Graduates Hold Variety of Scholarships, Grants, Awards

May 13, 2011 — The University of Virginia's class of 2011 has received many honors, scholarships, research grants and awards, and includes a Rhodes Scholar, a Udall Scholar, four winners of Davis Prizes for Peace and four Goldwater Scholars.

• Laura Nelson, a political and social thought major in the College of Arts & Sciences, received a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University.

One of 32 students nationwide to win the scholarship, she is the 47th U.Va. student to receive a Rhodes since the program was created in 1902. The scholarships, valued at between $50,000 to $175,000, fully fund two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England, and may allow funding in some instances for four years. 

Nelson, 22, of Westwood, Mass., plans to study literature. She said there are many questions she wants to explore at Oxford, including "how to get people excited about learning outside of the formal classroom structure."

She has already worked on this by being the driving force behind U.Va.'s "Flash Seminars," which gather students and faculty for a single-event discussion of an idea. The seminars, which are announced one to two weeks ahead of time, are taught by various professors and are open to students, faculty and community members.

"They can teach on any subject that excites them," Nelson said. "We want to get people to learn and discuss things. They fill up fast." 

The seminars are not for credit, but simply for the love of learning.

"She sees learning itself as a practical thing," said William Wilson, an associate professor of religious studies, from whom she took courses on religion in the modern state and Faulkner and the Bible. "She wants people to see the whole scholarship mission here as a practical thing."

Nelson is a Jefferson Scholar, a Robert Kent Gooch Scholar, an Echols Scholar and a Lawn resident. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Public Service Fellows, EngageUVA and she played on the varsity field hockey team as first-year student.

• Ethan Heil, a civil and environmental engineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, received a 2010 Udall Scholarship.

The scholarship, given by the Morris K. Udall Foundation in honor of the late Arizona congressman, provides up to $5,000 for one year of study in the environment, health care or tribal public policy; leadership potential; and academic achievement.

Heil, 22, of Salem, has worked on several research projects, including implementing a sustainable water filtration system in rural South Africa, sustainable forestry in Mozambique and stormwater management and low-impact design with ecoMOD.

Heil received Intermediate Honors, earned second place in the Engineering School's Entrepreneurial Concept Competition, and won the Madison House 100-Hour Award for volunteer service. He is president of Engineering Students Without Borders and a member of ecoMOD, Bridging the Gap, the Rivanna Trails Program, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Virginia Alpine Ski and Snowboard Team, Chi Epsilon, Tau Beta Pi and Golden Key Honor Societies. He is also an engineering student adviser.

In addition, he is a recipient of a 2011 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, given to one man and one woman in the graduating class who exhibit excellence of character and dedication to humanitarian service.

Heil plans to pursue graduate study in sustainability or sustainable design.

• Razan Osman, of Herndon, a foreign affairs and African-American studies double major in the College, and Selam Asihel, of Fairfax, a foreign affairs and economics major in the College, received a 2010 Davis Projects for Peace award for their program to bring together Muslim and Coptic Christian female orphans through a micro-lending program to develop a fabric and ornament-making business selling to Egypt's eco-tourist market.

Asihel, an Eritrean born in Sudan, speaks Tigrinya and understands Arabic and is affiliated with the Coptic Orthodox Church in Eritrea. She has worked on community support programs with the International Refugee Committee in Charlottesville and has had extensive interaction with low-income refugees through the Sankofa Mentoring Program, which she led to help refugee students in Charlottesville. Asihel has participated in the Women's Leadership Program and was a resident adviser.

Osman was born in Sudan and spent time in Sudan and Egypt until she was 7 years old. She frequently travels to both countries to visit her family. She is a fluent speaker of Arabic and a practicing Sunni Muslim with an understanding of Muslim rituals, texts and traditions. Osman is co-administrator of Sankofa Mentoring program, a peer adviser for the Office of African American Affairs and a big sister in the Young Women's Leaders Program.

