Celebrating Our Graduates; College of Science; Graduate School

Top College of Science students honored


The Clemson University College of Science recognized some of its most outstanding undergraduate and graduate students during an awards ceremony on April 12.

“We honor the best and brightest in the College of Science. I am amazed by the accomplishments of our outstanding students. All of the honorees are outstanding scholars, many are accomplished researchers, and others have committed themselves to special service projects,” said Stephen Schvaneveldt, a senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry who chairs the scholarships and awards committee.

The following students won awards:

Outstanding Junior in Science

This award recognizes the best overall junior in the College of Science based on scholarship and character.

Erin Jones

Erin Jones is majoring in genetics and minoring in biochemistry and women’s leadership.

Jones’ research in James Morris’ lab focuses on developing tools for drug discovery in the pathogenic amoeba Naegleria fowleri. Her work may lead to new therapeutics for a pathogen that presently lacks efficacious treatments. Last summer, she participated in a research program at Washington University in St. Louis, studying the molecular mechanisms involved in bacterial urinary tract infections.

Outside of the lab, Jones has completed the training required to be an emergency medical technician and routinely works weekends in Seneca in that capacity. She has mentored incoming College of Science students and has been a member of the University student government. She is president of the Clemson Women’s Ultimate Frisbee Club and is a teaching assistant for a clinical applications and medical practice course.

Outstanding Senior in Science

This award recognizes the best overall graduating senior in the College of Science based on scholarship and character.

Danielle LaVigne

Danielle LaVigne is majoring in genetics and minoring in American Sign Language studies and biological sciences.

In Jessica Larsen’s lab, LaVigne has been part of a team working to encapsulate and deliver Cas9 ribonucleoproteins using polymer-based nanoparticle drug delivery systems to try to cross the blood-brain barrier successfully. As part of this work,  she has been the second author on a review paper in the journal ACS Macro Letters. She is part of a four-person team submitting an invited research paper to Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. She presented her work at the highly competitive St. Jude National Symposium for Undergraduate Research in Memphis. Last summer, she did research at Texas A&M to improve treatments for people with spinal cord injuries.

She is vice president of Clemson’s Biochemistry and Genetics Club and American Sign Language Club. She is a Paw Pantry volunteer and a part of a Creative Inquiry group working to promote civic literacy in high school classes.

Outstanding Undergraduate in Discovery

This award is given to a graduating senior who has performed outstanding original research in the sciences.

Grant Wilkins

Grant Wilkins is a double major in mathematical sciences and computer engineering.

Wilkins’ research career started in the lab of Jon Calhoun in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering with a project to improve the energy efficiency of popular lossy compression algorithms used on high-performance computer systems. His focus was on how to make major cuts to energy budgets with data reduction techniques. He presented his work as a poster at the international conference, Supercomputing 2020. The work eventually led to a paper.

This fall, Wilkins worked on a project to quantify the energy cost of various methods used to checkpoint scientific simulations. He presented his work at the Supercomputing 2022 conference. Away from Clemson, Wilkins interned at Tesla and collaborated with researchers from Argonne National Labs and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Wilkins is a Goldwater Scholar, an Astronaut Scholar and Clemson’s first-ever Churchill Scholar.

Blue Key Academic and Leadership Award

The Blue Key Academic and Leadership Award recognizes one student in each of the colleges at Clemson who has distinguished themselves in academic scholarship and campus leadership.

Lucy Jennings

Lucy Jennings is a double major in genetics and psychology.

For three years, Jennings has conducted research in the Jennifer Mason lab. Most recently, she has worked to determine how cells deficient for the DNA repair helicase FBH1 respond to inhibition of the cell cycle kinase WEE1. Her work has already brought significant results, challenging current models.

At the same time, she was involved in a Creative Inquiry project with Jennifer Grandits in the psychology department. The group led by Jennings explored ways non-genetic factors might play a role in autism spectrum disorder.

Jennings works as a crisis hotline volunteer for the Foothills Alliance, is an Alzheimer buddy at Clemson Downs retirement community and is very active in her sorority Sigma Kappa. She is a member of the women’s club basketball team.

Phi Kappa Phi Certificate of Merit

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 their department, college and Clemson University.

Krishna Patel

Krishna Patel is a biochemistry major with minors in Spanish studies and chemistry.

Patel began her research career as a high school student working in Caryn Outten’s bioinorganic chemistry lab at the University of South Carolina. In her first semester at Clemson, she joined Chemistry Professor Julia Brumaghim’s lab. Her research involves using UV-vis spectroscopy to determine radical-forming conditions that damage DNA and the abilities of polyphenol antioxidants to prevent this damage. She gave an oral presentation of this work at the national American Chemical Society meeting in March.

Last summer, Patel participated in the Carolina BioOncology Institute, where she analyzed Stage 4 cancer patient data and assessed their compatibility with specific Phase 1 cancer drug clinical trials.

Outside the lab, she is president of the Spanish Club, a College of Science Ambassador and a resident assistant educator. She volunteers with Every Campus a Refuge and helps refugee families resettle in Clemson and improve their English language skills. She also volunteers at the Clemson Free Clinic.

