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May 17, 2004
These students stand out from the crowd
By Susan Green

Everyone has a story to tell.

Every year, more than 16,800 stories alone make their way to Ohio University, where they join the collective narrative of a University with a proud history and an even brighter future.

These stories are about five Ohio University students who have been rewarded for their hard work with prestigious scholarships. Their academic pursuits may be diverse, but they all have one thing in common. They're full of surprises.

The following profiles represent the fifth and final installment in the Ohio in Focus series, "Finding Their Focus."

Jump to the: Musician | Ridge Runner | Correspondent | Stargazer | Columnist

The Musician

As a kid she liked science. But even though she spent a lot of time working on self-devised projects and experiments, Jessica Benson says she never thought she'd end up as a scientist.

"I was always involved with music," she says. "It was a big thing for me and it still is. I even applied to one college as a voice major."

Benson also applied to Ohio University's Honors Tutorial College to study math. "I decided wherever I was accepted, that's what I'd study," she says.

Surprising words from someone who's won a Marshall Scholarship and a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship this year, and a Goldwater Scholarship last year. Benson will study organic photovoltaics at Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, England.

"Organic photovoltaics, using plants to produce solar cells, is not focused on here as much as it is in the United Kingdom," Benson says. "So when I began looking for graduate schools, I knew I'd be looking at schools there."

Although she began college as a math major, and switched to physics and mechanical engineering along the way, Benson didn't eliminate music.

"During my freshman year I took music theory courses alongside music majors because I wanted to do something challenging," she says. "There I was, a math major among a group of instrumentalists and vocalists. I really enjoyed it." By her sophomore year, Benson wasn't able to fit in many music courses, but she stayed connected to music. She sings in the university choir and in her church choir.

Benson likes the creative outlet that being involved in music provides, "Not only is it a release for me, but it's a different kind of challenge than science. It works a different side of the brain." Science is logical; music is more emotional.

"In music you know something's right because it feels right," she adds. "It's about giving an emotion and I like being able to exercise that. It feels good."

The Ridge Runner

Natalie Kruse is quick to point out that she doesn't own a pocket protector. She mentions this because when people discover she's been taking college courses since age 11 and she completed her undergraduate degree in three years, they expect her to be a stereotypical nerd.

She's not. How many nerds do you know who play ultimate Frisbee on a highly ranked women's club team?

Kruse, a civil engineering major and geological sciences minor who's also heading to the United Kingdom on a Marshall Scholarship, plans to study how water moves through and reacts with abandoned coal systems. It's an environmental issue that hits close to home.

"They've been mining in Newcastle for a long time too, so my experience at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne should be amazing," says the Athens native.

Her interest in cleaning up abandoned mines began with a professor in Ohio University's geology department. "I've been involved with the geology department since childhood, around age five or six," Kruse says. "When I was 11, she took me and my little brother to a watershed education day in Shawnee."

They visited abandoned mines and collected water samples for testing. Scientists from Ohio University, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and watershed groups tested the water and then talked to the kids about how abandoned mines effect water quality. Kruse says it was an eye-opening experience, "I've always liked being outside and this captured my imagination."

Kruse continued working with the geology department and while in high school began a research project that she continued once she enrolled in Ohio University as a full-time student. "Although I wanted to continue my research, it was the Cutler Scholars Program that really brought me to the university," she says. "The program is amazing. It provides a full scholarship and awesome summer opportunities as well; Outward Bound, volunteer summer, a management internship and a summer abroad."

Since she completed her degree in three years, this summer will be Kruse's summer abroad. "I'll be doing a stratigraphy study, the distribution and placement of sedimentary rock, in eastern Canada," she says. "The sedimentary and coal structures there are very similar to those in Newcastle. It's very applicable to my graduate work."

Last summer, Kruse indulged her adventurous streak and love of outdoor as a ridge runner for the Appalachian Trail Conference.

"I had to maintain 65 miles of trail in Virginia," she says. "It was a beautiful section of trail. I was outside all day, every day, hiking the trail. It was amazing. I loved it." Ridge runners perform daily trail maintenance, participate in search-and-rescue operations, teach outdoor education sessions and do community outreach. They also spend the night on the trail.

How will living and studying in England compare to that?

"It will be an adventure," Kruse says. "I'm very excited."

The Correspondent

When Revati Prasad first arrived in Athens, she had trouble sleeping. Nights were too quiet for the New Delhi native and the nocturnal sounds of nature were alarming.

"Delhi is a large noisy city," she says. "And everything here is too quiet. I knew I was in a different country and everything would be different, but the degree of difference really hit me when I arrived."

A journalism and political science major in the Honors Tutorial College, Prasad will spend next year in Washington, D.C., as a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Junior Fellow.

"I'll be working on a non-proliferation project," she says. "The Carnegie Endowment focuses research and policy work on international peace, so I'll also be doing whatever other junior fellow policy work they throw my way."

