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Dawgs of Distinction

by Larry Dendy and Kathleen Cason


For the first time ever, the University of Georgia has hit an academic grand slam by capturing some of the most prestigious scholarships awarded to American undergraduates.

UGA students won Rhodes, Marshall, Goldwater and Truman scholarships. This year only Harvard, Yale and Brown enjoyed similar success. Other top scholarships awarded to UGA undergraduates include a Morris K. Udall Scholarship.

The six scholarship winners — all students in the UGA Honors Program — have participated in research as part of their undergraduate education.

Virginia L. Barton (class of 2004) received the Truman Scholarship, which will help pay graduate school expenses. Barton plans to earn graduate degrees in law and public health to prepare her for a career in women’s health advocacy. She spent the past summer in Tanzania studying healthcare delivery issues related to HIV and AIDS as well as religious and cultural factors that affect women’s health. Barton said that “independent work of any nature is essential for teaching life-long skills like self-discipline and cooperation.”

Amanda M. Casto (class of 2004), a Goldwater Scholarship winner, aims to earn a doctorate in human genetics. Her undergraduate research took her to Panama where she studied genetic diversity in tropical tree species and to Germany where she investigated the genetic heritage of Polynesian people. At UGA, she has looked at aspects of molecular biology of the E. coli bacterium and now is sequencing the genome of a bacterial virus. She said her undergraduate research experience will help her pursue a research career.

Adam Cureton (class of 2003), the Rhodes Scholarship winner, concurrently completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy along with bachelor’s degrees in political theory and evolutionary theory this past spring. The scholarship will enable him to pursue a doctorate in philosophy at Oxford University, England. For Cureton’s undergraduate and master’s research he studied social justice as well as privacy and relativism. He noted that research opportunities “enticed me to move beyond the classroom” and credited “exceptional faculty and an intellectual atmosphere that encourages undergraduate research.”

Laura Ellen Downs (class of 2004), a Goldwater Scholarship winner, is a chemistry major who hopes to develop new medicines someday. So far Downs has investigated metal-metal bonding and looked for environmentally friendly catalysts to speed up an important reaction in organic chemistry. “Research satiates my desire to know more than books explain,” she said. “The really interesting things happen when you actually enter the lab.”

Kacie D. Moreno-Schoen (class of 2005), the Udall Scholarship winner, is an ecology major. She took part in two projects at the Maquipicuna Biological Reserve in Ecuador: one on water quality in local streams and a second on bird habitats. She spent the past summer at the New York Institute for Ecosystem Studies investigating how altered habitat changes salamander behavior. Undergraduate research has given her the chance to experience the ups and downs of research — the thrill of adding to world knowledge and the reality of “hundreds of bug bites, waking up at 4 a.m. and changing projects halfway through a field season.”

Josh Woodruff (class of 2003), the Marshall Scholarship winner, began his studies of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine this fall. As a biochemistry and cellular biology undergraduate, he spent two years in the lab studying a genetic disease called porphyria and the parasite that causes Chagas disease. “Academic research is a powerful method of instruction — more so than any lecture given on campus,” Woodruff said. “Research reminds us that our discipline has a real world application.”

For more information, access the UGA Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities at


Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
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