Patel maintained a 3.92 GPA and is graduating from Clemson in three years.

Outstanding Graduate in Engagement

This award honors a graduate student who has excelled in strengthening and engaging with the community outside of the University.

Scott Joffre

Scott Joffre is a student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Joffre serves as a direct link between scientific research and the community that benefits from it. His research focuses on understanding the immediate environments surrounding super-massive black holes at the center of galaxies. 

“(Scott) has strived to make these concepts accessible to a vast and varied audience, from 4- and 5-year old children to experts in the field. In fact, during the past few years, I witnessed the exponential growth and breadth of activities he has engaged with to promote the spread of science to all possible parties,” said Joffre’s adviser Marco Ajello.

Joffre helped create the interdisciplinary podcast “Breaking Silos” that focuses on life during graduate school, from the application process through graduation. There are also interviews with scientists who moved from academia to industry after graduation.

While the podcast reaches out far from Clemson, Joffre has also engaged with the local community by giving public lectures at places like The Children’s Museum of the Upstate and the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute. Recently, he organized a watch party for Comet-C, which attracted more than 100 guests to campus. He helped organize the College of Science SciWeek and served as a judge at the Clemson Elementary science fair.

Outstanding Graduate in Learning

This award honors graduate students who have been exemplary in undergraduate science teaching, particularly in their sincere interest in and concern for the success of undergraduate students and who went the “extra mile” in ensuring this success.

Daniel Malagon

Daniel Malagon is a graduate student in the Department of Biological Sciences. He has been a teaching assistant for multiple lab sessions of functional human anatomy, biology and human physiology classes. His students describe him as an extraordinary teacher with a contagious passion for biology.

But his work as a teacher extended far beyond the classroom. He has recruited and mentored numerous undergraduates in research projects in the lab of his adviser, Sharon Bewick. He set up weekly sessions to teach these students to code, at largely no benefit to his own research.

During the pandemic, Malagon participated in Skype a Scientist, where he encouraged classrooms of underrepresented students to consider a career in the sciences.

“Daniel is a born teacher,” Bewick wrote in her nomination letter. “Daniel has an uncanny knack for making challenging concepts understandable, for setting high standards and yet being endlessly patient, and for inspiring students to push that extra mile to fully reach their potential.”

Blake Splitter

Blake Splitter is a graduate student in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. He has been the teacher of record for one semester of Calculus I and eight semesters of Calculus II. He was the grader or teaching assistant for eight other courses.

He is innovative in his teaching. Splitter creates a Discord server for his classes to facilitate frequent communication and encourage questions. Students can easily ask questions and communicate with each other on the server, and Splitter’s responses to questions can help all students.

He takes his role as a teacher seriously. He has taken five classes in the Department of Engineering and Science Education, including Teaching Undergraduate Science.

One of his students wrote, “He is not only the best math teacher I have ever had, but he is also just the best teacher I have ever had, period.”

Outstanding Graduate in Discovery — Experimental

This award honors graduating doctoral students in the College of Science who have made distinctive and discernable contributions to their field.

Jillian Milanes

Jillian Milanes is completing her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology. She also completed her undergraduate work at Clemson, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry with a chemistry minor.

“Jillian is the perfect candidate for this award, serving during her career at Clemson as one of the leading forces in the emerging field of target-based drug discovery for the pathogenic free-living amoebae,” wrote her adviser, Professor James Morris. “She is one of a handful of researchers worldwide that has brought molecular approaches to solve the challenges of therapy development for some of the most intractable and deadly diseases on the planet.”

Milanes has produced eight publications, five of which she was the first author on. In addition, she has presented her research through poster and oral presentations at more than 18 different events.

In addition to being an excellent scientist, she is a model lab citizen. While at Clemson, she mentored multiple undergraduate and graduate students.

Morris describes the impact of Milanes’ work on his lab and her field in general as “transformative.”

Outstanding Graduate in Discovery — Theoretical/Computational

Haonan Wu

Haonan Wu is a graduate student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. He came to Clemson in 2017 after earning dual degrees in computer science and space physics at the University of Science and Technology of China.

Wu uses numerical modeling to study space weather and atmospheric dynamics. During his time at Clemson, he has published 13 papers, four of which he was the first author on. One of the papers is about cross-disciplinary work he did with professors in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

Wu has developed a data assimilation package that he has made public and has hundreds of downloaded. He has provided modeling support for multiple research groups within and outside of Clemson. He received a highly competitive and prestigious National Center of Atmospheric Research Graduate Newkirk Fellowship in 2020. 

His research adviser Xian Lu said Wu’s success “originates from his initiative, spirit of exploring, diligence and courage to break through challenges.”

“It is undoubted that he has made important contributions to the overall growth of the atmospheric and space sciences group at Clemson. Our group wouldn’t have achieved what we have achieved without his great work,” Lu said.

Other awards

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

Hannah McGrath received the Outstanding Board Member Award.

Calvin Williams, the associate dean for undergraduate excellence, global engagement and inclusive excellence for the College of Science, received the SciSAB Faculty Advocate Award.

Photos from the award ceremony are available in this photo gallery.

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