Posts Tagged ‘research’


With the assistance of a $3,000 Blavatnik Family Foundation/ThanksUSA Scholarship, Air National Guard dependent Alyssa Brown has taken the first steps towards becoming a pediatric pulmonologist. As she finishes up her freshman year at Southern Utah University, Alyssa takes some time to speak about her exciting freshman year and why she is so determined to be a doctor.


When she was just five years old, Alyssa witnessed her two-year old sister suffer a near-fatal asthma attack while flying from New York to Utah. “Our flight had to be redirected to New Jersey so that she could receive basic medical treatment that was not available on the flight. As we were flying back to Utah, her condition worsened and she stopped breathing four separate times. During this stressful and dangerous time for my sister, I realized that I have asthma as well, along with numerous other people I know, and that we could be in similar situations at any time. It was then that I decided that I wanted to cure asthma so that I would never face the risk of losing my sister, or my father to asthma-related reasons again,” she explains.

The Brown Family

Alyssa is seeking a pre-medicine specialized degree in chemistry and has added minors in biology and anthropology. She mentions, “Undergraduate research, especially projects that I execute on my own with the assistance of a mentor, is critical to my ability of getting into Graduate School in the future.” Diving right in, Alyssa completed a number of research projects this past year including a Biomedical Ethics Survey, ecological diversity of Coal Creek and Rush Lake, and even predatory detection of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. Working with the Dean of Chemistry, Alyssa has already established research projects for next year.

Often times, college serves as the transitional period from childhood to adult life as many students face those unanticipated “sink or swim” moments. Alyssa faced such a challenge when her residence hall was closed during her first midterms. She had to endure the added expense and time of moving while maintaining her grades. She quickly realized that in high-stress situations, she has the strength and resilience to carry on and succeed…invaluable traits of any physician.

Gaining such confidence in herself has inspired Alyssa to become very involved with her local community. She serves as a 4H mentor to sixth graders, works as a Student Teacher and America Reads Tutor, and is Treasurer of the Service Club at SUU. She is also President of the American Sign Language Club, and is a member of both the Anthropology Club and the Research team within the Michael Leavitt Center for Politics.

Alyssa visits beautiful Dubai

Alyssa’s dedication to her academics and community/campus involvement have not gone unnoticed. She was one of five women chosen to represent Utah at the Insight Dubai conference in Dubai, UAE. “It was life-changing,” says Alyssa. “I realized some of the preconceived notions and subconscious stereotypes that I carried and I was able to work on acknowledging and reversing those, while building meaningful and personal relationships with women across the globe. The most monumental thing that I have learned from the conference, I learned when I returned to Utah. It was shocking to hear others talk about my experience and their personal experience, often placing their own biases on the women and other individuals from the region, claiming that they were oppressed and forced to wear the abaya and were forced into their current cultural norms. It was shocking to examine because, having gone there, I realized that I had carried those personal biases, and having talked on a personal level with the women, I have realized how completely ignorant of their situation I was and how I can help to eliminate others’ ignorance by encouraging global relations and communication while spreading my own awareness and information,” she adds.

Having accomplished so much during her freshman year, Alyssa is certainly on her way to fulfilling her dream of becoming a pediatric pulmonologist. The ThanksUSA team wishes Alyssa continued academic success and we encourage her and all other college-bound military dependents and spouses to apply for the 2012-2013 ThanksUSA Scholarship. Applications are being accepted through May 15th and complete details can be found here. We conclude this week’s Scholarship News with a few words of thanks from Alyssa:

“I know that I can achieve anything if I attempt it wholeheartedly, and having the Blavatnik Family Foundation/ThanksUSA Scholarship has shown me that I am capable of more than I thought, and that I can be appreciative of my accomplishments because I am doing spectacular things at such a young age, and I can only imagine what the future holds.”


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Ryan Patterson is intrigued by the complexity of something that most of us take for granted…memory. With the assistance of a $3,000 Paladin Capital Group/ThanksUSA Scholarship, Ryan has begun his studies in Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience at John Hopkins University so that he may, one day, develop therapies or even a cure for diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Like most young college students, Ryan left the comfort of home to settle into his new academic community. As a military dependent, Ryan notes that the transition to college “felt just like another move.”Since his father, Colonel Chris Patterson, has served with the United States Air Force for nearly 25 years, Ryan is very comfortable accepting challenges and adapting to change.

