Mercer student snags prestigious scholarship for research

Mercer students snags prestigious scholarship for research

jmink@macon.comApril 19, 2013 


Peach County high school grad Aaron Featherston, now a junior at Mercer University, works in a Willett science lab where he's hoping to develop new antibiotics. He recently won a Goldwater Scholarship that he says will help him continue his undergraduate, and graduate, level work.


Aaron Featherston is anything but a typical college student.

Like many of his classmates, he spends his days balancing work, classes and friends. The Mercer University junior works at a local restaurant, has two on-campus jobs and manages 16 hours of classes. He has been a member of Mercer’s wind ensemble.

But unlike many students, he also is conducting research that could lead to breakthroughs in antibiotics. Now, he will have more time for that research after snagging a prestigious scholarship that will allow him to concentrate on his studies. Featherston recently won the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a competitive, research-based fund for college juniors and seniors. Featherston was one of 271 students in the nation -- out of 1,107 nominations -- to win the scholarship, and he is the first Mercer University winner in the past decade.

“This will jump start his research career,” said Kevin Bucholtz, chairman of Mercer’s chemistry department. “People know you’re a Goldwater scholar.”

Featherston now has up to $7,500 in scholarship funding, money that will allow him to devote more time to his research, he said.

“I couldn’t believe it at first,” he said about winning the scholarship which was established by Congress in 1986 to honor the former U.S. Senator from Arizona and 1964 Republican presidential candidate. “It was a little bit of a shock for a while.”

Featherston spent four months working on his scholarship application. A professor suggested he apply and, with the help of his professors, Featherston developed research proposals and wrote several essays.

In fact, that one-on-one time with professors was one reason the Byron native decided to attend Mercer. As a child, Featherston was a trumpet player who enjoyed science. He knew what he wanted to do with his life after witnessing firsthand the affects of cancer on loved ones.

Now, he wants to develop better medicine for cancer patients.

“It has so many side effects,” he said about chemotherapy and other treatments. “And I want to be a part of things.”

He is working on a research project that could lead to a new class of antibiotics. He spends hours in a laboratory, wearing goggles and huddled around microscopes, test tubes and burners.

He is working with products from sea sponges, which might one day be used in developing new antibiotics. After he graduates, he plans to continue his studies and earn a doctorate in pharmacology.

“I’ve always been interested in how things work,” he said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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