UNT McNair Scholar earns prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

May 16, 2022

University of North Texas Spring 2022 graduate Madison “Sonny” Card earned a National Science Foundation fellowship for her undergraduate research on the mind-body relationship in formally trained dancers.

Madison Card standing on the steps of HurleyThe 5-year Graduate Research Fellowship recognizes outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines and provides three years of financial support, including an annual stipend of $34,000 and a cost of education allowance of $12,000 to the institution. Card will use the grant to pursue a Ph.D. at Northeastern University, where she will be affiliated with their Center for Cognitive and Brain Health.

“Madison is a deeply committed student who stands to make major contributions to her field of study,” said James Duban, associate dean for research and national scholarships in the Honors College. “The NSF Fellowship not only recognizes her achievements to date but will aid her in achieving a first-rate graduate education that promises to place her at the forefront of a new generation of impactful researchers.”

A North Texas native, Card transferred to UNT after attending the California Institute of the Arts and building a professional dance career through performance and choreography.

She excelled in UNT’s Honors College and was accepted into the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program in 2020, where she started working with her mentor Anthony Ryals, assistant professor of psychology and principal investigator in UNT’s Neurocognitive Laboratory. The McNair Scholars Program is a 2-year program designed to prepare undergraduate students for successful achievement of a Ph.D. Named after the late Black American astronaut Dr. Ronald E. McNair, the program aims to expand access to graduate education and diversify the American research community.

 Card and Ryals at the McNair

She also received an Undergraduate Research Fellowship, an interdisciplinary, mentor-based fellowship open to undergraduates in every discipline, which allowed her to combine her passion for dance and love of neuroscience.

“Sonny is one of the most ambitious and talented students I have worked with in my academic career,” Ryals said. “Her perseverance, foresight and willingness to overcome any obstacle is inspirational. Perhaps most amazing to me is her positivity, demonstrated even in the most stressful of situations.”

That positivity served her well when Duban approached her after the 2021 McNair Scholars Fall Research Assembly and encouraged her to apply for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, despite proposals being due in less than a month.

“Knowing I only had about three weeks until the deadline, I scoured the Internet and found a website where people post their submissions and results,” Card said. “I went through and read all the psych-related research proposals to get a sense of what distinguished a recipient from an honorable mention.”

One happened to be from Danica Slavish, an assistant professor of psychology at UNT.

Card sent her proposal to Slavish, Duban, Ryals and April Becker, assistant professor in the Department of Behavior Analysis, all of whom generously devoted their time and expertise to guide her through the review process. She attributes a great deal of her proposal’s success to their input as well as mentorship from faculty across UNT, including Sharon Jenkins, professor of psychology, and Stephanie Silveira, assistant professor of kinesiology.

“She will undoubtedly be a fantastic steward of her NSF Graduate Research Fellowship,” Ryals said. “I cannot wait to see what good things are in store for this rising star with respect to her contributions to science and mentorship that will better the lives of those in our world.”

Also fundamental to Card’s success were UNT’s numerous academic and professional resources.

“Through McNair, I was able to attend workshops through the Library and Learning Center that helped me improve my writing and previous literature research for my study,” she said. “There are many unique opportunities to learn across disciplines that help build a strong foundation — the Professional Leadership Program and the Career Center in Sage Hall are great examples, to name a few.”

According to Duban, Card’s success reflects UNT’s emphasis on holistic education, including research immersion and guidance as a form of intellectual inquiry that has immediate and lifelong advantages for students.

“Madison’s accomplishment again affirms that UNT undergraduates are receiving the finest of educations at UNT, making them competitive for national- and international-level contribution and recognition,” Duban said.

The application deadline for the 2022-2023 Undergraduate Research Fellowship competition is June 8.