November 25, 2014  

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Southern Miss Students, Alums Earn Prestigious NSF Fellowships

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Brooks Abel of McComb, Miss., left and Nicolas Treat of Hattiesburg are shown here conducting preliminary research focusing on polymer nanocarriers for cancer therapeutics in the laboratory of Dr. Charles McCormick at The University of Southern Mississippi. The two will continue their education with the support of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (Submitted photo)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has chosen five current and former University of Southern Mississippi students in its effort to prepare the next generation of top science educators and researchers.

Nicolas Treat of Hattiesburg, who graduated in May with a degree in polymer science; Brooks Abel of McComb, Miss., a graduate student in polymer science; and Jennifer Lamb of Brandon, Miss., a biological sciences graduate student are recipients of a 2011 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). The program’s goal is to ensure the vitality of the nation’s human resource base of science and engineering expertise and reinforce its diversity by supporting those pursuing graduate degrees in these fields.

Southern Miss alums who also received a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship this year include Laura Beth Moore, a graduate student in cell biology at Yale University; and Michael Ides, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Kentucky. Both were Honors College students at Southern Miss. Mary Mackey of Crystal Springs, Miss., a doctoral student in chemisty at Southern Miss, received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2008.

Fellowship recipients receive three years of support that includes a $30,000 annual stipend; $10,500 cost-of-education allowance; international research and professional development opportunities; and TeraGrid Supercomputer access.

Lamb was a Luckyday Scholar who also earned a prestigious Udall Scholarship as an undergraduate. She works in the laboratory of Southern Miss biological sciences professor Dr. Carl Qualls, where her research work involves amphibian conservation and ecology and continues her research with him as a doctoral student in biological sciences.

“The NSF fellowship promises an excellent future in many ways, including the opportunity for me to continue studying at USM as a doctoral student in biological sciences,” Lamb said. “We have multiple experts in a medley of fields in the department, who not only produce outstanding work but take a genuine interest in the future of their students.”

She is co-author on a publication based on the research she has done with Qualls and is the lead author on a paper that is currently under review based on an independent project she is conducting. In addition to her research, Lamb is also engaged in outreach education with local elementary and high school students, including through volunteer work in the university’s Biological Learning Center.

Qualls describes Lamb as “highly motivated” and said because of her abilities, knowledge and motivation she gained more research experiences as an undergraduate than many graduate students acquire working on a master’s degree.

“I could not be more proud of Jenny,” Qualls said. “It’s a pleasure to have such a bright, dedicated and capable student to work with.”

Treat said the award makes recipients even more attractive as graduate research assistants at the university they attend, not only because of the prestige of the award but also because the NSF award frees up the university’s stipend obligation.

“I’m really honored and excited to receive this, it’s going to have a really positive impact on my future” said Treat, who will enroll in the doctoral program in polymer science at the University of California-Santa Barbara. “USM has definitely prepared me for this next step.”

Treat and Abel have both worked in the research laboratory of Dr. Charles McCormick, professor of polymer science at Southern Miss, where they’ve conducted preliminary research on polymer nanocarriers for cancer therapeutics.

Abel was the recipient of a Southern Society for Coatings Technology scholarship as an undergraduate. In addition to working in McCormick’s lab, he has also been active in outreach promoting science education to students in local elementary and secondary schools, and continues with that effort as a graduate student at Southern Miss.

“My experiences at Southern Miss have challenged me to pursue excellence in both the classroom and the laboratory, while also understanding the importance of exposing future generations to the realms of science,” Brooks said.

Treat, who received a Goldwater Scholarship in 2010, will spend this summer working as a volunteer with Harvesters Reaching the Nation orphanage in Sudan. He has also volunteered with Mother Teresa’s orphanage in India and has served as a teaching missionary in China.

McCormick described Brooks and Treat as “exemplary students” worthy of the NSF honor because of their devotion to their coursework and research. “It’s highly unusual for two students from the same school and department to receive this NSF award,” he said. “They are richly deserving of being recognized among America’s best, and we will proudly watch their professional progress.” 

Current Southern Miss students interested in learning more about scholarships, fellowships and other types of support for their education should contact Southern Miss National Scholarship Office Robyn Curtis at 601.266.4263 or e-mail robyn.curtis@usm.edu