Merck Awards Shavonn Smith Competitive Scholarship

Shavonn Smith ’12
has been awarded the United Negro College Fund-Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship. This competitive award includes up to $25,000 toward Smith’s senior year at UC. It includes an internship at Merck, with stipends totaling $10,000.

Shavonn Smith, Merck Scholar

“This internship could provide me with the answer to what type of graduate studies I want to pursue,” says Smith, who has been a researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Beth Bailey (Biology) and participated in an internship at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. As a biology and media and communications double major, Smith works hard balancing the different- and difficult – subjects.

“My communications classes require a lot of reading and writing,” says Smith. “In Biology, learning how to read scientific papers was a challenge. I like that they’ve been incorporated into the curriculum in every bio course because it’s a normal part of the field. Because the biology program requires that we take courses that fit into specific areas of study (organismal, integrative, and molecular) it forces us to explore aspects of biology we would never have considered,” says Smith.

“Shavonn is a really strong student with diverse interests,” says Dr. Bailey. “She forced herself outside her comfort zone during her freshman year when she took Dr. Sidie’s Marine Biology Course that took her to Woods Hole Marine Biological Institute in Woods Hole. She has since been a TA for our biology labs and served as a Supplemental Instructor in BIO 101.”

During her summer internship Smith worked a lab where students learned about different neurodegenerative disorders. “We used video enhanced microscopy to monitor the effects of various treatments on the rate of anterograde and retrograde fast axonal transport using the squid Loligo pealei,” she says.” Actively participating in the experiments made me feel as though I was influencing research that could be used to one day help people who were sick. It was that intensive five week-long experience that solidified my interest in the medical applications of research.”

Though Dr. Bailey reassured her that she was confident she would get the scholarship, Smith was still surprised to learn she won. “I thought that the odds were low considering the number of people who apply,” says Smith. “The first person I thought to tell was my aunt, but I figured that she might be on her way home from work. Instead, I texted my boyfriend,” she says.

Bailey says Smith came to Ursinus thinking she wanted to be a veterinarian, but found that she liked research. “This scholarship will give her the opportunity to explore pharmaceutical research during the internship that accompanies her scholarship. Shavonn is taking her time trying to figure out which career path is best for her, and this scholarship will help her do that.”

Fifteen of these scholarships are awarded nationally to help African American undergraduate students majoring in science to further their education and pursue science careers. “All of us in the Biology Department are very proud of Shavonn,” says Professor Rebecca Roberts. “She exemplifies the personal strength, intelligence, and dedication required to be a successful scientist.”

To be considered for the award she had to submit a resume, an essay, and her transcript. Smith is a graduate of Central High School in Philadelphia. Past Ursinus students who have won this award include Derese Getnet 2004, who is completing his Ph.D. in immunology at Johns Hopkins University, and Monique Spencer 2005, who is pursuing her medical degree. KC