Skip to main content

For the third consecutive year, a College of Engineering student receives competitive graduate research fellowship

In the halls of the Micron Center for Materials Research, Sarah Pooley’s name has become synonymous with excellence. The Materials Science and Engineering graduate student recently achieved another milestone in her academic journey, becoming the 15th recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

The award, known for recognizing outstanding graduate students in STEM fields, underscores Pooley’s potential to make groundbreaking contributions to materials science and engineering.

“It was such a surreal moment,” Pooley said. “It was 7:30 in the morning in the middle of the week, and there it was – I got the GRFP. I really like looking into the why and that’s something I had no exposure to before Boise State. So I’m excited to be a part of something where I can help make a broader impact.” 

Over the next three years, the National Science Foundation will support Pooley’s current research in ion diffusion for ion batteries under the supervision and guidance of Hui “Claire” Xiong, Pooley’s advisor and professor. The fellowship stipend will enable her to focus her research on phase transitions under ambient conditions, specifically on electrochemically-driven and radiation-driven transformations to discover the impacts the structure of those materials have on energy storage.

With many renewable energy sources becoming more efficient and easier for the public to access, sodium ion batteries could be the next big step in pursuit of a cleaner future. Pooley’s research could have significant implications for improving battery performance and longevity, crucial for advancements in energy storage and the fight against climate change.

“I’m very delighted to hear the news,” said Xiong. “I am very confident in Sarah’s potential to accomplish an outstanding research career. Such a prestigious fellowship will strongly facilitate her continuous success as a researcher in the field of sustainable energy materials.”

Pooley’s journey to this point is both inspiring and unconventional. Originally a computer science major,  she discovered a passion for materials science through an introductory class taught by Peter Mullner in 2019. This newfound passion led her to switch her major and dive into the world of materials science. Mullner would later become her undergraduate advisor.

Mentors like Professors Xiong and Mullner have helped shape Pooley’s journey, mentors helping her discover passions and being there through hiccups and experimental setbacks. This is something that has inspired her to do the same for future scientists and engineers.

Pooley’s advice for aspiring scientists and graduate students and researchers in STEM fields is persistence.

“Keep going – you’re going to get knocked down again and again,” Pooley said. “But if you keep going, put one step in front of the other, you’ll get there. There will be hard days, some really frustrating days, but I’ve found that this kind of work and research is really worth it. You get back up and you keep going.”

Pooley joins fellow Boise State student and Top Ten Scholar Sevio Stanton from the College of Arts and Sciences as 2024 Graduate Research Fellowship Program recipients. The pair also join Boise State alumni Andrew Russell (mechanical engineering, ‘21) now at the University of Washington, Audrey Parker (materials science and engineering, ‘22) now at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Kyle Fisch (chemistry and biochemistry, ‘21) now at the University of Colorado at Boulder for the 2024 awardee class.

Pooley’s fellowship marks the third consecutive year a College of Engineering graduate student has received the award following Ellie Schlake, Ulises Trujillo Garcia, and Josue Torres-Fonesca. 

For more information about the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, visit