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Senior earns National Science Foundation graduate research award worth $134K

Caroline Brown has earned acceptance into the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which will provide $134,000 for her graduate research.

Caroline Brown keeps making history, and her faculty mentors at the University of North Georgia (UNG) aren't one bit surprised.

The latest honor for the senior from Carrollton, Georgia, is acceptance into the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), worth a total of $134,000 for her graduate research endeavors. Brown, who will begin a doctoral biochemistry program at Yale University later this year, is the first student to win the award while enrolled at UNG.

"It opens the door into any lab that I want to work in because I bring my own funding with me," Brown said. "That primary investigator doesn't have to pay me because the National Science Foundation is."

A year earlier, she was the first UNG student to be named a Goldwater Honorable Mention, an award given to exceptional college students in natural sciences, engineering and mathematics in the United States.

Brown has worked on research with Dr. Yu Wang, assistant professor of chemistry at UNG, for three years. The student helped Wang write an NSF grant application and served as second author on an invited review in AIMS Microbiology journal. She was part of a Faculty Undergraduate Summer Engagement (FUSE) grant with Wang in 2017. Brown expressed gratitude for her time learning from Wang.

"She has provided such great leadership and guidance throughout this whole process of developing my scientific toolkit and understanding what it means to write a grant proposal," Brown said.

Wang considers Brown, who is pursuing a chemistry degree with a biochemistry concentration, her most capable student of the past 10 years.

"Caroline is a truly outstanding undergraduate student who shows the potential to be a leader in academic research," Wang said.

Dr. Royce Dansby-Sparks, associate professor of chemistry at UNG and assistant Honors Program director on the Dahlonega Campus, has served as Brown's adviser since she was a freshman. He noticed her potential in his Honors Program chemistry course and a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) interdisciplinary lab.

The talent Brown displayed early on at UNG has flourished, and it culminated in the proposal she wrote to apply for the GRFP. Brown's proposal outlined a desire to build on work she did as part of an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant at the University of Minnesota in summer 2018.

Specifically, she wants to look at how an increase in the chemical process known as protein prenylation could lead to increased incidences of Alzheimer's disease. She is intrigued by the idea that most medical treatments tackle a small portion of a disease and would like to help change that with Alzheimer's.

Undergraduate seniors and first-year and second-year graduate students can apply for the GRFP, which accepts about 10 percent of its 15,000 annual applicants. Seniors generally have the toughest road because they have less research experience. Dansby-Sparks also noted how some students use the fellowship to leverage acceptance into a prestigious graduate program.

"She's already going to Yale," Dansby-Sparks said. "She didn't even need this to get to Yale."

Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant vice president of research and engagement and director of the Nationally Competitive Scholarships (NCS) office at UNG, could see Brown's talent even in an Honors American literature class.

"Caroline is one of the most capable students I've ever worked with. She's not only intelligent, but she's hard-working and driven," Lin said. "She's a community-builder. She encourages and supports others in their academic pursuits."

For more information about the GRFP application process, contact the NCS office at

Brown is president of the Honors Program on UNG's Dahlonega Campus and is an NSF Scholarship in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) Scholar.

In Brown's personal statement for the GRFP application, she expressed her intent to continue to seek out ways to help others chase their dreams in science.

"The need for better STEM education systems in rural communities has driven me to seek change," Brown wrote. "I desire to inspire other rural, female students by showing them science is a valid option, and there is no limit to their potential despite what their surrounding influences may indicate."

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