Clemson University Honors College; College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences; College of Science

Clemson’s first-ever Churchill scholar is working to strengthen our energy grid


Over the past several weeks, communities throughout the United States have dealt with rolling blackouts associated with winter storms. Grant Wilkins, Clemson University’s first-ever Churchill scholar, is working on a solution that will keep our power on and running smoothly in any weather.

Wilkins, a double major in computer engineering and mathematical sciences, is one of only 16 Churchill scholars selected this year from across the country in science, math and engineering.  

The scholarship, which funds one year of graduate study at the University of Cambridge, is widely seen as the most prestigious international STEM award for post-undergraduate researchers. Established in honor of Sir Winston Churchill, the scholarship program advances science and technology on both sides of the Atlantic. Only a select number of universities can nominate students for this scholarship.

This prestigious international award is indicative of Clemson University’s progress towards creating research and learning opportunities for our students that help them apply their skills and talents to make the world a better place. We are proud of Grant and excited to see what he will accomplish at Cambridge.

clemson university provost robert H. Jones

Wilkins plans to pursue a Master of Philosophy in Advanced Computer Science by working with Professor Richard Mortier, a world-renowned leader in the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart-grid development.

He also plans to get involved with the University’s SmartCambridge project, which explores how data, emerging technology and digital connectivity can be used to transform the way people live, work and travel.

I am insanely humbled and am still a bit stunned by the news but am thrilled to continue my education at such a special place. It’s surreal and lucky how closely my research goals fit within my future department. Beyond my degree program, I can’t wait to broaden my academic horizons, meet new folks from all over the world and of course take some neat Tiger Rag pictures.

Grant Wilkins, 2022 Churchill Scholar

Wilkins’ interest in the electrical grid started when he was growing up in rural Tennessee. When his family experienced blackouts and brownouts in severe weather, Wilkins didn’t just want to know why. He wanted to know what could be done to fix the problem.

Now as a National Scholar and Honors student, Wilkins is exploring how to reduce the amount of energy needed to fuel some of our everyday devices, such as smart assistants, energy monitors and temperature sensors we use outside.

His research specifically focuses on improving the energy efficiency of lossy compression algorithms currently used on high-performance computing systems – work that has the potential to mitigate growing amounts of data, targeting a more distributed and resilient smart grid, keeping the power on in natural disasters or when usage is at its peak.

Wilkins started making progress on this front as a software engineering intern at Tesla in the summer before his junior year, where he supported the development of a new system to dispatch tens of thousands of home batteries powered by solar energy to support the electric grid during its peak load.

Last summer while studying abroad at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, Wilkins saw many of the same issues – scheduled, rolling blackouts to spread energy wealth across the country, the effects of which could be managed and reduced by a smart grid. 

Electrical and Computer Engineering assistant professor Jon Calhoun has been working with Wilkins since his first year on campus, as part of Calhoun’s high-performance computing lab.

They have since worked together on several research projects, including a collaboration with the Argonne National Lab, where they focused on making lossy compressed data more resilient to transit data corruption that can occur when transferring it from data center to data center.

Grant is a truly special student, and it has been an honor to mentor him over the last few years in my research group. He represents the best of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and Clemson.

electrical and computer engineering assistant professor jon calhoun

Calhoun said that he is confident that the Churchill scholarship will not be the last of Wilkins’ accomplishments at Clemson.

Wilkins has received several awards and fellowships as a Clemson student, including both the 2022 Goldwater and Astronaut scholarships. He was also recognized as the most outstanding junior in his department and the College of Science last year and is currently a finalist for the Gates-Cambridge Scholarship to pursue his subsequent PhD.

In addition to his academic achievements, Wilkins belongs to several honors societies and led the Student Alumni Council’s ring ceremony for the past four semesters. He also leads a retreat team focused on introducing incoming National Scholars to campus every fall and helps plan student-focused fundraisers through the Blue Key Honor Society. 

Students interested in the Churchill Scholarship or other nationally competitive programs should contact the Office of Major Fellowships at 864-656-9704 or

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