Profiles | Research and Impact

Computer science student Liam Speakman named NSF Graduate Research Fellow

Liam Speakman, a senior in computer science and electrical engineering, has been a nontraditional student to the fullest extent. As a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, Speakman first completed his military training before enrolling at Ohio University Chillicothe. By the end of his undergraduate career, Speakman had relocated to OHIO’s main campus in Athens and through mentorship, undergraduate research and an excitement to learn, he was ultimately awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP). 

The GRFP is a program designed to support diversity in STEM by encouraging participation in science and engineering by underrepresented groups, including women, minorities, persons with disabilities and veterans. This prestigious, five-year fellowship provides financial support to fellows, including an annual stipend of $37,000. 

“Diversity in STEM is extremely important. Everyone of any gender, race or identity must have a seat at the table to effectively create and encourage technological development advancements,” Speakman said.  

Throughout his undergraduate career, Speakman worked diligently to not only create opportunities for himself, but also other students. In fact, he worked as a tutor in the Academic Achievement Center helping students learn in physics, calculus and computer science classes.  

“Education is a privilege but having the opportunity to help others with heavy topics such as mathematics and physics cannot be overstated. Having the means and ability to educate others is one of the best ways to utilize an education,” Speakman said. 

In addition to his work as a tutor, Speakman also worked with Lonnie Welch, Charles R. Jr. and Marilyn Stuckey Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, in his bioinformatics lab. Specifically, Speakman researched transposable elements in DNA, which are DNA sequences that move from one location on the genome to another. Through his research, he aimed to gain insight into how the genome operates.  

Welch served as a mentor for Speakman both inside and outside of the bioinformatics lab and ultimately encouraged him to apply for the GRFP and pursue a Ph.D. at OHIO. In addition to Welch’s mentorship, Speakman also received valuable guidance from Yingnan Zhang, graduate student in computer science; Michael Koop, assistant professor in physics; Joe Triplett, associate professor of instruction in computer science technology; and Mary Wurm-Schaar, director of Institutional Assessment and Accreditation for the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.  

Using the GRFP, Speakman plans to pursue his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science at OHIO, with a research focus in bioinformatics. His plan is to continue exploring genome architecture mapping and the associated genomic elements. Beyond this research in bioinformatics, he hopes to explore genetic diseases, since he has been affected by an autoimmune disease firsthand.  
“As this is fellowship is a privilege that not every student is afforded, I believe the fellowship represents a duty to uphold the mission set forth by the NSF to support research and education while also using my career to contribute to STEM education and research in Appalachia,” Speakman said.  

May 15, 2023
Chloe Musick