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Davidson Shines Through Service of Two Scientists as NSF Panel Chairs

Boye and Case
Associate professor and chair of physics Dan Boye, and professor and chair of biology Verna Case.

February 27, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

The National Science Foundation doesn't select just anyone to help it award $25-million a year in graduate study fellowships to promising young scientists.

The foundation annually recruits about 300 college and university professors respected for knowledge of their scientific disciplines, and invites them to Washington, D.C., to select fellowship winners. The Foundation is even more careful in selecting twenty of those individuals to chair the panels that make the awards, which makes it remarkable that two of the chairs this year were Davidson College faculty members!

Professor Verna Case of the biology department and Professor Dan Boye of the physics department directed colleagues from all over the country at the three-day gathering in mid-February in reading, re-reading, and rating applicants for the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. The 900 winners selected this year will each receive awards of almost $82,000 to fund three years of graduate study in the sciences.

Chairs are selected for two-year terms by the NSF administration based on their outstanding service as panel members in past years. Both Boye and Case had served as panelists for the past three years. Their duties as panel chairs this year were to keep panel members on task, and to calibrate ratings assigned to the applications. Case led twelve panelists considering about 200 applications for twenty to thirty scholarships in the "Plant and Animal Sciences" category. Boye's twenty-one member panel in "Physics and Astronomy" reviewed 344 applications for fifty awards. Other panels considered applications in scientific disciplines ranging from anthropology to zoology.

"We spent almost the entire three days reading applications," said Case. "It's a difficult job to try to identify the cream of the crop."

Case said the proposals in Plant and Animal Science indicated the increasing importance of the molecular and genetic approach to biology, as well as the value of undergraduate research in preparing students for graduate study. "I was very impressed at how much research experience the applicants had in their undergraduate programs," she said. "This validated for me that Davidson's emphasis on undergraduate research is just what our students need for future success in the field."

Boye commented that this experience was more satisfying than his prior service on NSF panels that gave awards for particular research projects. He said, "It's because here we were dealing with people, instead of projects. We were judging the potential of the person to make a difference based on their letters of recommendation, research experience, academic record, and personal essays, rather than just the validity of an idea. This is meaningful for me."

Boye and Case both said that their service gave Davidson College good visibility among the distinguished scientists gathered from around the country. In addition, the experience of judging applications will help them advise Davidson students who apply for these highly prized Fellowships in the future.

In the past six years, four Davidson biology graduates have won fellowships--Sarah Miles Dean '91, Janet C. Stevens '96, Kenneth J. Howard '98, and James W. White '00. Susan Fischer '95 won a fellowship in physics, and Elena Franklin '97 won in chemistry.

Two additional students received honorable mentions--Andrew Antonelli '95 in physics, and Anne Ford '98 in biology.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson recently launched "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.

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