By Melissa Peerless
Special to UM News
Nicolas Rongione, who conducted aerospace engineering research in Germany, participates in the Q&A portion of the Prestigious Awards and Fellowships Reception and Recognition Ceremony.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 16, 2015) — “Finding the right fellowship is like finding true love. You don’t have to be perfect, just perfect for each other.”
Kefryn Reese, director of the Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships, shared these amusing but accurate words last week with more than 150 students, faculty, and alumni at UM’s annual Prestigious Awards and Fellowships Reception and Recognition Ceremony.
William Scott Green, senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, encouraged students to find their strengths and passions, and take advantage of opportunities to enhance their educational experiences.
“It is fine to be modest, but there is nothing wrong with pursuing academic excellence,” he said, adding that participating “enhances the quality of UM, enhances the quality of your life, and enhances the quality of other people’s lives.”
More than 30 UM students have received or been nominated for nationally competitive scholarships so far this year, proving the truth in Green’s statement.
College of Arts & Sciences junior Eric Keen has been named a 2015 Goldwater Scholar, one of only 260 recipients nationwide.
The Goldwater program aims to provide a steady source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding tuition and fees scholarships to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in STEM fields.
Keen focuses on viruses that attack bacteria, and how these organisms—called phages—affect bacterial DNA. For his experiment, Keen collected phages at 30 locations around campus, and introduced them to drug-resistant E. coli bacteria.
His goal is to see if the phages destroy structures within the E. coli DNA called plasmids, which cause the bacteria to resist antibiotics.
“People have known about plasmids since the 1950s, but this is the first time that anyone is examining which phages affect them and how,” Keen said, adding that his work has environmental and medical applications.
Jim Klaus, associate professor of geological science in the College of Arts and Sciences, said, “Eric has demonstrated a true commitment to pursuing a research career in microbial ecology. The motivation that drives this commitment is his genuine fascination with the natural microbial world, and the desire to use microbes to make the world a safe, cleaner, and healthier place.”
Other UM students have received Fulbright scholarships to travel to Argentina, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, and Spain; National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships to support research projects; and a National Institutes of Health Oxford Cambridge Fellowship to pursue a doctoral degree in biomedical research.
Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the College of Engineering Helena Solo-Gabriele received the Award for Distinguished Faculty Service.
Passion and persistence were common themes among the six distinguished alumni and students who discussed how their fellowship experiences shaped their lives and careers.
Natalie Cain spent a year in Ecuador through the Fulbright Program, the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange. Now a first-year M.D./M.P.H. student at UM’s Miller School of Medicine, Cain studied the insect-borne Chagas disease in Ecuador’s coastal region. She encouraged students to “latch on to a mentor,” and recognized Senior Lecturer of International Studies Sherri Porcelain, who continues to guide her today.
Dina Dajani, a 2013 Goldwater Scholarship recipient, discovered her passion for research early in her college career. “I jumped right in in my first year,” she said. Dajani is now a doctoral student in the College of Arts and Sciences’ behavioral neuroscience program, where she is doing research on autism.
Xinning Shirley Liu studied in China through the Boren and Fulbright programs. Liu, who was born in a small village in China and moved to Miami at age nine, picked a personal topic for her Fulbright application. “I was deeply concerned about the impacts of China’s transition from an agrarian to an industrial society,” she said, adding, “Be really persistent, even if it is a very obscure topic.”
Nicolas Rongione, an actor-turned-scholar who conducted aerospace engineering research in Germany, called living and learning abroad “a challenge mentally, physically and financially.” He said, “You will learn to navigate it, and it will make you a better person.”
Kristina Rosales Kostrukova flew in from São Paulo, where she is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. She received a Boren Scholarship, a Pickering Fellowship and a Fulbright, allowing her an opportunity to spend significant time in Brazil as a student. She urged, “Envision where the fellowship will take you.”
Frost School of Music lecturer Cliff Sutton received a Fulbright to Uruguay, where he intensively studied Candombe, an Afro-Uruguayan drum music tradition he discovered while a student at UM. “I was supposed to have a semester-long experience and it ended up taking over my life,” Sutton said adding that he uses Candombe methods to teach his classes. Sutton and his Candombe performance group presented three songs to end the event on a lively note.
The Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships helps undergraduate students maximize their candidacies for nationally competitive awards, fellowships and scholarships – providing information about opportunities, and guidance through the application process. For more information, please click here.