Graduate Student Spotlight: Wallace Derricotte

Wallace Derricotte. Photo provided by Wallace Derricotte.
Wallace Derricotte. Photo provided by Wallace Derricotte.

Graduate student Wallace Derricotte was recently awarded a 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, one of the most prestigious awards that can be bestowed on a young scientist during the early part of their career. NSF receives over 14,000 applications (from across all scientific disciplines) and picks 2,000 fellows each year. Fellows receive three years of stipend support at $32,000 per year and a $10,000 educational allowance.

Wallace submitted a research proposal and supporting documents describing his plans to make a broad impact on the community with his research. His experience with summer research at the beginning of his graduate career was particularly important for helping him to craft a strong application. “Starting research at Emory during the summer was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I believe the work I completed during the time helped me to build a more compelling research proposal and the rapport I built with my research advisor [Francesco Evangelista] made it possible for him to write me a powerful recommendation.”

Wallace’s proposal stood out to the committee because of his research background and because of his bold plans to contribute to the future of undergraduate education in chemistry.

“One of the things my NSF reviewers loved about my application was the fact that I want to revamp undergraduate physical chemistry education by introducing a course in ‘Mathematical Chemistry’. This semester long course would serve as a bridge between Organic and Physical Chemistry courses where a lot of undergraduate students seem to get lost because they haven’t been introduced to the necessary mathematical concepts needed to succeed. Whatever university hires me will be getting a highly motivated scientist with a keen interest in revamping the way physical chemistry is taught at the undergraduate level.”

Wallace hopes that his NSF award will help him to stand out on the job market as he pursues a career in academia. A true leader, Wallace’s hopes for the future are not solely focused on his own success. He’s also excited about using his research acumen and pedagogical creativity to serve the chemistry community. “That’s my future plan,” says Wallace, “to make a positive change so that the next generation of scientists can be 100 times better than I am.”