Oct. 11, 2013

Rawlings lauds undergraduate research scholars

Hunter Rawlings
Jesse Winter
President Emeritus Hunter Rawlings speaks with alumni and students in the Hunter R. Rawlings III Cornell Research Scholars Program Oct. 7 in New York.

Cornell President Emeritus Hunter Rawlings applauded the work of current and former undergraduate research scholars at the first event for alumni of the Hunter R. Rawlings III Cornell Presidential Research Scholars (RCPRS) program at the Cornell Club in New York Oct. 7.

Each year, RCPRS admits 50 students interested in pursuing research early in their undergraduate careers. The program offers each student an $8,000, four-year research grant, and aid-eligible students receive a scholarship of up to $4,000 per year. RCPRS students also receive guidance and support throughout their research, including a freshman colloquium and summer research opportunities.

“They really are empowered to be serious researchers,” Rawlings told 35 alumni gathered for the occasion.

The program, created in 1996, was renamed in Rawlings’ honor in 2006 because of his commitment to increasing significant interaction between undergraduate students and top faculty members. This was his first opportunity to reconnect with current students and RCPRS alumni since he left Cornell two years ago to become president of the Association of American Universities.

“Our hope for all of our students is that they’re going to find research they are passionate about, a mentor with whom they click, and they have a sense of purpose in what they do,” said Kristin Ramsay ’88, program coordinator of RCPRS and associate director of The Cornell Commitment, which administers RCPRS, The Cornell Tradition and the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars programs.

For Mallory Stellato ’15, a student in the College of Human Ecology, the program was one of the reasons she chose to enroll at Cornell.

“I thought, ‘How could I pass this up?” she said.

Stellato, whose research took her to the Mysore, India, this summer, called her experience as a Rawlings scholar “incredible.” “It really pushes you. It pushes you to explore and explore deeply. Not just to go through an undergraduate career, but to delve into something that really interests you,” she said.

For Alyson Favilla ’16, a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences student majoring in environmental science and sustainability, the program offered the flexibility to define her own course of study: She is fusing her interest in the natural world with a passion for James Joyce. To explore the space between these two disciplines, Favilla works with two advisers: Jim Tantillo, Ph.D. ’02, a lecturer in the Department of Natural Resources, and Kevin Attell, assistant professor of English.

“I really thought I was going to be in the [science, technology, engineering, math] fields. I was going to stick in animal behavior. I think I would have enjoyed doing that, but now I don’t have to compromise,” she said.

Rawlings scholars Dennis Chua ’14 and Spenser Reed ’14, who are pursuing research in the life sciences, joined Stellato and Favilla at the event.

Chua, a chemical engineering student, is working in the lab of Jan Lammerding, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, investigating mechanical damage in cells affected by muscular dystrophy.

Reed, a nutritional sciences major, is working with Elad Tako at the Cornell office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service on research to eradicate global micronutrient deficiency by improving dietary and physiological factors, as well as explaining novel biochemical markers of mineral status in humans. In addition to being a Rawlings scholar, Reed is a National Science Foundation scholar.

For those in attendance, the four students left quite an impression. “As one who is an administrator, not a scholar, it is always … inspiring to hear from them,” said Susan Murphy ’73, Ph.D. ’94, vice president for student and academic services.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to hear from President Rawlings and the current students, as well as a chance for our alumni to connect with each other and possibly foster collaborations,” Ramsay said.

Claire Lambrecht ’06 is a freelance journalist based in New York City.