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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Two URI students win prestigious Goldwater scholarships

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 7, 2001 -- Before enrolling at the University of Rhode Island, Nichole O’Connell of Bristol was convinced she would become a video jockey for MTV. Now she plans to be an astrophysicist for NASA.

When Jennifer Lally of Hatfield, Mass. was young, she surprised everyone by announcing she wanted to be just like marine biologist Sylvia Earle when she grew up, especially because Lally lived in a western Massachusetts farm town. The URI student plans to obtain a doctorate in animal behavior with a focus on conservation biology.

Both O’Connell and Lally, who are completing their junior years, recently got a boost in their career aspirations by being named Goldwater Scholars by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

The two young URI scientists were among 302 students from 50 states and Puerto Rico chosen to receive the scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500.

Goldwater Scholars were selected on a basis of academic merit from a field of 1,164 mathematics, science, and engineering students who were nominated by faculty. Named in honor of the late Senator Barry M. Goldwater, the scholarship program is designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. The scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

O’Connell wasn’t always a science enthusiast, but since URI requires two science courses as part of core learning for all of its students she decided to enroll in an introductory level physics class taught by Dr. Surenda Malik. "I think he reminded me of Mr. Wizard, the host of a Nickelodeon science show I watched when I was younger. My fascination with the stars and my forgotten third grade aspirations of being an astronaut were rekindled. I found beauty in the structure of the physical world and was drawn to the mathematics by which it is defined," O’Connell, a dual physics and mathematics major, wrote in her scholarship application.

O’Connell has participated in three research projects, including a 10-week internship at NASA working with Dr. Mona Kessel at NASA’s Goddard Space Center in Maryland investigating the transfer of energy from the solar wind to the Earth’s atmosphere in the form of ultra-low-frequency waves.

Captivated with music and appreciating every style and shape of sound from Chopin to dj Icey, O’Connell is currently fascinated with electronic music. She also enjoys painting and ceramics.

O’Connell intends to earn a Ph.D. in astrophysics and study high-energy astrophysics to look at gamma ray emission from black holes.

While O’Connell is searching the skies, Lally is looking for answers in the seas. Since she’s been at URI, she has discovered that the life of a marine biologist isn’t glamorous. She mucked around in the Florida mangroves counting sea grass, shivered while attempting to rescue a stranded dolphin for the Mystic Aquarium Stranded Animal Rescue Program, and witnessed necropsies of parasite-infected creatures.

Founder and president of URI’s Scuba Club, Lally has been involved with three separate research projects. One was at the Nixon Ecology Lab where she worked on a project that manipulated coastal pond ecosystems to observe the impacts of nutrients and temperature. She also took part in the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates at Florida Institute of Technology where she investigated the competitive interactions between Halodule wrightii, a sea grass, and Caulerpa prolifera, a macroalga, at a site where sea grass has been declining since 1986. Currently, she is working with URI Biological Sciences Professor Robert Hill, on a project investigating excitation-contraction coupling in echinoderm tissues.

Cheryl Foster, associate director of the URI Honors Program and adviser to students competing for major national fellowships, comments: "Nichole and

Jennifer set new standards for Goldwater Scholars here at URI. Not only have they had extensive research experiences in contexts outside the university; each brings a distinctive panache to her life as a scientist.

As a physicist, Nichole stands out not only for her abilities, but also for her funky, artistic style, while Jennifer switches from pearls and dresses for philanthropic events to drysuits and oxygen tanks for her life underwater. They were intriguing, multifaceted candidates from every perspective."

For Information: Cheryl Foster, 401-874-2116, Jan Sawyer, 401-874-2116

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