Her future plans include working as a foreign correspondent and attending law school so she can practice international law.

Prasad hasn't always been interested in politics, even though she grew up in India's seat of political power. In fact, she's never voted. "I was too young to vote in India and now, as a foreigner, I can't vote here, either," she points out.

She took time to explore her interests before declaring a major. "During freshman year, I jumped around a lot. I started out in advertising," she says. "I love how ads capture a certain moment in time. It's fascinating. I'll buy anything if it's advertised properly."

Although she was captivated, Prasad realized advertising wasn't something she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

"So I took broadcast journalism and loved it," she says. "Then I took international relations and liked the class so much I declared political science as a major, too."

It's not surprising that broadcast journalism appeals to an avid television watcher. "It reaches so many people," Prasad says. "When done well, it tells stories better than anything else because the visual medium is more powerful that words on paper."

But she's quick to admit words on paper are powerful, too.

"I love reading," she says. "Milan Kundera, Isabel Allende (before she became Oprahized) and India's first poet laureate, Rabindranath Tagore are a few of my favorite authors."

Prasad says working in a bookstore in New Delhi is her favorite job so far. "It was the best job in the world," she says. "If and when I retire I'll open a bookstore."

The Stargazer

Most people think of math as being logical and locked down. But Jack Steiner, a junior majoring in astrophysics and applied mathematics, disagrees. He thinks of it as a really complicated creative path within logic. What it's not about is memorizing how to do something and then following a rigid order.

Steiner says, "There may be 10 ways to approach a problem. Sometimes it's finding the best way and other times it's finding the most useful way. It's all about deciding how to approach a problem. And it's a fun process."

Chemistry, math, physics and the mysteries of the universe are equally alluring to Steiner. And his chosen field nicely blends those interests.

"Astrophysics is really challenging, and that's what I like about it," he says. "Thinking about how the galaxy works and how everything came into being also changes your perspective on things."

What are astrophysicists looking for when they look at the universe? Do they think about the possibility of life in other solar systems?

Steiner chuckles when he explains, "That's outside the realm of astrophysics. We study the objects in space, the stars and galaxies rather than contemplating life.

"There are a lot of theories and models attempting to explain how the universe works, and we test those theories and models," he says. "We also look for galaxies, galactic nuclei, galaxy clusters, starbursts, supernova, extra-galactic stuff and planetary and solar system formation. It tests your creativity within science."

For Steiner, math, science and art aren't that different. "Math and science are very creative," he says. "You're making constant adjustments and problem solving as you go along, much like the way an artist creates a work of art."

It's an easy analogy for Steiner to make. "I've always enjoyed drawing, painting, pottery and computer graphics," he says. "Although I'm not artistically talented."

But math and science are his first loves. And for that he's received a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, which he'll use to complete his education.

The Columnist

"When I started college, I thought anything was possible," Mandy White says. "I came to Ohio University as a journalism major and during freshman year I switched to classics."

She made the switch after taking a Latin class, "It's a good language to study if you have an interest in words," she says. "All of the words are fun to pronounce, it's weird to say but it's true, like the inscription on the Pantheon, 'Agrippa Fecit.' I was hooked and within the first week of class I changed my major to classics."

Words have played a big part in White's life. At age 14, she began writing a humor column in her hometown newspaper, The Ashtabula Star Beacon. She says she wrote about family issues and the funny things that happen to you while growing up, "I had my own Web site on the newspaper's site and a cult following. I was really popular with older people. I guess the older you get, the easier it is to look back at the absurdity of youth."

White continued writing the columns and planned on bringing them to a wider audience when she returned to the newspaper after graduating. But Mandy's Musings ended when White changed her major to classics.

Open to a variety of experiences, White enrolled in a beginning sculpture class, where she thought she'd be studying classical sculpture.

"I'm interested in marble statuary," she says. "But the class wasn't about that at all. It was very different and I fell in love with it." She proudly notes that she learned to weld and is now a certified welder.

The class sparked her interest in outdoor sculpture, particularly fountains. "I'm interested in fountains and use of the land," White says. "I have a project in mind for this summer, but I don't know if I'll have time to complete it." She's designing a fountain for her parents land using shrubbery and grass to replicate water droplets. "It will be very soothing."

Always exploring possibilities, White is preparing for the next phase of her life as a graduate student. An Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in Humanistic studies will finance her first year of graduate school at the University of Cincinnati where she'll begin pursuing a Ph.D. in classical and near eastern archeology.

"I want to make museums relevant to people," she says. "Rather than just showing Greek pottery, I want people to get their hands dirty by trying the Greek methods themselves. They'll see the difficulty of the process and the value of a finished product. I don't know if archeology is the perfect degree, but it will give me the knowledge to get started."

Susan Green is a writer for University Communications and Marketing.


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