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Whitson receives competitive Ford Fellowship for doctoral studies for under-represented minorities

Lisa J. Whitson, second-year doctoral student in the department of biochemistry at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, has been awarded a three-year Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship for Minorities. Her mentor is P. John Hart, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry.

The prestigious fellowship, which begins Sept. 1, provides three years of stipend support for Whitson to complete the academic requirements for her Ph.D. in biochemistry. "This highly sought-after fellowship will pay for the majority of her living, travel and educational expenses for three academic years," said Merle S. Olson, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the Health Science Center. "The Ford Foundation sponsors this program and the National Research Council handles the administration of the review process. This is a very rigorous competition, with awards going to the best and brightest doctoral students at the elite research universities in this nation. We are proud of Lisa's achievement."

"Lisa has made outstanding progress in her research," Dr. Hart said. "She is studying superoxide dismutase, a protein that is involved in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. People who have certain mutations in this protein acquire the inherited form of Lou Gehrig's disease or familial ALS. Lisa is looking at the structures of the protein mutants to understand why they are toxic to motor neurons."

In a national competition held last spring, respected scholars in the sciences and humanities selected the 130 award winners from a pool of 982 applicants. Categories include the social sciences; the physical sciences, math or engineering; the humanities; the life sciences; the behavioral sciences; and education.

The Ford Foundation Fellowships for Minorities program is geared to increasing the presence of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups on the nation's college and university faculties by offering financial support to minority scholars in the predoctoral, dissertation and postdoctoral stages of their careers.

"Your selection for this prestigious award reflects our review panelists' judgment of your scholarly competence as well as the promise that you show for future achievement as a scholar, researcher and teacher in an institution of higher education," said Thomas C. Rozzell, Sc.D., director of fellowship programs for the National Research Council. The NRC is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

"Lisa Whitson's fellowship award is terrific news for our Graduate School community and constitutes an important validation of the quality and inclusiveness of our academic programs," Dr. Olson said.

Contact: Will Sansom