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Honors Chemistry Student Earns Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention

For release: April 13, 2011
For press information, contact Gabrielle Maxey, 901/678-2843

Melanie Sparks
Melanie Sparks
Melanie Sparks, a sophomore honors chemistry major at the University of Memphis who was a candidate for a Goldwater Scholarship, has received an honorable mention. The Collierville resident is one of 199 students to receive an honorable mention for the Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences, or engineering.

Sparks has conducted undergraduate research since her freshman year with Dr. Yongmei Wang, associate professor of chemistry, doing computational modeling on ribosomal proteins. She was recruited for the research project after standing out in her general chemistry classes. “Melanie’s understanding of the material and the questions she asked demonstrated both her growing mastery of the concepts as well as an interest in gaining advanced understanding,” said Wang.

Sparks spent additional time outside class searching for online tutorials for the new software and operating systems she was learning.  As a freshman, she was named the Department of Chemistry’s Outstanding General Chemistry Student.  “I can clearly see she possesses the rare quality to be a great researcher,” Wang observed.

“Melanie was about as close to perfect in my Honors General Chemistry I and II classes as I’ve ever had,” said Dr. Richard Petersen, associate professor of chemistry. “She finished with a 99th percentile score on the nationally standardized General Chemistry final exam.”

Sparks has been instrumental in rejuvenating the American Chemical Society student organization on campus, Petersen said. As vice president, she has helped arrange and lead tours of Smith & Nephew, University of Tennessee Health Science Center research labs, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Sparks also helps organize chemistry demonstrations and science tutoring sessions for children through the local Boys and Girls Clubs.

“I feel so grateful to be included in this group of my peers,” Sparks said. “Receiving an honorable mention for this scholarship motivates me to work even harder and to identify more clearly the specific area of research in which I wish to work.”

Sparks is pursuing the more difficult American Chemical Society-accredited major within the Department of Chemistry. After graduation, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry.

Her parents are Wayne and Lynda Sparks of Collierville.

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