College of Science; Graduate School

College of Science honors outstanding students in 2021 awards ceremony


The College of Science honored some of its most outstanding undergraduate and graduate students during a virtual awards ceremony on April 9.

“We are here to honor the best and brightest in the College of Science,” said Leigh Anne Clark, the scholarships and awards committee chair. “All of tonight’s honorees are outstanding scholars, many are accomplished researchers and others have committed themselves to special service projects.”

The following students received awards:

OUTSTANDING SENIOR IN SCIENCE: Sylvia Wu/Mathematical and Statistical Sciences

women wearing gold sweater talking to another woman
Sylvia Wu

Wu is a dual major in mathematical sciences and philosophy. She earned a perfect GPA, while often taking class loads exceeding 21 hours. She has studied abroad, both in a mathematical program in Budapest and in South Africa, where she studied South African politics and history, biodiversity, and social justice. Wu has participated in research at Bryn Mawr College and at Clemson in professor Neil Calkin’s group. She co-authored two papers, including the title “What Newton Might Have Known: Experimental Mathematics in the Classroom,” published in the American Mathematical Monthly, one of the most widely read mathematics journals. Wu began and led a team through Clemson UNICEF to volunteer with a local resettlement agency and raise refugee awareness on campus. Through the Clemson National Scholars Program, she mentors students at a local high school, helping them with the college application process. After graduation, she will move to the Bay Area to take a position with Compass Lexecon, a top economic consulting firm, working in antitrust.

OUTSTANDING UNDERGRADUATE IN DISCOVERY: Carson Wood/Mathematical and Statistical Sciences

Man wearing green shirt posing in front of a research poster
Carson Wood

Wood is a mathematics major with a minor in computer science. He is in his third year conducting research with Svetlana Poznanovik, who studies combinatorics and mathematical biology. In his first semester of research, Wood began working on applied mathematics models to simulate how RNA folds. Poznanovik states, “very quickly, Carson understood the polytopes, their structure, implemented the algorithm, and started running the code on our data set.” The research resulted in Wood co-authoring a manuscript that was published in the journal Genes. In the summer after his freshman year, Wood participated in an REU in Algebra and Discrete Mathematics at Auburn University. The director of the program states, “the level of mathematical activity, the number of mathematical discoveries and the number of papers submitted to journals of mathematical research that summer exceeded each of the three summers preceding, and I give Carson about 97.3% of the credit for this eruption of energy.” That REU led to Wood co-authoring two publications and sole authoring another. Wood also completed a year of research in Brygg Ullmer’s lab in the School of Computing. He has held many leadership positions on campus. Last year, Carson received the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.

OUTSTANDING JUNIOR IN SCIENCE: Allyson Drawdy/Genetics and Biochemistry

woman wearing blue lab coat working in a lab
Allyson Drawdy

Drawdy is a biochemistry major with a minor in music. Her organic chemistry professor, Dan Whitehead, says Drawdy stood out in a classroom full of over-achievers. Indeed, she started research at Clemson even before her first year when she worked in Dev Arya’s medicinal chemistry laboratory through the EUREKA summer research program. Currently, she is conducting research in Jim Morris’ laboratory. She studies a brain-eating amoeba to identify genetic targets that could lead to improved treatments for infected individuals. She serves as the vice president of outreach for the Student Advisory Board and is a Clemson Honors College Ambassador. Through a CancerQuest internship at Emory, she published lay synopses of new cancer research articles to empower cancer patients and their families through education. Drawdy founded CU-REACH to connect Clemson students with underprivileged elementary students in the community. She received a $5,000 seed grant from the Global Learning Institute to support this effort. This summer, Drawdy will go to MD Anderson, having earned a research internship from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas.


man wearing white lab coat doing an experiment in a science lab
Charles Henry

The Blue Key Academic and Leadership Award recognizes one student in each of the seven colleges at Clemson who has distinguished themselves in academic scholarship and campus leadership. Henry, a junior microbiology major with a minor in business administration, is the College of Science’s honoree. Through the Eureka program, Henry began studying the molecular mechanisms underlying growth and environmental adaptation of creeping bentgrass the summer before his first year through the EUREKA program. Now in his third year, Henry mentors and trains new undergraduate students in Hong Luo’s laboratory. He serves as secretary and risk management officer in the Phi Delta Epsilon Medical fraternity and as a wellness ambassador on the Honors Student Advisory Board. Henry has been a leader even before he arrived at Clemson. He is an Eagle Scout. For his project, he created an outdoor classroom for an elementary school in a low-income community.

PHI KAPPA PHI CERTIFICATE OF MERIT: Tatum Sass/Genetics and Biochemistry

woman wearing white lab coat pouring something in a lab
Tatum Sass

The Phi Kappa Phi Certificate of Merit recognizes a graduating senior with a GPA of 3.4 or above who has made noteworthy contributions in areas such as leadership, service, and creative endeavors to his or her department, College and Clemson University. Sass is a genetics major with a minor in business administration. Sass conducts research on DNA repair mechanisms in Dr. Michael Sehorn’s laboratory. Dr. Sehorn says, “I expect the work that Tatum is conducting in my lab will bring her authorship on at least two different manuscripts.” She also completed a summer internship in Trudy Mackay’s laboratory, where she worked on a fruit fly model of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Sass presented her work at a research symposium at Clemson and is the first author on a publication in the Journal of Visualized Experiments. She was a senior analyst for Cedar Point Capital and was a paid intern helping Clemson faculty convert their research, consulting, and business ideas into active plans. Sass presents annually to the Board of Investors as a member of the Spiro Student Advisory Board. She volunteers at the Greenville Ronald McDonald House and is an active member of the Order of Omega Honor Society. She tutors fellow students in chemistry and organic chemistry. Also, she has held several leadership roles in the Clemson Miracle Dance Marathon and Alpha Delta Pi.


