USF’s first recipient of the Marshall Scholarship said funding for her education has not always been easily available.
When Jean Weatherwax, a senior majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in music, moved from Seattle to the small Panhandle town of Niceville during high school, she wanted to make sure she had enough money saved to go to college.
From a middle-class family, Weatherwax took the first job she could – at a Waffle House, even though she was allergic to gluten.
“I didn’t even know what grits were when I started working there,” she said.
Yet funding has not been in short supply in recent years. Upon being admitted to USF, Weatherwax received a small scholarship for her trumpet studies.
Prior to her sophomore year, Weatherwax won a scholarship from NASA after developing nanowires for biomedical sensing in a research project.
Last year, Weatherwax received the Goldwater scholarship, a national scholarship for students studying science, technology, mathematics and engineering, for $7,000.
Last week, when Weatherwax came home from class to change before going out with a friend for sushi, she noticed an email in her inbox from the Marshall Scholarship foundation.
“I was really scared to open it because from what I’ve read in past years, they’ve given phone calls,” she said. “When I saw it was an email, I assumed it was a rejection. I had a whole five minutes of very emotional email reading.”
The scholarship provides two years of funding for master’s studies in the United Kingdom at the university of choice for the student. Weatherwax chose to study at the Imperial College in London, after reading online about a professor who is working on creating an artificial pancreas for Type I diabetes patients. She has already set up lab research with him.
Linda Lucas, director of the Office of National Scholarships, said the award is one of the most prestigious in the country. Fewer than 30 people are selected nationally.
“Jean’s accomplishment shows that USF students can compete with the best in the country,” she said. “She will be an extraordinary scientist and professor, and we will certainly all be the better for her contributions.”
Though she said the full impact of the scholarship has yet to sink in, Weatherwax, who volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Inc. in her spare time and founded an organization to help underprivileged youth from minority communities, said she doesn’t see how she’s different from an average college student.
“I was surprised I got it,” she said. “I didn’t expect to, so I think that made me more relaxed about it. Not to discredit myself, but I’m a pretty average college student.”