9 UK Grad Students Named Bridge to the Doctorate Fellows

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 8, 2020) — The Kentucky-West Virginia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (KY-WV LSAMP), spearheaded by the University of Kentucky, has named nine of its first cohort of Bridge to the Doctorate (BD) fellows. The BD program will support a total of 12 graduate students from underrepresented populations who are pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines at UK.

Each fellow will receive a $32,000 per year stipend as well as support for cost of education for two years through the grant. Fellows will receive coaching, academic and community support, professional development, and access to opportunities for research, writing and presentation.

The fellowships are supported by a $1 million National Science Foundation (NSF) award KY-WV LSAMP received this summer. KY-WV LSAMP is a consortium of 10 colleges and universities working together to broaden participation and increase the quality and quantity of underrepresented students in STEM.

The nine fellows include:

  • Edwina Barnett, a graduate of West Virginia State University, who is pursuing a master's degree in biomedical engineering at UK. Barnett’s career goals are to hold an administrative/leadership position in a government agency such as the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  • Alyssa Donawa, a graduate of San Diego State University, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in computer science at UK. Donawa’s research focus intersects UI/UX design and gamification strategies for attracting and retaining users in medical mobile applications. She builds iOS applications that typically serve sparse and intermittently connected networks with low densities of users. The mobile applications that she is helping to design will be used to gather results in a delay tolerant opportunistic network and allow patients and medical staff to communicate when internet is limited or non-existent.
  • Abelline Fionah, a graduate of Ball State University, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in chemistry at UK. Fionah’s past research centered on the synthesis of multicomponent heterostructures for enhanced light-driven degradation of organic contaminants.
  • Xava Grooms, a graduate of California State University, Fullerton, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in computer science at UK. Grooms’ research focuses on leveraging delay tolerant networks and opportunistic wireless communications to facilitate secure and efficient data transfer in multiple unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems to mitigate wireless connectivity issues during natural disasters. She aspires to achieve a lifelong career helping others as a tenure-track faculty member at a Research 1 institution.
  • Julia Parker, a graduate of UK, who is pursuing a master’s degree in biosystems engineering at UK. Parker’s research focuses on the development of methods for the depolymerization of lignin, this being one of the main constituents of biomass. In so doing, her work aims to convert this largely waste material into a sustainable source of chemicals and fuels, thereby significantly improving the economics of biorefineries.
  • Alexis Smith, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in biochemistry at UK. Smith’s research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms of platelet exocytosis and the proteins involved in the process. Her career goal is to be involved in science policy and advocate for minority and rural communities.
  • Kayla Titialii-Torres, a graduate of Washington State University, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in biology at UK. Titialii-Torres' research focuses on the short and long-term effects of high blood glucose on retinal development and regeneration using the zebrafish as a model. Long term, she is interested in continuing to conduct research and influencing policies that affect scientific research, communication and education.
  • Andres Vindas Melendez, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in mathematics at UK. Vindas Melendez’s career aspiration is to become a mathematics professor to advance mathematical knowledge through research and to inspire interest for mathematical discovery among students.
  • JaMaya Wilson, a graduate of Dillard University, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in materials science and engineering at UK. Wilson plans to create a nonprofit that exposes high school students in underrepresented communities to the possibilities within the STEM field. Her goal is to give students a space to feel confident in their skills through tutoring, teaching and mentorship.

"We are excited to support these talented students," said Fara Willaims, director of KY-WV LSAMP. "They are becoming a cohesive cohort and helping us to learn and develop programming that will increase recruitment and retention of URM students in STEM graduate programs now and in the future."

Since receiving renewed funding in 2018, KY-WV LSAMP has grown from 280 to 378 student participants, with over 50% of its graduating students continuing their education in graduate programs.

“LSAMP recognizes the University of Kentucky as a regional leader in providing opportunities for underrepresented students in STEM fields,” said UK Provost David Blackwell, who serves as principal investigator for the grant. “The Bridge to the Doctorate program underscores our commitment to building a stronger workforce and creating a brighter future for our state and region.”

Three more graduate students will be selected for this cohort of fellows. Applications will be accepted until all positions are filled. For information about KY-WV LSAMP or the Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship, visit and/or contact Fara Williams at 859-218-6326 or

KY-WV LSAMP is a unit based in UK's Office for Institutional Diversity. In addition to UK, the alliance includes Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Centre College, Jefferson Community and Technical College, Kentucky State University, Marshall University, University of Louisville, West Virginia State University, West Virginia University and Western Kentucky University.

Named in honor of the former Ohio congressman, the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program is an alliance-based program designed to assist universities and colleges in diversifying the nation's STEM workforce by increasing the number of STEM baccalaureate and graduate degrees awarded to populations historically underrepresented. Overall, the NSF program provides funding to alliances that implement comprehensive, evidence-based, innovative and sustained strategies that ultimately result in the graduation of well-prepared, highly qualified students from underrepresented minority groups who pursue graduate studies or careers in STEM.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.