Center for Biotechnology awards 37 National Science Foundation scholarships



Sarwan Dhir with students

Fort Valley State University’s plant science-biotechnology students spend the year working hard conducting hours of scientific research diligently studying to earn the best grades possible within their respective courses. Recently, FVSU’s Center for Biotechnology honored its “best and brightest” scholars during an end-of-the-year ceremony. Thirty-seven students received a National Science Foundation (NSF) scholarship worth $4,000 for the 2017-2018 school year.

Four years ago, NSF awarded $627,000 ($576,000 was earmarked for scholarships) to the center to provide need-based scholarships to students interested in plant science and biotechnology disciplines. The overall goal of the grant is to help students graduate within four years.

“The NSF S-STEM scholarship has allowed us to recruit, and retain some of the brightest students in the region,” Dhir said. “More importantly, with these funds we can offer greater access to higher education in the various scientific fields.”

Eligibility for the plant science/biotechnology scholarship requires students to be U.S. citizens, fully enrolled at the university, and declare a plant science/biotechnology concentration as their major. Participants must have a 3.0 GPA, complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid and provide three references.

The program awards each scholar a $16,000 scholarship over a period of four years ($4,000 per year), provided that the student maintains good academic standing in a STEM-related major. The NSF scholarship offers the possibility of funding all financial responsibilities associated with matriculation at FVSU by providing paid internship opportunities, coupled with FVSU’s co-op program and Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship Program. Scholarship recipients will have extensive access to a full range of university-diversity programs and services along with specific faculty mentoring.

Beaty and peers

(From L-R) FVSU alumnus Brandon Beaty, ’17, sophomore Tasmin Mohammad, plant science-biotechnology sophomore, and Ankush Sangra, a biotechnology graduate, review data.

Dr. Govind Kannan, dean of FVSU’s College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology, said, “Scholarship programs such as the one funded by NSF have created a tremendous positive impact in student recruitment, retention and graduation rates in the College of Ag, particularly in the plant science major with biotechnology concentration.”

“I commend Dr. Dhir for his sustained efforts in securing external grants from various funding agencies over the years and in producing stellar graduates who are currently pursuing advanced degrees or careers in the STEM field,” Kannan said.

Trahmad Wiggins, a 21-year-old junior, from Cuthbert, GA., credits the scholarship for helping him achieve his dream of obtaining a college education.

“At first, I didn’t know much about the degree offered by Dr. Dhir,” Wiggins said. He initially wanted to pursue a different path. “I learned about the better opportunities available within the plant science-biotechnology program, and I liked it,” Wiggins stated.

In addition to his scientific research and scholastic studies, Wiggins is a defensive cornerback for the FVSU Wildcats football team. He contributes mentoring that he has received within the plant science-biotechnology program for inspiring him to always do his best on and off the field.

“It [the biotechnology program] gave me something else to do, in addition to playing sports,” he said. “The program motivated me to excel in every way. I didn’t want to just take the easy classes, I wanted a challenge.”

According to 23-year-old junior, Mya Gadson, who is a native to Fort Valley, GA, entering the plant science-biotechnology program and receiving the scholarship was a confidence booster.

“I completed my associate’s degree from Gordon College, and then transferred to FVSU after my professor told me about this program. I feel like I can accomplish anything.” Summer plans for Gadson involve a three-week summer internship program at The Universidad Nacional de Agricultura in Honduras.

Brandon Beaty, a May 2017 plant science-biotechnology graduate, received the NSF scholarship throughout his undergraduate career. “The program not only provided me with a scholarship, but also gave me a rare opportunity to travel to renowned scientific conferences across the world,” Beaty stated.

After conducting research at FVSU and completing a summer internship at University of Florida, Beaty traveled to Dubai and the Philippines to present research findings and to establish international collaborations between various institutions.

“Being able to attend conferences in STEM has been very instrumental in my decision to continue my education, and ultimately obtain a Ph.D,” Beaty continued. “To hear other professional scientists speak about the obstacles they faced, and how they overcame their challenges, has given me the motivation to keep pressing forward throughout difficult times, and to not let life’s trials keep me from reaching my full potential as a scientist,” Beaty said.

Beaty recently enrolled in FVSU’s graduate biotechnology program, with plans to begin fall 2017.

“We’re honored to have these excellent students with diverse backgrounds choose our program, and we are hopeful that the FVSU plant science-biotechnology program will serve as a model for other STEM programs across the country to provide equitable access to education,” Dhir said.

NSF funding allows STEM-scholars the opportunity to conduct independent research at various NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU)-sites. As a result, during the 2016-17 year, students made 72 presentations at various scientific conferences, with 22 students winning major awards. Seven STEM-scholars received the Student National Role Model Award Minority Access Incorporated’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Students participated in enrichment activities within the community, which included: judging science projects at the Houston County Regional Science Fair, assisting with K-12 science teacher workshops in biotechnology, as well as attending GRE preparation workshops.

For details about the plant science-biotechnology program, contact Dr. Sarwan Dhir, director of FVSU’s Center for Biotechnology, (478) 822-1057.

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