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Chancellor's Science Scholars receive national awards for fifth consecutive year


(From left to right) senior Keshav Patel, sophomore Bolatito Babatunde and junior Darius Johnson, three of the five Chancellor’s Science Scholars who won at the three STEM conferences held over the past two months. (Photo courtesy of Richard Watkins) 

Science programs at UNC have a history of awards and recognition, and this year proves no exception.

Five of UNC’s Chancellor’s Science Scholars recently won awards at three different science conferences held in Indianapolis, In., Burlingame, Ca. and San Antonio, Tx. All three conferences work to aid in the diversity of science fields through the presentation of research in a national setting.

Three of the five scholars received awards at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, a conference which hosts diverse college students conducting STEM-related research every year. This year, over 2,000 students from 350 colleges and universities presented their research during this conference. The other scholars participated in conferences held by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science and the Sigma Xi Honor Society Student Research Showcase.

“Multiple disciplines across the nation, including Puerto Rico — which I thought was pretty amazing — came together to either do oral presentations or poster presentations. They also had a bunch of grad school students and seniors from med school there to talk to us about potential MD and Ph.D. programs,” said ABRCMS award winner and UNC junior Darius Johnson.

The conferences included the creation of student projects related to scientific research, as well as the presentation of said projects to judges. Along with the projects, students were able to attend lectures and interact with professionals.

“We got to hear from the first Hispanic woman in space,” said SACNAS award winner and UNC senior Kristen Gardner. “They bring all these diverse perspectives together to talk about really cool science and talk about our identities in STEM and why those are important.”

The students were able to communicate with graduate program representatives from schools all around the country which gave them the opportunity to see which ones best fit their interests. Chancellor’s Science Scholars staff assisted the students by providing them with questions to ask the representatives and tips for choosing the right programs.

“It helped by just having someone who has been to the conference before helping us figure out a lot of what goes into making a good presentation, what goes into being able to network with a lot of graduate programs, and what to do at the airport,” said ABRCMS award winner and UNC senior Keshav Patel.

Chancellor’s Science Scholars Program Coordinator Richard Watkins said the program wanted to ensure all students had the opportunity to attend the conference regardless of funds. This inspired them to cover the cost of the trip for those who did not receive travel scholarships from their conference programs. 

Along with covering costs, the scholarship program assisted students with anything they needed for the conference itself. Watkins said student science research is extremely important for UNC and for the broader world, as well.

“All of our students, they put in so much work to present their work because they know that communication of that research is just as important as conducting that research,” Watkins said. “Especially when many of their research has to do with things like coming closer to finding the cure for cancer or understanding chemical composition so they can create better products.”

The three students won best oral presentation and best poster presentation awards in their respective categories for the ABRCMS conference were Johnson, sophomore Bolatito Babatunde and Patel. Gardner won best poster presentation in her category at the SACNAS conference, and sophomore Kate Richardson won best poster presentation in her category at the Sigma Xi conference.

“Our program is really designed to produce the best scientists in the world. We do things unlike any other science program, and we recruit specifically the best scientists out of high school,” Watkins said. “So the next step is continuing to produce world-class talent, recruiting world-class talent, and really going on to create an impact in the world.”


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