URI honors students win 5 national awards

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KINGSTON, R.I. –May 30, 2007—The University of Rhode Island’s Office of National Scholarships, housed in URI’s Honors Center, recently announced that five students have been awarded major, national scholarships. The Office, along with faculty and staff committees, helps students prepare for these major competitions.


Sharon Ruggieri ‘07 of Cranston spent two months in Puerto Rico studying how to reduce saltwater damage to concrete bridge supports, six months in Spain studying manufacturing processes and computer aided design, and six months in Mexico as a quality-engineering intern at Texas Instruments. She is returning to Mexico for 10 months, this time as a Fulbright Scholar. “My entire university career has been about the globalization of engineering…The Fulbright is a wonderful opportunity to get more international experience,” said the International Engineering Program graduate, with degrees in mechanical engineering and Spanish.

Melissa Lake from Phoenix, Ariz. who majors in English and German, was also named a Fulbright Scholar, the second straight year that two URI students were so honored. She is completing her undergraduate education at the Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany and volunteering at a language center to help Germans improve their English. She will use her Fulbright award to serve as an English teaching assistant at a high school in Germany while also coordinating an after-school English literature program.


Rachael Gately has tended a flock of sheep since elementary school and has won numerous national awards at livestock shows.

She has worried, however, that much of the agricultural land around her hometown of Somers, Conn., and elsewhere has been disappearing, much of it converted to housing developments. That concern, along with her desire to work to preserve farmlands, has earned her the Morris K. Udall Undergraduate Scholarship, the nation’s most prestigious scholarship for students preparing for environmental careers. The scholarship provides a $5,000 stipend toward her senior year.

Gately’s interest in improving farming practices to help preserve farmland started early. By age 19, she had been awarded two grants from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, including one for $70,000 to work with a soil conservationist to redesign the layout of her family’s farm. That effort turned the farm into a model of farmland conservation by demonstrating how farmers can use the land without harming it.

The animal and veterinary science major’s ultimate objective is to work with zoonotic diseases – those that can be passed from animals to humans, like mad cow disease and bird flu—and eventually earn a master of public health degree to work in the regulatory world.


Elana Viola of Cranston, a soon-to-be-senior is majoring in four different disciplines – chemistry, mathematics, electrical engineering, and German. She wants to conduct research in the field of nanotechnology, most likely in the national defense arena. Those four majors are going to help her get there.

Viola’s exemplary academic and research success has earned her a $7,500 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in math, the natural sciences, and engineering.

Carbon nanotubes are long thin cylinders that have unique physical properties that make them potentially useful in minute structures and technologies. Using scanning electron microscopes and other instruments not typically used by undergraduates, she is investigating the efficiency of carbon nanotubes in optical devices like switches, motors and sensors.

NSF Undergraduate Research Grant

Instead of working eight weeks at the pro shop at the Newport County Club this summer, Bridget Druken will be spending that time with math pros at San Diego State University.

Supported by a $3,000 National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research grant, the Newport resident will take part in a program designed to give its participants a clear understanding of the world of mathematical research through firsthand experience. She will be in a five-person team composed of undergraduates from other colleges and universities and high school teachers. The team will be led by a graduate student and advised by a professor. The research group will focus on phages, viruses that predate bacteria. “Mathematical modeling of diseases seems like an ever-growing field of study to which I can apply my math skills,” says Druken.

Her bio-mathematical interest may be inherited. Her father, Patrick, is a tax preparer and good with numbers. Her mother, Valerie, is a nurse.