URI undergraduates awarded some of the most prestigious national scholarships

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 15, 2011 – For more than a decade, University of Rhode Island students have been increasingly successful at winning some of the most prestigious scholarships available to undergraduates studying in the United States, and 2011 is no different.

URI students are among this year’s winners of the Goldwater Scholarship for those pursuing careers in math, science or engineering; the Udall Scholarship, awarded to those committed to careers related to the environment or tribal policy; and the NOAA Hollings Scholarship for the study of oceanic and atmospheric science. In addition, one student was a finalist for the Truman Scholarship for those entering public service, and two students are recipients of the Michael P. Metcalf Award, which helps Rhode Island residents travel abroad to study.

“The sustained success of URI students in earning these highly competitive scholarships is evidence that the opportunities the University offers to its top students are comparable to those found at the most elite private institutions,” said Kathleen Maher, URI Honors Program assistant director for national fellowships. “The Honors Program is proud to encourage and support these students in their pursuit of excellence. They are all deserving of this recognition.”

Here are details about this year’s winners:

Goldwater Scholarship

Eily Cournoyer of Portsmouth, a sophomore in the Honors Program, is studying chemical engineering and biological sciences with the aim of enrolling in medical school after graduation and ultimately conducting medical research on drug delivery mechanisms. She has already taken a step in that direction by conducting bio-nanotechnology research with Professor Geoff Bothun on the interactions between fullerenes – spherical molecules made up entirely of carbon — and model cell membranes.

“Considering the number of students around the country who applied to be a Goldwater Scholar, I was shocked that I won,” said Cournoyer, who plays and teaches piano and tutors students on differential equations. “I am honored to receive such a prestigious scholarship.”

The scholarship is not her first academic recognition at URI. She also received the University College Scholar Award last year as one of the top 10 students in the freshman class at URI. Cournoyer is the 15th URI student to receive a Goldwater Scholarship in the last 10 years.

Udall Scholarship

Honors student Theresa Murphy, a junior from Trumbull, Conn., studying marine affairs and environmental science, was motivated to apply for the Udall Scholarship after learning about the award’s namesake, Morris Udall.

“He sounded like a very inspirational man, and I really loved that the scholarship included a conference where you get to meet with other scholars and share your ideas about the environment,” she said. “The scholarship is about inspiring future leaders, and getting the award has inspired me to continue pursuing my desire to lead us into a more sustainable future.”

Murphy is an active member of the URI student group, Student Action for Sustainability, and has attended national conferences for students interested in learning about clean energy options. She spent the fall semester studying in New Zealand, and looks forward to a career working as a scientist and an advocate for the conservation and restoration of critical ecosystems.

Like Cournoyer, Murphy was named a University College Scholar following her freshman year. She is the seventh Udall Scholar from URI since 2001.

NOAA Hollings Scholarship

Sophomore Russell Dauksis of North Kingstown, a marine biology major, will not only receive $8,000 toward his education expenses each of the next two years, but his Hollings Scholarship also provides him with an internship at one of the research laboratories operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Calling the scholarship his “greatest academic achievement by far,” Dauksis said he hopes to intern at one of the NOAA fisheries labs so he can help fish populations recover from overfishing.

Dauksis is already doing some exciting research. This year he is assisting Lecturer Brad Wetherbee in analyzing satellite tag data of tiger sharks, and this summer he will travel to the British Virgin Islands with Professor Graham Forrester to restore endangered corals.

A certified scuba diver, he plans to enroll in graduate school following his URI studies and eventually hopes to become a college professor or a researcher at an agency like NOAA or the Environmental Protection Agency. He is the seventh URI student to win a Hollings Scholarship in the last three years.

Metcalf Award

Junior Jason Bowman of North Kingstown and sophomore Emma Kilbane of Lincoln will use their awards to travel overseas to broaden their perspective and enhance their personal growth.

Bowman, an Honors Program student with majors in applied math and biology, was admitted as a sophomore to the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and will travel to Ecuador this summer to study medical Spanish and volunteer in a rural health clinic through the non-profit group Child Family Health International.

“The program will involve medical rotations through various hospitals and clinics in the capital city of Quito and the rural town of Chone,” he said. “My hope is that living and working in a Spanish-only environment, as well as intensive language classes while there, will help me become more proficient in the language and culture.”

He is a volunteer emergency medical technician at URI and a pre-health peer mentor who was also accepted to Phi Beta Kappa this year.

Kilbane, an Honors Program student majoring in philosophy, will use her Metcalf Award funds to travel to South Africa this summer to volunteer in a primary school that she describes as “painfully overcrowded and understaffed, a combination that does not make for an efficient education system. I will be working with students one-on-one or in small group sessions, teaching basic numeracy and literacy skills that are essential for both academic and daily success,” she said.

This trip won’t be her first foray into volunteering in needy schools. Last year she participated in JumpStart, an AmeriCorps program that promotes early childhood literacy in local underperforming and at-risk preschools. That experience inspired her to learn about the education process in another part of the world.

While she is uncertain about her future plans, Kilbane, a University College Scholar, said that she knows “the general direction I am heading – one where I can make a difference and better the lives of those less fortunate than myself.”

That appears to be true of all of URI’s 2011 national scholarship recipients.