“As a military child, my education was rather choppy because of constantly moving and switching schools. Also, it’s very challenging to have to pick-up and leave friends and make new ones on a regular basis. That said, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. These experiences have served me well while settling in at college,” says Ryan.

And settled in he has! Ryan has always had a deep passion for learning and his love of science led him to laboratory research. He explains, “In lab research, you are always on the forefront of scientific knowledge, constantly looking for, and discovering, things that no one else has ever seen before.” Ryan adds that his particular field “deals specifically with the individual neuron and the molecules it uses to communicate.”

during his research, Ryan captured this image of a neuron in the visual cortex of a mouse

Ryan expounds on his interest in memory research saying, “The exact details of where and how memory works are only just being understood. Somehow your brain can distinguish between all your memories even though they appear to be identical chemically and electrically. If we can understand these fine details of how memory works, we may be able to develop a cure for diseases like Alzheimer’s.”

As he enters the final semester of his freshman year, Ryan is applying for a study abroad at Oxford University. The challenging program only accepts a few students each year, but Ryan’s academic record speaks for itself and he is confident about his chances. “If I get accepted, I will spend a year at St. Anne’s College, a division of Oxford, studying Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biophysical Chemistry, Spectroscopy, and Statistics,” says Ryan.

Although Ryan is most notably a scientifically minded, detail oriented student, he does step away from the lab on occasion. Music has always been an enjoyable outlet for Ryan and he reports, “Music continues to be a way to relax and relive stress when all of my academic work catches up with me.” He plays the bass clarinet in the Homewood campus Wind Ensemble and continues to hone his solo piano skills. Ryan also remains devoted to his Catholic faith and serves as a Eucharistic minister, lector, and alter server at Saint Phillips and James Church.

ThanksUSA wishes nothing but the best for Ryan on his continued academic journey. Perhaps, during our lifetime, his research will lead to better treatment for, or the eradication of, devastating neurological diseases. We close this week’s blog with a note of gratitude from Ryan:

“The Paladin Capital Group/ThanksUSA Scholarship provided part of the financial support that I needed to attend Johns Hopkins. This has allowed me to realize my dream of studying and researching at a world-class medical facility and has set me on the way to becoming a doctor.”

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As the first in her family to earn an undergraduate degree, Melissa Spear has set high academic standards for herself. She plans to earn her BS in Biology from the University of Texas El Paso and then continue her education with graduate and doctorate studies. Melissa received a $3000 EADS/Senator Ted Stevens Memorial Scholarship through ThanksUSA for the 2011/2012 academic year and is eager to share her experiences and academic goals with ThanksUSA supporters.

The daughter of SFC William Spear, US Army (RET), Melissa’s military childhood helped to shape her into the confident, diligent young woman that she is today.

“My father was in the Army for 20 years before he retired. Because of his career, I’ve had the chance to live in Germany, New York, Georgia, and Texas. I was able to see many different parts of the world. At the age of 20, I can definitely say that I’ve been to many more places than my peers have been to. Life as a military child has taught me to be fortunate of my experiences. I may not have been the child who was able to grow up in her hometown, but I can definitely say that I’ve been able to experience different cultures from all over. I may not have been the girl who’s had the same friends since kindergarten, but I have met people from all over. I’ve been able to see what this country offers and it motivates me to make a difference. I’m very proud of being a military child and being able to say that my father spent a part of his life serving this country,” says Melissa.

Since she is most interested in medical research, Melissa spent her summer working in the lab of Patrick Phillips at the University of Oregon. “My project is focused on understanding how organisms react to a stressful environment. We know that stress tends to have a negative impact, but we’re interested in finding how it affects lifespan and how it affects genetics. In the future, this research could possibly help in delaying the onset of age related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. We’re not necessarily trying to find ways for people to live longer, but rather trying to find ways where they could live a much healthier life. Why live to be 90 years old when the last 15 years of life is spent having to fight Alzheimer’s? This project is important, because we’re hoping that we’ll be able to find that genes that control stress resistance and lifespan. I’ve been working with worms that have been living in a standard lab environment but are then selected for acute stress. I’ve been extracting RNA from these worms and having them sent off to be sequenced so we can look at their genetic lines.”

