Debt free, experience rich, first Possibility Scholars prepare to graduate

Advancing understanding of how microbes can help clean up soil after an oil spill, identifying effective methods to survey and track mammal populations, and developing a user-friendly online education platform are just some of the ways the first recipients of SUNY Oswego’s Possibility Scholarship, all from Syracuse, are making a difference in the world.

Possibility Scholar K.C. VerHage discussing researchNicole VanDeuson, a zoology major; K.C. VerHage, a biology and psychology major; and Sean Willson, a computer science major, are set to graduate May 17 at the 9 a.m. ceremony of the college’s 153rd Commencement.

For New York state students who would not otherwise be able to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), a Possibility Scholarship provides support for tuition, room and board, and mandatory fees as well as two fully paid summer research experiences, including an international service-learning project at a major research institution through Oswego’s distinctive Global Laboratory network.

“The two research experiences, one on campus and one abroad, are unique and provide students with a fantastic learning experience and the opportunity to really stand apart from their competition when it comes to applying for jobs or graduate schools,” said Dr. Shashi Kanbur, a professor of physics, who works with the Possibility Scholars.

Of VanDeuson, VerHage and Willson, he said, “The current group have worked very hard and have emerged as accomplished STEM graduates who have mastered not just academic but also cultural and social skills necessary to compete in today’s global marketplace.”

‘First in my family to graduate’

In her Global Laboratory experience, VanDeuson spent six weeks in the endangered ecosystem of the Atlantic Forest in the Sooretama Biological Reserve in Brazil recording the populations of such mammals as the tapir, capuchin monkey, white-faced tamarin, jaguar and ocelot. She employed a variety of techniques, including track identification, sightings, camera footage and trapping, to confirm their presence.

“I gained a lot of field experience, learned how to work together with people who do not speak English, made some lifelong friends and gained a better knowledge of who I am personally,” VanDeuson said. “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

A Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program Scholar and member of the rugby team at Oswego, VanDeuson plans to apply to graduate school next year.

“This scholarship has allowed me to experience things I never thought I was capable of doing, like the Global Laboratory experience,” she said. “It has allowed me to be the first person in my family to graduate college.”

‘Striving for something more’

VerHage traveled to northeast India to characterize the diversity of microbes in contaminated soil using DNA testing for his Global Laboratory experience. He explored how the microbial ecosystem would adapt in an environment that experienced accidental leaks and spills of petroleum products. He had access to University of Calcutta facilities to run DNA tests.

“From the experience, I gained so many new techniques to add to my repertoire, new cultural experiences and some new friends,” he said.

He also received support to study the bog buck moth, an endangered moth native to Oswego County, and investigated the stress levels of expectant parents who learn their unborn child has a genetic disorder before, during and after a genetic counseling meeting.

He said the Possibility Scholarship helped him in many ways. “Since it covers everything, including books, I was able to focus more on my studies. It also forced me to go and talk with my professors early and decide what path I wanted to take in my degree since research is funded and required,” VerHage said. “The scholarship, in the end, has allowed me to strive for something more.”

VerHage plans to enroll in Oswego’s master’s program in mental health counseling in the fall.

‘Invaluable real-world experience’

For Willson, the National Central University of Taiwan was his Global Laboratory, where he worked with a team of researchers to create a website for teachers and students to interact. The online platform enables teachers to upload courses, lessons and multimedia resources to aid in student learning.

Last summer, Willson worked on a robotics project with Rachid Manseur, director of Oswego’s new program in electrical and computer engineering.

Willson also spent time at Oswego participating in the Astronomy Club and the League of Legends Club. He said he intends to pursue full-time work in computer programming before eventually returning to graduate school.

“Being able to obtain higher education without accruing thousands of dollars of debt is something I never thought would have been possible,” Willson said. “I had the summer research and Global Laboratory experiences, which provided me with invaluable real-world experience in my area of study. These experiences have meant more to me than anything else in my college career, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Addressing individual needs, global challenges

Established in 2009 by college President Deborah F. Stanley, the donor-funded Possibility Scholarship allows SUNY Oswego to deliver significant personal and financial assistance to students who face barriers to attending college. The scholarship program aims to help recipients meet both their individual achievement goals and humanity’s need for knowledge to conquer pressing global challenges.

“The Possibility Scholarship offers a debt-free STEM education to talented but financially disadvantaged students and so hopes to move the dial in diversifying the STEM workforce,” Kanbur said.

VanDeuson, VerHage and Willson are among 19 Possibility Scholars at SUNY Oswego in 2013-14, with a new group to be admitted in the fall.

For more information on Oswego’s Possibility Scholarship program, see www.oswego.edu/possibility.

PHOTO CAPTION: Presenting research—SUNY Oswego Possibility Scholar K.C. VerHage, right, discusses his summer research on the bog buck moth with chemistry faculty member Fehmi Damkaci. One of the first recipients of Oswego’s competitive Possibility Scholarships, VerHage is scheduled to graduate May 17. Possibility Scholarships offer a debt-free education in science-related disciplines to talented but financially disadvantaged students.

(Posted: May 02, 2014)

Tags: stem, possibility scholarship, possibility scholars, global laboratory