University of South Alabama, Office of Public Relations
May 3, 2011
Contact: Jennifer Z. Ekman, USA Public Relations, (251) 460-6360

USA Students Win National Science Foundation Graduate
Research Fellowships

Chemistry Students Receive Prestigious Awards for Graduate Study
Kaila Mattson  
Kaila Mattson

A University of South Alabama senior student and a USA alumnus have received the prestigious, competitive 2011 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

Kaila Mattson, a senior chemistry major, and Andrew Harris, a 2010 chemistry graduate now in graduate school at Vanderbilt University, were selected for the award, which will give each of them $121,500 for their graduate studies.

Both students are members of the University Honors program and have been conducting research since they were freshman.

More than 12,000 students applied for the competitive fellowships, which were awarded to only 2,000 students nationwide. Senior undergraduate students competed with first- and second-year graduate students for the awards.

USA College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dr. Andrzej Wierzbicki said, “In the College of Arts and Sciences, we are very proud of Andrew and Kaila and their accomplishments. They were able to secure these extremely prestigious and nationally competitive scholarship awards from the National Science Foundation, based on the merits of their outstanding applications. Their personal achievements also speak very favorably about the quality of academic preparation in the department of their major, the Department of Chemistry, and in the College of Arts and Sciences at USA.”

The award recognizes Mattson and Harris’ outstanding abilities and their accomplishments, as well as their potential to strengthen the vitality of U.S. science and engineering, according to USA Department of Chemistry Chair Dr. David Forbes.

“The Department of Chemistry congratulates both Andrew Harris and Kaila Mattson for being selected to receive 2011 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships through the Graduate Research Fellowship Program,” Forbes said. “Simply stated, this is an amazing achievement which recognizes the accomplishments of our majors bringing unprecedented visibility to our University, Honors Program, College, and Department.”

During their undergraduate careers, Mattson worked under the guidance of Dr. James Davis and Harris under Dr. Norris Hoffman. 

“It has been a real pleasure having Kaila as a part of my research group over the past four years,” said Dr. James Davis, Jr., professor of chemistry and biomolecular engineering. “She has been remarkably productive. Better yet, she has been a rare undergraduate researcher in that she has formulated original research ideas of her own which have fed into our research program.  That she aspires to someday teach chemistry and do research at the university level just adds to the excitement for me.”

Dr. Bob Coleman, assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences and director of the USA Honors Program, said, “Kaila Mattson has been absolutely outstanding in the USA Honors Program. She has been a leader in terms of her academic success--particularly, her drive to do meaningful, hands-on chemistry research. She has also demonstrated significant leadership through her active participation in Honors activities. She is the ideal Honors Program student because of her academic curiosity--she wants to learn as much as possible--and towards that end she is willing to take intellectual risks which enable her to dig deeper into chemistry and other subjects rather than playing it safe by sticking to her comfort zone. Indeed, if she was going to play it safe, she could have stayed in Wisconsin for college, but she took the risk to come to USA, and she will tell you that she is better off for coming to South.”

Mattson, a native of Hartland, Wis., came to USA through the America’s Junior Miss Scholarship, given to outstanding high school seniors who participate in the national scholarship program based in Mobile. Mattson was Wisconsin’s 2007 Junior Miss. She decided to attend USA after a campus tour during the national finals of the program that summer.

“I have had an absolutely amazing experience here,” she said. “It boggles my mind how quickly it’s gone. It’s going to be sad to leave all the wonderful people I’ve met here.”

Mattson graduates from USA May 14 with a degree in chemistry accredited by the American Chemical Society and a minor in business.  She plans to pursue her Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of California Santa Barbara this fall. Her future plans include becoming a chemistry professor at the university level. She said her experience at USA, particularly the research opportunities and faculty input, has been invaluable.

“You will not find a more dedicated, hardworking and personal department anywhere,” she said. “It is so rare as an undergraduate to have the opportunities to conduct research and co-author publications. I’ve benefitted tremendously from professors who are willing to go the extra mile to help their students.”

In 2010, Mattson won the prestigious, highly competitive Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, science, engineering and computer science. She was one of 278 students in the United States selected to receive money to cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

Her research efforts took her to Germany in summer 2010 for a 10-week research program in two different laboratories, and she will present some of her research findings at an international conference in Washington D.C. later this summer.

Mattson has also been awarded a Mortar Board National Foundation Fellowship. She was one of 10 chosen from a national pool of exceptional students. Members of Mortar Board National Senior Honor Society are chosen for exceptional scholarship, leadership, and service.  She has been active in USA's Azalea Chapter of the Mortar Board Society for the last two years. 

Dr. Sally Steadman, a faculty advisor to the Mortar Board Society, said, “Kaila is truly an exceptional student who is going to do great things in her career. She was a standout among over 100 applicants for the Mortar Board Fellowship. She has added sparkle to the Azalea Chapter at South and has been a consistent contributor to the chapter."

This year, the Mortar Board National Foundation awarded over $40,000 in fellowships to 10 exceptional Mortar Board members. Fellowship recipients are chosen based on academic excellence, recommendation, promise, financial need and Mortar Board involvement. Since the establishment of the Mortar Board fellowship program in 1941, more than $600,000 has been awarded to assist members in pursuing further study in graduate or professional school.

Mortar Board is the premier national honor society recognizing college seniors for outstanding achievement in scholarship, leadership and service. Since its founding in 1918, the organization has grown from the four founding chapters to 228 chartered collegiate chapters with nearly a quarter of a million initiated members across the nation.


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