• Robin Kendall, 22, of Woodberry Forest, a global development studies and finance double major in the College and the McIntire School of Commerce, respectively; and Sarah Munford, 21, of Virginia Beach, a global development studies and foreign affairs double major in the College, were awarded a 2011 Davis Projects for Peace award for their program to create a business training curriculum in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Kendall and Munford proposed a curriculum to teach rudimentary business skills in shantytowns to impoverished Brazilian youth. The students will work with the Seeds of Hope orphanage, which opened a trade school in 2010 to teach gardening, carpentry, English and business skills to 40 young adults too old for the orphanage. Kendall and Munford's curriculum will offer basic English business vocabulary, computer training and career services. 

Munford has spent the past four spring breaks working at the orphanage. She has served as the vice president of international organization for Seeds of Hope's U.Va. chapter. She is a Jefferson Scholar, an Echols Scholar, a member of the Honor Committee, president of Building Tomorrow and an executive board member of Seeds of Hope Brazil. She has also received a Jefferson Public Citizens Grant for a research project with Heifer International in the Gulu District of northern Uganda and a Community-Based Research Grant for work in South Africa.

Kendall has had field experience working in Bluefields, Nicaragua, where she used a Harrison Undergraduate Research Award to study the impact of microcredit on the enterprises of women. She also received two Jefferson Public Citizen awards to study the feasibility of social businesses in Bluefields and to help launch a composting business there. She received a Community-Based Undergraduate Research Grant to assess, with a graduate nursing student, how prepared Bluefields health care workers were to work within the local culture. She is a past president of the Kiva: Microfinancial Action student organization, past co-moderator of the Presbyterian Student Fellowship at Westminster Presbyterian Church and a program director for tutoring at Madison House.

• Four Goldwater scholars are members of this year's graduating class: Stuart Charles Keech of Penfield, N.Y., an aerospace engineering major in the Engineering School; Matthew Taylor Aronson of Midlothian, a chemical engineering major in the Engineering School; Ruffin Eley Evans of Charlottesville, a physics and chemistry double major in the College; and Jeneva Anne Laib of Lorton, a biomedical engineering major in the Engineering School.

The four were among 278 students who received scholarships, given by the Goldwater Foundation to second- and third-year students who intend to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering. The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

Keech researched laser diagnostics of hypersonic combustion flows, seeking to optically reconstruct a contour map of water concentration inside of a hypersonic propulsion system called a SCRAMJET (Supersonic Combustion RAMJET).

A Rodman Scholar, he also belongs to the Golden Key International Honor Society, Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, Sigma Gamma Tau Aerospace Engineering Honor Society, as well as appearing on the dean's list and receiving Intermediate Honors. He is a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the U.Va. water polo club and the International Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta. He plans to attend graduate school for systems engineering with an aerospace emphasis.

Aronson researched novel solid acid catalysts for the extraction and transesterfication of algae oil to produce biodiesel. He is a member of the International Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta, Greek InterVarsity and Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, and coached youth soccer. He has received a Rodman Scholars sustainability grant and was a Lawn resident this year. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical engineering.

Evans researched the design and synthesis of luminescent nanoparticles that show oxygen sensitivity. These nanoparticles can be used under a variety of conditions, from aerodynamics research to imaging oxygen distributions in tumors. Evans is a GlaxoSmithKline Summer Fellow, has received a Harrison Undergraduate Research Award and an Echols Research Grant. He was a counselor in the University Judiciary Committee, the scholarship chair of the Echols Council and treasurer of the Society of Physics Students.

Laib researched the regulation of molecular motors involved in intracellular transport and cell motility. Problems with molecular motors may cause diabetes, memory problems, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and fatal impairments to embryos, among other diseases. She is a member of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority, U.Va.'s ski and snowboard team and is a past coach of a YMCA girls' lacrosse team. She is a member of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society and the Society of Women Engineers. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and teach at a research university.

• The graduating class also includes 39 winners of Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards (stories here and here), six recipients of Double 'Hoo Research Awards (stories here and here) and four recipients of Arts Awards grants.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications