The week of March 17 might have been one of the best weeks of Kirsten Browns life. The Mercer University sophomore was on a bus ride to the NCAA mens basketball tournament when she received the news.
Surrounded by fellow Bears fans in a bus full of orange, Brown officially became a recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship -- a prestigious award earned by a handful of students across the nation.
Brown spent the first two days of her winter break sitting in her bedroom, writing letters and filling out an extensive application for the scholarship. Since then, she had been waiting for word.
My first thought was, No way, she said. I was so happy. I was ecstatic.
Brown, of Tallahassee, Fla., is the third Mercer student to win the scholarship, which was awarded to 283 of the 1,666 students who applied for it this year. She is the second Mercer student in two years to earn the scholarship. Another Mercer student, Jennifer Nguyen, of Griffin, received an honorable mention for the Goldwater Scholarship this year.
It is not only a prestigious award for Kirsten, but its a big deal for the school, said Garland Crawford, assistant professor of chemistry at Mercer. We can do research here.
Part of the Goldwater application process is a scientific proposal for a research project. At Mercer, students such as Brown dive into advanced research as early as their freshman year.
Brown spent last summer performing research at Mercer, and she plans to conduct research with Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee this summer. She performs research during the school year, but her research time is limited. In addition to her research and classes, Brown works three jobs. The Goldwater Scholarship, which covers college costs up to $7,500 a year, will make a difference, she said.
This means a lot, she said. Im having to take out loans.
But the scholarship is more than a funding opportunity. It means national recognition for Brown and the university, Crawford said.
This is something that carries universal acknowledgment, he said. Its an outside stamp that says there is quality work being done here. And its great for her down the road.
The scholarship will benefit Brown when she pursues graduate degrees, Crawford said.
Brown plans to continue her education after graduating from Mercer, where she is majoring in chemistry and computational science. She plans to eventually make a career out of research. In fact, it was her experience in research that helped Brown land the Goldwater Scholarship. Brown is researching a particular human protein and testing its reactions by using a unique computer method.
If Browns research succeeds, it could potentially make a difference in treating diseases such as Alzheimers disease and diabetes. That is one reason Brown was drawn to the field of medical research. At first, she considered a career as a doctor but decided it would be too hard to lose a patient.
So the Mercer sophomore, with the help of the Goldwater Scholarship, is pursuing her dream to help people with her science knowledge.
I really, really like helping people in any way I can, she said.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 744-4331.