Student Becomes Scranton's Seventh Goldwater Scholar in Seven Years

Apr 22, 2009
University of Scranton sophomore Melissa Wasilewski, Clarks Summit, is the seventh Scranton student in the last seven years to be awarded a highly competitive Goldwater scholarship.
University of Scranton sophomore Melissa Wasilewski, Clarks Summit, is the seventh Scranton student in the last seven years to be awarded a highly competitive Goldwater scholarship.

University of Scranton student Melissa Wasilewski is among the 278 sophomore and junior college students in the nation awarded highly competitive Goldwater scholarships for the 2009/2010 academic year. Wasilewski, Clarks Summit, is one of just 15 students from Pennsylvania to be awarded a scholarship and one of only eight attending a Jesuit university.  She is the seventh University of Scranton student in the last seven years to be awarded a Goldwater scholarship and is the second Scranton student to earn this prestigious award as a sophomore.

"As the premier undergraduate scholarship program for the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering, the Goldwater scholarship is a highly-coveted honor few students and colleges can claim," said Mary Engel, Ph.D., director of health-professional school placement and fellowship programs at The University of Scranton. "Melissa deserves this honor and we are pleased that through her, The University of Scranton is able to continue our tradition of success with the Goldwater scholarship program."

According to Dr. Engel, Scranton's Goldwater Faculty Advisor Timothy Foley, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, assists students both in pursuit of significant undergraduate research programs and in the rigorous application process for the Goldwater Scholarship.

The 2009 Goldwater scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from 1,097 mathematics, science and engineering applicants, who were nominated by the faculties of their colleges and universities. Wasilewski will receive a $7,500 Goldwater scholarship for both her junior and senior years of study at The University of Scranton.

A double major in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology (BCMB) and biomathematics, Wasilewski maintains a GPA of 3.98 as a member of the university's Honors Program. She has worked on molecular research projects with Michael Sulzinski,Ph.D., faculty member in the BCMB Program, through Scranton's Faculty Student Research Program and the Faculty Student Teaching Mentorship Program.

"Everything Melissa does, she does it well," said Dr. Sulzinski. "She is hard working, driven, focused and self-motivated. I know she will be successful in whatever field she chooses."

She and Dr. Sulzinski have developed a technique to detect and identify the DNA of the bacterium Burkholderia gladioli using a procedure known as real-time PCR.  This organism is difficult to identify and can cause severe lung infections in people affected with cystic fibrosis.  Their research results have been accepted as a poster presentation at the 2009 meeting of the American Society of Microbiology.  She also worked with Dr. Sulzinski to design a real-time PCR protocol to detect HIV DNA in a series of undergraduate laboratory exercises for courses in virology. She is the junior author for this study, which has been accepted and soon will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education.

In the summer of 2008, Wasilewski won a prestigious internship through the Plant Genome Research Project for a summer research program at the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University. At the summer institute, she used mathematical computer based programs to analyze data to study the regulatory system of vascular tissues using Arabidopsis roots as a model system.

She has been awarded a scholarship to participate in the "Modeling and Simulation in Systems Biology" 2009 summer research program at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech.

Wasilewski has loved science since she first conducted an experiment as a participant in the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science. Her interest in scientific research was strengthened during her participation in the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences in the summer of 2006.  While there, she was involved in a mathematics and computer science research project.

"I enjoy being in a laboratory and working on a project that I helped to develop. I like to search for something that hasn't been discovered," said Wasilewski.

Wasilewski received The University of Scranton's O'Hara Award for having the highest GPA in the College of Arts and Sciences for the fall of 2008. She was inducted into Alpha Lambda Delta (the National Freshman Honor Society), Beta Beta Beta, (the National Biology Honor Society), Phi Lambda Upsilon, (the National Chemistry Honor Society), and received the university's General and Analytical Chemistry Award for the spring of 2008.

A dean's list student, she serves as a tutor for chemistry and calculus at the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence on campus. She plays the clarinet with the University Symphonic Band and participates in the Relay for Life committee, the chemistry club, the biology club, the Health Professions Organization and Colleges Against Cancer.

She plans to pursue a doctorate in biomathematics or molecular biology and to be involved with research in mathematics or molecular biology, preferably in a university setting.

The salutatorian of her graduating class at Abington Heights High School, she was among 25 northeast Pennsylvania students named as Scranton Times-Tribune Scholastic Superstars in 2007. In high school, she was an AP Scholar, won second place in the Illinois Institute of Technology Bridge Building Competition, a first place award for the American Chemical Society Exam and a first place award at the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science regional competition.

She resides in Clarks Summit with her parents, Thomas and Joan Wasilewski, and sisters Danielle and Rachel. Her mother is an associate professor of chemistry at The University of Scranton.

Established in 1986, the Goldwater Foundation Scholarship Program honors the late Senator Barry M. Goldwater. The scholarship program is designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.

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