First a Goldwater, Now a Marshall Scholarship

Jean Weatherwax, a reigning Goldwater Scholarship winner, secures postgraduate award to study in London.


By Kevin Burke

Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 21, 2011) – For the first time in the school's history, a University of South Florida student has been awarded the prestigious postgraduate Marshall Scholarship for study in London.


Jean Weatherwax, a University of South Florida Honors College student, earlier this year was named the recipient of a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s highest honor for undergraduate study in the sciences. She has followed that up with the Marshall Scholarship, where the electrical engineering major’s pursuit of “some cool gadgets” that improve a range of medical treatments will continue next year in the United Kingdom.


Weatherwax received the Goldwater Scholarship in April 2011. She also is a NASA MUST (Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology) Scholar and interned last summer at the space agency’s Ames Research Center in California, helping to develop a microcontroller-based automation system for graphene synthesis.


The Marshall Scholarship provides university fees, cost-of-living expenses, books, research and travel grants for up to three years of study at Imperial College-London. Established by the British Parliament in 1953 as a living gift of thanks to the United States, generally fewer than 40 of the intensely competitive scholarships are given to American college students each year in honor of Gen. George C. Marshall, who spearheaded American and Allied efforts to help rebuild Europe following World War II.

Already boasting an extensive background in the design and fabrication of biocompatible electronic devices, Weatherwax’s research goals while at Imperial College – hosting one of the top 10 electrical engineering programs in the world – include work on a novel implantable glucose sensor. In the past she has worked on both the materials and hardware sides of bioelectronics, including carbon-based electronic fabrication, micro-electromechanical systems or MEMS design, and electroencephalogram or EEG realization.


She hopes to team with pioneering researcher Dr. Pantelis Georgiou, head of the college’s Bio-inspired Metabolic Technology Laboratory, part of the Medical Engineering Solutions in Osteoarthritis Centre of Excellence. His current focus is on developing the first bio-inspired artificial pancreas for treatment of Type I diabetes.


“This is a very new and innovative kind of research that I’m interested in because my father (a Boeing engineer in Charleston, S.C.) is a Type I diabetic, and because most of my undergraduate research activity has centered around biomedical devices,” Weatherwax said. “So, it certainly seemed like the most promising way to go.”


Weatherwax’s bid for the Marshall Scholarship was supported by her longtime USF faculty mentor, Stephen Saddow. She has worked in his lab since her sophomore year.


Also writing letters of recommendation to the Marshall selection committee on her behalf were Honors College adjunct professor Phillip Bishop and senior research scientist Darrell Niemann of NASA’s Ames Center. Stuart Silverman, Honors College dean, and Linda Lucas, director of USF’s Office of National Scholarships were instrumental in advancing Weatherwax’s candidacy, as well.


“She’d be the first to say that she doesn’t understand what all of the fuss is about,” observed Silverman of the low-key Weatherwax, “but no one should underestimate the level of this accomplishment. Thousands of students nationwide apply for Marshall Scholarships each year and only a relative few are successful.


“It’s an extremely rigorous process and for Jean to secure this scholarship in the midst of an already very busy schedule of classes, labs, her obligations as a Goldwater Scholar and other commitments is just remarkable. Her success is reflective, too, I think, of the increasingly bright, capable and truly engaged students we’re attracting here at USF.”


When not preoccupied with her demanding course and laboratory work, Weatherwax has participated as a member of USF’s team in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) annual robot competition. She’s also assisted in the design and implementation of both wireless EEG and EKG systems for real-time monitoring, hardware design and signal processing.


What’s more, she is committed to giving back to the community. As a sophomore, Weatherwax organized a number of her engineering and math friends to start a new student organization, Fundamental Learning for Interdisciplinary Technology Education (FLITE). Its members regularly visit area schools to try to excite middle school students, especially those with few opportunities, to consider studying science, math or engineering.


Earlier in 2011, FLITE was ready when the local community approached USF looking for assistance in designing and implementing a leadership development program for Hispanic middle school students. Within a few months it was awarded a $50,000 grant to develop a curriculum for targeted middle school children in Pinellas County.


In addition, Weatherwax is a volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters as well as an award-winning trumpet player. Weatherwax, a music minor at USF, said she already has been gathering information about the Ad Hoc Humanitarian Community Orchestra in London, which she hopes to join. The group donates proceeds from its performances to hospitals, children in need, and victims of natural disaster.


“I’ll be taking my trumpet to England, that’s for sure,” she said.  “I’m sure it will be quite an adventure.”


As the university’s inaugural Marshall Scholar, Weatherwax now heads a lengthening line of students and faculty gaining distinction for their scholarship, research, and outreach. Her Goldwater Scholarship was one of three that university undergraduates received in the last two years, a span during which other USF students collected two Hollings Scholarships in oceanic and atmospheric science and 11 Gilman Scholarships for study abroad.


In 2010-11, USF students also were awarded eight Fulbright grants from a total of 19 applications — the second highest success percentage among all participating colleges and universities. USF faculty, meanwhile, have earned 40 Fulbright Scholarships since 2000.


Kevin Burke can be reached at 813-974-0192.