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Oklahoma State University

OSU doctoral student receives international fellowship

Mon, August 28, 2017
Minu Pilvankar

Chemical engineering doctoral student Minu Pilvankar has been awarded the international ACM SIGHPC/Intel Computational and Data Science Fellowship. She is the first Oklahoma State University student to be honored with the fellowship, and one of only 12 worldwide recipients this year. The fellowship, funded by Intel, encourages diversity among graduate students studying computational science, an interdisciplinary field, integrating computer science, applied mathematics, science, and engineering. 

Pilvankar earned her master’s in chemical engineering at OSU, where Dr. Ashlee Ford Versypt recruited her to join her lab. Ford Versypt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, focuses on biological and biomedical research using computational methods rather than traditional experimentation. Ford Versypt nominated Pilvankar to receive the fellowship. 

“She came here with no background in biology or physiology, but Minu was willing to learn, spending months reading papers,” said Ford Versypt. “She is now my go-to-person to find biology and physiological papers and to interpret those experiments that can be used in creating models of disease.”

Under Ford Versypt’s direction, Pilvankar’s work focuses on creating mathematical computer models to describe biochemical and physiological injuries to the kidney, associated with diabetes. Though she is a chemical engineering student, Pilvankar had never worked in a chemical laboratory before meeting her mentor.

“I think that is kind of strange, but we use computational methods to predict and analyze the behavior of biological systems that are not easily accessible to experimental techniques,” said Pilvankar. “Converting biology into mathematical equations helps experimental researchers focus their attention on areas to investigate to understand diseases.” 

Minu’s research could lead to the development of better drug therapies and delivery methods.

“She works, using computational techniques to research diabetic kidney disease, which can cause end-stage renal (kidney) failure, is significant,” said Dr. Dana Brunson, OSU assistant vice president for cyberinfrastructure and director of the High Performance Computing Center. “I’m very proud of Minu for being recognized with this very prestigious fellowship.” 

The Computational and Data Science Fellowship is designed to expand opportunities for graduate students to pursue careers in the field, which is one of the most important and fastest growing research areas today across a broad array of disciplines, including biochemistry, biomedicine, and genomics. The fellowship targets women or students from backgrounds that have not traditionally participated in the computing field. Pilvankar will receive an annual $15,000 research stipend for the remainder of her doctoral study. 

Pilvankar said she appreciates her parents for influencing her career path. Her mother is a biology teacher and her father a chemical engineer in her native India. She credits her growth as a researcher to Ford Versypt, who came to OSU as a junior faculty member three years ago. 

Pilvankar is one of the first students Ford Versypt recruited and the first master’s graduate from her program. If she stays on schedule, Pilvankar will be Ford Versypt’s first doctoral graduate. 

“I could have applied to other universities, but I didn’t. I wanted to work with her,” Pilvankar said. 

Ford Versypt said mentoring talented undergraduate and graduate students is important to their career success and to advancing her work.  

“We’ve recruited students who have been very impactful with what they’ve accomplished,” she said. 

The Computational and Data Science Fellowship is just one of Pilvankar’s accomplishments. She has also been named a Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Scholar at the Spears School of Business and is completing a graduate certificate in interdisciplinary toxicology. She has also received honors for poster presentations at several technical conferences and symposia around the country.