Willamette University Graduates Win National Science Foundation Awards

Three Willamette University chemistry graduates have been honored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Brandon B. Smith, a 2004 graduate from John Day, Ore., and Benjamin J.D. Wright, a 2003 graduate from Allentown, Penn., have both been awarded prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Ashley Smith, a 2004 graduate from Portland, Ore., has received an NSF honorable mention.

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship program supports outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees. NSF Fellows are expected to become experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching and innovations in science and engineering.

Competition for the NSF Fellowships is stiff. To be considered, applicants must submit transcripts, test scores, three recommendations and four different essays which discuss, among other things, their research plans, research background and their goals for the future.

Brandon SmithBrandon B. Smith is a 1997 co-valedictorian of Grant Union High School and the son of Brad and Sonna Smith and grandson of LeRoy and Jean Smith and George and Susan Sintay of the John Day area. He is currently a first-year Ph.D. candidate in physical chemistry at Dartmouth College.

Smith credits winning the national award to the research experience he gained as an undergraduate at Willamette University. In 2003, Smith was one of two students at Willamette University to be named a Presidential Scholar, an honor that comes with a cash award that enables students to pursue a substantial research project during their senior year. At Willamette, Smith used advanced equipment like Laser Raman spectroscopy and studied the ways liquids interact on the molecular level to understand why certain liquids separate into layers. "I used every opportunity I could to present my research while I was at Willamette and it really improved my research experience."

Benjamin WrightBenjamin J. D. Wright is a 1999 graduate of McNary High School and the son of Benjamin L. Wright and Leslie Wright (stepmother) of Salem, Ore., and Jan C. Diehl of Allentown, Penn. He is currently a second-year Ph.D. candidate in a five-year chemistry program at Columbia University.

Wright also believes his liberal arts experience at Willamette University was key to his NSF success. "I think my NSF application was picked because of my well-rounded background. At Willamette University, I was involved with a lot of different programs, including the Sigma Chi fraternity and the Willamette swim team. Those experiences, coupled with my passion for chemistry, gave me the edge I needed to come out on top."

Ashley SmithAshley Smith is a 2000 honors graduate of Lincoln High School and the daughter of Jan and Brewster Smith of Portland, Ore. Her NSF Graduate Research Fellowship application has been recognized with an honorable mention. She is currently a first-year Ph.D. candidate in chemistry at Yale University.

Winning an honorable mention is a thrill for Smith. "The NSF applicants are all spectacularly smart and talented and the competition if fierce. It's an honor to be recognized in any capacity by this fellowship committee. I'm happy about getting the honorable mention. It's something I can put on my CV."

Brandon Smith, Wright and Ashley Smith all hope to eventually teach chemistry in a university setting.