MACON – Mercer University sophomore Kaydren Orcutt has earned one of the nation's most prestigious and competitive research scholarships for undergraduate students, the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, which was awarded to only 260 students for the 2015-2016 academic year. Orcutt is the University's fourth-ever Goldwater Scholarship winner, and its third in three years.
Orcutt received the scholarship based on academic merit from a field of 1,206 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. The one- and two-year scholarships, awarded to undergraduate sophomores and juniors, cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.
"Applicants undergo a rigorous application process and must write a detailed scientific proposal for an independent research project," said Dr. Adam Kiefer, associate professor of chemistry and the Goldwater Scholarship faculty representative at Mercer. "This award is not only a testament to Kaydren's hard work, intelligence and determination, but also recognizes her potential as a future researcher."
"I was thrilled," said Orcutt, who was studying for a physics test on Tuesday when she learned the news from Dr. Kathryn Kloepper. "It was an honor to be nominated by the University. The scholarship application process has been a great experience for me, and this award makes me even more excited to continue to research."
Orcutt, from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, is majoring in both chemistry and Spanish at Mercer and is a 2013 Stamps Scholar and participant in the University Honors Program. She works in the lab of Dr. Kloepper, assistant professor of chemistry, where she is one of several undergraduate researchers utilizing analytical chemistry to investigate better ways to clean up oil spills. Specifically, this research pertains to biosurfactants, which are naturally produced, soap-like molecules that enable water and oils to mix.
Orcutt's previous experimental contributions have helped identify a bacterial strain that has high biosurfactant production and efficacy. She will continue to probe this harmless bacteria's ability to function in diverse environmental conditions, which is a requirement for effective, widespread cleanup of oil spills. She also plans to separate and identify the individual biosurfactant compounds produced by the bacteria.
"Kaydren is an outstanding student who has really embraced her academic opportunities," said Dr. Kloepper. "She started performing undergraduate research with me her first year at Mercer, and she continued her work for 10 weeks in my lab last summer. Kaydren is exceptional in the laboratory, and she is excellent at organizing and interpreting experimental data. Her proposed experiments build upon her previous research experiences and, more importantly, represent a unique contribution to the field."
Orcutt plans to obtain a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry and then conduct bioanalytical research and teach at the university level. She was a recipient of the 2014 Best Analytical Poster Award at the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), as well as University awards for Outstanding General Chemistry Student 2013-2014 and Outstanding General Physics Student 2014-2015. She has also presented her research at the 2014 Herty Medalist Undergraduate Research Symposium at Morehouse College and 2014 Breakthroughs in Engagement, Arts and Research (BEAR) Day at Mercer.
Goldwater Scholars have very impressive academic qualifications that have garnered the attention of prestigious postgraduate fellowship programs. Recent Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 86 Rhodes Scholarships, 123 Marshall Awards, 123 Churchill Scholarships and numerous other distinguished fellowships, such as the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships.
The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law 99-661 on Nov. 14, 1986. The scholarship program, honoring Senator Barry Goldwater, was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields. Since its first award in 1989, the Foundation has bestowed 7,428 scholarships worth approximately 48 million dollars.