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image macro of Christine Mendoza and the National Science Foundation logo
April 25, 2024

Senior computer science major Christine Mendoza received a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Mendoza was one of only 207 recipients nationwide in the Computer and Information Science and Engineering category and one of 12 current UNC students to be offered a fellowship in any category.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) seeks to ensure the quality, vitality, and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States by recognizing and supporting outstanding graduate students who are pursuing full-time, research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education. Fellowships provide three years of financial support over a five-year period, including an annual stipend of $37,000 and a cost-of-education allowance of $16,000.

Mendoza led development of Luminary, an open-source tool to help universities and other organizations develop accessible campus maps that crowdsource data on routes and obstacles to provide user-specific directions. She has worked with multiple departments at UNC to facilitate creation and maintenance of accessible maps. She has also worked on projects for the UNC Center for Literacy and Disability Studies and the State of Iowa K-6 Early Literacy Alternate Assessment system.

Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in computer science with a minor in chemistry, Mendoza will graduate with Highest Honors in May and then pursue a doctorate in human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University.

Initially a biostatistics and nutrition major, Mendoza switched to computer science during her freshman year while taking COMP110: Introduction to Programming. Mendoza served as an undergraduate learning assistant for COMP 110 the following semester and again later for COMP 421: Files and Databases. During her junior year, she received the Charles H. Dunham Scholarship, given in conjunction with SAS Institute to an exceptional computer science student heading into their senior year.

Reflecting on the experiences at UNC that led to her receiving the fellowship, Mendoza encouraged others to be open to unfamiliar subjects and activities, because they may lead to incredible opportunities.

“If you would have asked me four years ago where I would be now, I would never have pictured myself doing computer science research, much less finding a passion in accessibility and going to graduate school,” Mendoza said. “I give glory to God and many thanks to my mentors, friends, and family who have supported me along the way, especially my advisor, Gary Bishop, who took a chance on a random freshman interested in enabling technology and (together with TOPICS and Anat Caspi of the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology) introduced me to the world of computer science research.

“Enjoy the journey and never be afraid to explore or to step outside of your comfort zone. The lessons you learn along the way will come back to you, sometimes in the ways you least expect.”

A full list of Graduate Research Fellowship recipients can be found on the NSF website.