Winning Prestigious Scholarships: A URI Tradition

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“The Honors Program, home of the Office of National Scholarships, is proud to encourage and support students in their pursuit of excellence and to help them win the recognition they deserve,” said Walter von Reinhard, associate director.

Megan Anne O’Brien

Megan Anne O’Brien

Elana Viola

Elana Viola

Sarah Decato

Sarah Decato

Joanna Panosky

Joanna Panosky

Kristin Almeida

Kristin Almeida

This year, three URI students (out of 278 nationally) were awarded Goldwater Scholarships, which provide up to $7,500 per year for students studying mathematics, science, and engineering: Megan Anne O’Brien, a marine biology major from Whitefish Bay, Wisc., became interested in the environment while living on the edge of Lake Michigan (see feature story). Elana Viola of Cranston has the distinction of being awarded two Goldwater Scholarships as an undergraduate. After graduation, the electrical engineering, chemistry, and math major hopes to employ her unique combination of studies to secure the safety of this country by helping to create nanoscale devices to detect chemical, biological, and nuclear materials entering the country. Sarah Decato, a chemistry major from Gardner, Mass., saw how a brain injury could severely impact a life when her older brother slipped into a coma following a car accident: “If we knew more about the brain, we could create better treatments for brain injury, injured soldiers, or anyone with a handicap or any type of brain scar,” says Decato, who researches the synthesis of target-specific, functional near-infrared fluorescent probes. Similar in nature to MRI scans, these probes can target specific brain tissues responsible for neurological disorders.

Joanna Panosky was one of only 80 students nationwide to win a prestigious Udall Scholarship. The geosciences major has worked closely with Paleontologist David Fastovsky to research new methods of reconstructing ancient food webs by looking at fossilized amino acids. Eventually, she would like to combine her fieldwork with her passion to communicate the importance of environmental issues with larger audiences.

Kristin Almeida, M.L.S. ’09, packed her bags this fall for Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean off Southern Africa where she will spend 10 months thanks to a 2009-2010 Fulbright grant. With a population of 1.3 million, the island is slightly larger than Rhode Island. Almeida plans to catalog and create a bibliography of children‘s books, analyze their content—text and images—and compare their representations of multiculturalism to American children’s books.“ American children’s literature is predominantly Eurocentric and other cultures are seldom highlighted,” says the scholar. “I discovered there were only 12 Mauritian children’s book in U.S. libraries and they mostly focus on the dodo, a flightless bird indigenous to Maurtitius that became extinct in the mid-to-late 17th century.”

Photos by Nora Lewis.