Leading by inspiring other women to pursue science studies

Caroline Brown kept making history, and her faculty mentors at the University of North Georgia (UNG) weren’t one bit surprised.

The latest honor for the alumna from Carrollton, Georgia, was acceptance into the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), worth a total of $134,000 for her graduate research endeavors. Brown, who graduated in May 2019 with a degree in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry, was the first student to win the award while enrolled at UNG. She began a doctoral biochemistry program at Yale University in fall 2019.

“It opens the door into any lab that I want to work in because I bring my own funding with me,” Brown said. “That primary investigator doesn’t have to pay me because the National Science Foundation is.”

A year earlier, she was the first UNG student to be named a Goldwater Honorable Mention, an award given to exceptional college students in natural sciences, engineering and mathematics in the United States.

Brown worked on research with Dr. Yu Wang, assistant professor of chemistry at UNG, for three years. She helped Wang write an NSF grant application and served as second author on an invited review in AIMS Microbiology journal. She was part of a Faculty Undergraduate Summer Engagement (FUSE) grant with Wang in 2017. Wang considered Brown her most capable student of the past 10 years.

“Caroline was a truly outstanding undergraduate student who showed the potential to be a leader in academic research,” Wang said.

Dr. Royce Dansby-Sparks, associate professor of chemistry at UNG and assistant Honors Program director on the Dahlonega Campus, served as Brown’s adviser since she was a freshman. He noticed her potential in his Honors Program chemistry course and a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) interdisciplinary lab.

The talent Brown displayed early at UNG flourished and culminated in the proposal she wrote to apply for the GRFP. Brown’s proposal outlined a desire to build on work she did as part of an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant at the University of Minnesota in summer 2018.

Specifically, she wanted to look at how an increase in the chemical process known as protein prenylation could lead to increased incidences of Alzheimer’s disease. She was intrigued by the idea that most medical treatments tackle a small portion of a disease and would like to help change that with Alzheimer’s.

During her time at UNG, Brown was president of the Honors Program on UNG’s Dahlonega Campus as a senior and was an NSF Scholarship in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) Scholar.

In Brown’s personal statement for the GRFP application, she expressed her intent to continue to seek out ways to help others chase their dreams in science.

“The need for better STEM education systems in rural communities has driven me to seek change,” Brown wrote. “I desire to inspire other rural, female students by showing them science is a valid option, and there is no limit to their potential despite what their surrounding influences may indicate.”