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Emily Anne Vargas starts graduate studies with prestigious NSF fellowship

Story by
Liz Whitehead

Despite graduating in 2017, Emily Anne Vargas is still making a big splash at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering with her recent award of the very prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. The Miami native will pursue her doctoral degree in material science and engineering at the University of Southern California. 

Growing up, her father was her main mentor for her first introduction into engineering. As a carpenter, he spent lots of time just “showing her how to make things.” As a first-generation college student, her first experience with engineering wasn’t until college. Her love of STEM subjects is what pushed her forward. 

Emily Anne VargasEmily Anne Vargas

Vargas decided to pursue engineering at FSU through the joint college. But like most students in their early semesters of engineering school, it was “a little scary.” She was enjoying the diverse environment and happy to have been admitted, but she didn’t really know “what she was getting herself into” with engineering--and she quickly began to feel alone at school. 

Things changed quickly when she joined the Society of Hispanic and Professional Engineers (SHPE). Being part of SHPE provided Vargas with numerous academic and social experiences. She was a leader in the student group and in her senior year she was the National Undergraduate Representative, one of the highest positions in SHPE. Through the organization, she made friends and really found her place and her “family away from home.” 

No doubt Vargas is a hard worker, but her involvement in student organizations pushed her to go beyond. So despite juggling numerous leadership roles, she also worked for three years as a research assistant for Dr. Richard Liang, studying manufacturing composites, nanomaterials and developing effective physical and statistical methods to accurately assess the resulting material variations. 

Vargas graduated with honors, completed a laundry list of internships, and decided to go get her Ph.D. The teachers, specifically Dr. Liang, John Taylor, Dr. Okoli, and Dr. Dickens, pushed and supported her to do her best. As a Hispanic woman in the STEM field, Vargas was encouraged by mentors to trailblaze and stay encouraged. 

Vargas credits the “constant cheerleaders” in her personal life and from FAMU-FSU Engineering for motivating her to go far. With their support she applied and received the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. The program focuses on supporting graduate students that are going for research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions. 

Over the next three years, Vargas will receive a $34,000 stipend for research plus a $12,000 stipend for her education. She will also have access to international research, professional development, and the freedom to conduct research at any university in the U.S. With this opportunity, Vargas will be able to further her career tremendously while pursuing her Ph.D. 

Vargas’ advice for future and current students? “Focus on your mental health and don’t let anything push you too hard.”

She emphasizes the importance of eating and sleeping and doing the things that keep you healthy even during the ups and downs. She also recommends finding your support system, putting yourself first and never forgetting where you started. Her personal mantra: “Live at the bottom even if you’re at the top.”