UGA honors Tulsi Patel named 2009 Merage American Dream Fellow

University of Georgia Honors student Tulsi Patel named 2009 Merage American Dream Fellow

Athens, Ga. – Tulsi Patel, a University of Georgia Honors student from Acworth who is graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree in genetics, has received a 2009 American Dream Fellowship from the Merage Foundation. She is the fourth UGA student to win the scholarship, which is awarded to academically outstanding undergraduates who are immigrants to the United States.

“I am very proud of Tulsi Patel for being named this year’s Merage American Dream Fellowship recipient and collecting yet another distinguished award,” said UGA President Michael F. Adams. “She is a wonderful student, and this special achievement is a testament to her talent and her efforts. Her recognition also demonstrates the quality of support she has received from UGA faculty and the staff in the Honors Program with whom she has worked. I know that they each join me in extending to Tulsi the heartiest of congratulations.”

The Merage Foundation for the American Dream provides up to $20,000 over a two-year period for recipients with stellar academic and leadership records to pursue their individual American dreams through educational or professional advancement. Patel is one of 12 recipients selected from nominations submitted by 22 partner universities. These institutions-including UGA, Columbia, MIT, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford-can nominate up to three candidates each year.

Patel, who came to the United States at age 14 from Sambalpur, India, would like to become a genetics professor and research scientist. She will enter the Ph.D. program at Columbia University this fall. In preparation for this career path, Patel has spent her entire undergraduate career in research, first gaining experience through the Honors Program’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities.

For the first two years at UGA, Patel worked as a CURO biomedical apprentice and then a summer fellow in the plant pathology laboratory of Scott Gold, her first research mentor. Among her research contributions, Patel designed her own investigation focused on a fungal pathogen that could be used as a biological agent to control Chinese privet, a harmful exotic weed in Georgia.

Patel has made presentations of this research at CURO’s spring undergraduate research symposiums and CURO’s international research symposium in Costa Rica. She most recently participated in the 2008 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Austin, Texas.

“I am honored to join the community of Merage Fellows,” said Patel, who received a 2008 Goldwater Scholar Honorable Mention. “I would like to thank Dr. Pamela Kleiber and the CURO Apprentice Program, without which, I feel, none of this would have been possible.”

For the last two years, Patel has conducted stem cell research in the laboratory of Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar Steven Stice, her current research mentor. She has been involved in various projects, including studying how neural progenitor cells can be used as neurons in potential treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.

“Tulsi is self-reliant, confident and is conducting independent research that will assist the neural stem cell field toward advances in treating diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” said Stice, director of UGA’s Center for Regenerative Biosciences.

Patel also participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at the Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at New York University Medical Center last summer. She spent nine weeks studying under the guidance of Jeremy Nance, an assistant professor in the developmental genetics program at NYU Medical Center. She presented her research at the SURP poster session at NYU and also at the Leadership Alliance Conference in Hartford, Conn.

Among her campus activities, Patel serves in leadership roles with the Student Society for Stem Cell Research and the UGA chapter of the Association of Women in Science. She also has volunteered as a tutor for elementary school children through the Thomas Lay After-School Program in Athens.

“Tulsi represents everything that the Merage Foundation stands and looks for,” said David S. Williams, director of UGA’s Honors Program and chair of the campus Merage selection committee. “Her intellect, leadership, and integrity are evident, and she clearly has the strong potential to make an important contribution to American life. I am very proud of her.”

The Merage American Dream Fellowship is the latest national award earned by students in UGA’s Honors Program. Earlier this spring, one student was named a Goldwater Scholar and two were selected as Udall Scholars.

For more information on the Merage American Dream Fellowship, see http://www.meragefoundations.com/mfad.html.

For more information on UGA’s Honors Program, see http://www.uga.edu/honors.