headshot of Hui Xu
Hui Xu

Xu, a student in the Department of Chemistry, came to Clemson from Shandong University in China, where she earned a B.S. in chemistry. At Clemson, she began using saturation-transfer difference NMR to examine the interactions between small molecules and nanoparticle surfaces. Her advisor, Dr. Leah Casabianca, states, “After contributing to two papers on this subject as second-author, Hui took the research in her own direction.” This path led her to publish three first-author papers since 2020. Xu has given six external conference presentations, including a talk at the Experimental NMR Conference. She mentored several undergraduate students, including two REU students who earned co-authorship on her publications. Her advisor notes, “Hui participated in the Project WISE summer camp for middle-school girls by demonstrating the chemistry behind how to make cheese and liquid nitrogen ice cream. She also helped organize the 2018 Southeastern Magnetic Resonance Conference at Clemson, which brought eminent scholars to our department and was also a venue for undergraduates to attend a scientific conference.”


Man pointing to a screen while talking to another man
Xiurui Zhao

Zhao, a student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, joined Clemson in 2016 after earning a B.S. in physics from Lanzhou University in China. His advisor, Dr. Marco Ajello, says that Xiurui is “as independent and prolific in research as a successful postdoctoral fellow.” His research concerns devising efficient methods to discover and study certain supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies. He has published six co-authored papers on the subject, four of which he is first author. As a member of the Ajello laboratory, Zhao has made significant contributions to successful grant proposals, mentored undergraduate students, and co-supervised a junior graduate student’s work that resulted in a publication. He received a very competitive pre-doctoral fellowship at the Center for Astrophysics at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center in Cambridge. He presented his data from his research project at the American Astronomical Society Meeting in January and is currently writing a manuscript that will be part of his Ph.D. thesis.

OUTSTANDING GRADUATE IN LEARNING: Todd Fenstermacher/Mathematics and Statistical Sciences

Man pointing to an equation on a white board
Todd Fenstermacher

During his time at Clemson, Todd has taught seven different calculus and statistics courses. This is partly due to his ability to teach large sections successfully and his willingness to assume an overload when no faculty are available. He even took on an 8 a.m. statistics course in a semester he was supposed to have off from teaching. His students describe him as dedicated, encouraging and genuine. One student commented, “I am grateful to Todd and believe that his behavior exemplified the type of dedication to the student and the student’s success from a teacher that not only makes me proud to call myself a Clemson Tiger but also glad that I chose to come to this school in the first place.” In the fall of 2020, when classes around the country were taught remotely, Marion University in Indianapolis asked Fenstermacher to teach a higher-level mathematics course at Marion University. He accepted this unique opportunity and the chair of Marion’s mathematics department said Fenstermacher did a commendable job of teaching and connecting with his students despite the physical distance.


woman in white lab coat wearing a black mask looking at a Petri dish
Danielle Latham

According to her nominator, Hugo Sanabria, Latham strives to impact others positively and show that physics is for everyone. The summer before attending Clemson, she taught physics to low-income, high-risk high school students. At Clemson, Latham began teaching an algebra-based introductory physics laboratory, ultimately becoming the course leader and impacting about 600 students each year. Last spring, she had to transition her laboratory courses to online learning, a monumental task. The physics laboratory manager states, “Danielle led the transition to online learning: creating assignments, converting the labs to a manner in which they could be completed online, and communicating with students to smooth the transition.” In Fall 2020, she further improved course design and policies to increase student/instructor engagement. When the University’s polls showed online lab content had a low approval rating of about 5%, the lab courses Latham contributed to had an approval rating of 76%.


woman with a German shepherd
Sarah Murphy

This award honors a graduate student who has excelled in strengthening and engaging with the community outside the University. Murphy studies inherited diseases in dogs in Clark’s laboratory. Her research aims to identify variants of genes that cause disease and develop genetic tests that dog breeders can use to reduce the frequency of damaging genetic changes. An important but under-appreciated aspect of this work is communicating genetics research–both from our laboratory and others – to breeders and veterinarians so that genetic testing can be properly used to positively impact the next generation and the breed as a whole. Before COVID-19, Sarah traveled to national and local breed club meetings to give educational talks and answer questions. She also writes lay articles that summarize scientific journal articles. A blog she co-authored explaining the results of a recent study of a genetically complex pigmentation pattern in dogs, called merle, was one of the BMC On Biology’s most popular posts with over 4,000 views and 700 Facebook shares in 2018. Murphy also works with service dog training organizations to help them maintain genetic diversity in their breeding colonies while retaining the behavioral traits for the dogs to be successful in their roles.

picture of a woman wearing a scarf around her neck
Jennie LaMonte

The College of Science Student Advisory Board made two additional presentations:

• Allyson Drawdy of genetics and biochemistry received the Outstanding Board Member Award.

• Jennie LaMonte, director of scholar development in the Dean’s Office, received the Advocate Award.

swag for college of science student award winners
Each award recipient received a bag of College of Science swag.
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