This invaluable experience has bolstered Melissa’s own research goals. She explains, “I’m most interested in understanding how cancer runs through continuous generations in a certain family. Why is one family always more at risk for a specific type of cancer? If your mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, why does that make her daughter more at risk for contracting it too? My ultimate goal is to be able to teach at a university and run my own lab.”

Though academic success is a priority for Melissa, she is also dedicated to the UTEP University Honors Council. Made up of UTEP honor students, the University Honors Council devotes many hours to the Reynolds House, a shelter for women and children. “We try to provide as much as we can for the kids by hosting fun events for them as well as providing many goods for their needs.” When she’s not studying or volunteering with the University Honors Council, the well-rounded Melissa enjoys baking and dancing.

The ThanksUSA team wishes everyone a very safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend. While you’re relaxing with friends and family, take a moment to reflect on the thousands of military families who have loved ones serving here at home and abroad. We leave this week’s feature with a special message from Melissa about receiving the EADS/Senator Ted Stevens/ThanksUSA Scholarship:

“Receiving the ThanksUSA Scholarship has motivated me to work harder for my goals. I’m striving to graduate from school debt free and every little bit of money helps. I want to become a scientific researcher, but that path comes with a price. I’ve seen people give up their dreams, because of the time and money it takes and I do not want to be one of them. I’m very grateful for every bit of help I get because it brings me one step closer to my goal.”

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Air Force dependent Brittany Butler has always been drawn to the sciences. During high school, she was inspired to pursue a biology major by her AP Biology teacher. Now in her junior year of studies at Valdosta State University, Brittany is busy conducting research,  volunteering, and planning a trip abroad.

Brittany was the recipient of a $3000 Blavatnik Family Foundation/ThanksUSA Scholarship during the 2010/2011 academic year. I asked Brittany to share her enthusiasm for biology with ThanksUSA supporters and potential science students:


“This past year, I did research with a wonderful professor and other students on metal accumulation through the diet in the sea urchin species Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis. This research is a way for me to get my foot in the door and a way for me to get an idea of what kinds of research I could possibly take part in. As far as my research interests, I am intrigued by anything that involves marine science which is why I am planning on working with another professor in the fall studying inland waters. My core reason for wanting to study in Fiji for the fall of 2012 is so that I can take more courses geared toward Marine Biology and hopefully even take part in some research while I am a student over there!

This field will never let you down; there is always excitement and intrigue around every corner no matter what you decide to do in this field. Of course there will be plenty of long nights at the library studying, but it will all be worth it. In order to get more hands on experience and knowledge, I encourage students to join a science club or take part in research with their professors because these will definitely pay off. One last bit of advice I have is just do what you love; don’t settle on something based off of its pay or the way the economy is because if you love what you do then you never have to work a day in your life.”

Even though Brittany maintains a perfect GPA, she still finds time to participate in extra-curricular activities. In the past year, she was inducted into the Golden Key International Honor Society and named secretary for VSU’s Table Tennis Club. She regularly volunteers at the local humane society and at the Moody AFB Thrift Shop.

Brittany’s father, MSGT Kevin Butler, USAF RET, served as a forward air controller for twenty-one years. Brittany’s military upbringing taught her to embrace change, an important trait for an inquisitive, globe-trotting marine biologist. She explains, “Being a military brat has taught me quite a lot, but the most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t be afraid of change.  When you are a part of a military family you are separated from loved ones constantly and at other times you are moving from state to state every couple of years, so change happens often.  It is because of this lesson I am so eager to travel across the globe in order to study more about my major; I have learned that even though change can seem scary taking that risk will pay off in the end.”

“Receiving the ThanksUSA Scholarship made it a whole lot easier to focus on my education rather than worry about having to find the funds necessary to continue studying at VSU. Think about it, without this scholarship I may not have been able to take part in the research that will land me in a science journal or discover my interest in studying abroad for a semester. Thanks to this scholarship my interests and curiosities about research and Marine Biology have been able to blossom so that I now have a better idea of what I want to do in the future.”

By joining our texting campaign, you can help a student like Brittany with as little as $10. Simply text THANKSUSA to 85944 to make your $10 donation today. Then, spread the word through Twitter and Facebook. Our goal is to raise $250,000 by June 30th.  If texting just isn’t for you, click this link for additional methods of making your tax-deductible donation today.  THANK YOU!

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