. His research involves artificial intelligence, specifically machine learning and computer vision.

“I mostly work in the realm of biometrics,” he explains. “I do research with things like facial recognition, object tracking, emotion tracking a person exhibits within a video, and any other sort of application you can think of with images and videos.”

Fedorishin’s parents, Vladimir and Nadia Fedorishin, reside in East Amherst.

More info on Fedorishin: http://www.buffalo.edu/ubnow/stories/2019/05/goldwater-scholarships.html.

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anzalon@buffalo.edu