Baylor Students Win Boren Scholarship, NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, GEM Fellowship

Students continue record-setting year earning top fellowships and awards

May 2, 2024
Student award recipients Taylor Chung, Laura Kusumo, Heavenlei Thomas and Auldynn Chambers

Baylor students have won multiple national awards and fellowships, including Taylor Chung (Boren), Laura Kusumo (NSF Graduate Research Fellowship), Heavenlei Thomas (NSF Graduate Research Fellowship) and Auldynn Chambers, GEM Fellowship.

Contact: Lori Fogleman, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-709-5959
Follow us on X (Twitter): @BaylorUMedia

WACO, Texas (May 2, 2024) – Baylor University students continue to earn highly competitive major fellowships and awards during a record-setting year in which they have earned the Fulbright, Goldwater, Critical Language and Churchill scholarships. Now students can add a Boren Scholarship, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships (NSF GRF) and the GEM Fellowship to the growing list of achievements.

Boren Scholarship

Taylor Chung, a senior political science and Arabic and Middle East Studies major, has earned the prestigious Boren Scholarship, his second major award after winning a Critical Language Scholarship earlier this year. 

An initiative of the National Security Education Program, the Boren Scholarship provides funding opportunities for U.S. undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests. In exchange for up to $25,000 in funding, Boren Scholars commit to working in the federal government for at least one year after graduation. 

Man in the snow in front of the U.S. Capitol building
Taylor Chung

As a Boren Scholar, Chung will study Swahili as part of the African Flagship Languages Initiative (AFLI), spending the summer studying Swahili at the University of Florida, which administers the AFLI programs, before spending the fall studying the language in Tanzania.

“Baylor is exceptionally proud of Taylor for receiving the Boren Scholarship. His diverse linguistic and public service achievements are already considerable, and his extended study of Swahili in Tanzania will only further launch him on his career trajectory with the federal government,” said Daniel Benyousky, Ph.D., director of major fellowships and awards in Baylor’s Office of Engaged Learning. “For students like Taylor pursuing careers in public service with the federal government, the Boren Awards offer life-changing funded opportunities to study a language critical to US national security – opportunities that Baylor students win with regularity.”

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships 

Two Baylor graduates – Laura Kusumo, B.S. ’23 (neuroscience) and a Ph.D. candidate in psychology (behavioral neuroscience concentration), and Heavenlei Thomas, B.A. ’23 (psychology/business administration minor) – have been awarded the highly competitive National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The five-year fellowship provides three years of financial support inclusive of an annual stipend of $37,000.

The GRF program’s purpose is to help ensure the quality, vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States and to recognize and support outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions.

Baylor student named Heavenlei Thomas
Heavenlei Thomas

A first-generation student, Thomas graduated from Baylor as a McNair Scholar and Provost’s Scholar and is set to begin the Industrial-Psychology graduate program at Rice University, where she will explore the most effective practices in fostering socially and physically safe work environments. At Baylor, she is collaborating with Baylor management professors Sara Perry, Ph.D., and Emily Hunter, Ph.D., on a research project about the health benefits of workday breaks that tracks employee health and well-being outcomes with wearables. In addition, she wants to use her own experiences as a budding scholar to inspire underrepresented students to confidently pursue life-altering opportunities.

"Being awarded the NSF GRF just proves how much potential I have as a future scholar in academia," Thomas said. "It gave me the confidence to believe that maybe I can complete a doctoral degree because somebody out there advocated for me as a promising academic."

“An NSF fellowship is transformative for Heavenlei Thomas and an important indicator of Baylor's strong commitment to undergraduate research,” said Wade Rowatt, Ph.D., interim chair and professor of psychology at Baylor. “As an undergraduate, Heavenlei excelled in psychology course work, collaborated on research with industrial-organizational psychologists with Dr. Emily Hunter and Dr. Sara Perry in the Department of Management and brightened the halls and classrooms in the Baylor Sciences Building.”

Baylor student named Laura Kusumo
Laura Kusumo

Kusumo also was an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Elisabeth Vichaya's psychoneuroimmunology lab, where she developed a passion for research and continues her studies as a graduate student researcher.

“What this fellowship means to me is multifaceted,” Kusumo said. “One facet is that this was confirmation that I was capable of committing to a graduate program - that the passion that drives my pursuit in research is worth investigating and I was able to convey that to reviewers at the National Science Foundation who chose to fund the grant I proposed. This fellowship also supports me in being a voice for those who love research, but do not know where to start, especially for underrepresented groups such as women or minorities in STEM.

"As a graduate student who mentors more than 10 undergraduate research assistants, I can also help guide them in applying for the NSF GRF, helping them through the application process as well as learning how to emotionally regulate in the face of rejection (or acceptance!),” she added.

GEM Fellowship

Auldynn Chambers, a senior mechanical engineering major, McNair Scholar and Provost’s Scholar, has earned the prestigious GEM Fellowship from The National GEM Consortium. GEM offers M.S. and Ph.D. students with opportunity and access to dozens of the top engineering and science firms and universities in the nation and promotes opportunities to enter industry at the graduate level in areas such as research and development, product development and other high-level technical careers. GEM also offers exposure to opportunities in academia.

Baylor student Auldynn Chambers
Auldynn Chambers

Following his graduation in May, Chambers will pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, which is a GEM university. The GEM Fellowship covers full tuition and fees and provides a yearly stipend.

At Baylor, Chambers serves as president of the National Society of Black Engineers, and through his participation in the McNair Scholars program, has conducted research in the field of biomechanics and dynamic motion simulation. He has participated in summer research opportunities, including assisting with research on artificial lungs at the University of Michigan as a Summer Research Opportunities (SROP) Scholar and NASA-MSGC (Michigan Space Grant Consortium) grant recipient. 

“The GEM Fellowship for Auldynn and the NSF GRF for Heavenlei is an amazing recognition for the hard work they have put in as Baylor McNair Scholars to achieve their goals and earn these competitive national fellowships,” said Steven Fernandez, director of Student Opportunity & Achievement Resources (SOAR) and Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program at Baylor. “I could not be prouder of our students and how they embody what it means to be a McNair Scholar. They are truly trailblazers and brilliant scholars who have set out on a path to transform the world around them.”

Office of Engaged Learning

The Office of Engaged Learning at Baylor University is a central hub of programs through which students discover opportunities to maximize their undergraduate education by learning beyond the classroom. OEL faculty and staff work with a diverse array of students to connect the transformational work they do in the classroom to opportunities for application and engagement, from competing for major fellowships and awards at the national and international level to partnering alongside programs such as McNair Scholars and Provost’s Scholars. 

“Regardless of a student's academic and career interests, the Office of Engaged Learning team provides comprehensive application guidance on a wide variety of awards spanning academic disciplines,” Benyousky said. “Working with award applicants is at its core a collaborative process, and we are thrilled to partner with faculty and staff across campus with programs like the McNair Scholars Program. One common thread among Baylor students pursuing excellence beyond the classroom through endeavors like awards, research and civic engagement is their involvement in the Provost's Scholars Program, which simultaneously recognizes and propels them toward excellence.”


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.