New scholarship rewards young talent in STEM fields

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When Bijal Patel was accepted to UC Berkeley this spring, her offer came with a prestigious honor — a Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholarship that is awarded to a select group of students each year.

But Patel was surprised to learn that she’d also been chosen for another campus award, the STEM Scholarship Program — a new undergraduate program that will provide financial aid to students interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Patel and seven other UC Berkeley students who are in the Regents’ and Chancellor’s Program, will each receive a $5,000 per year scholarship, starting with the 2013-14 academic year. The program, funded by Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., is expected to expand in future years to include a total of 32 UC Berkeley undergraduate students.

Thermo Fisher, which makes laboratory equipment, chose UC Berkeley and four other universities from around the world for the program based on their strengths in STEM fields and their physical proximity to Thermo Fisher’s operations. UC Berkeley placed third in August’s Academic Ranking of World Universities and currently staffs four Nobel Prize winners in STEM fields.

“It’s a philanthropic program that is designed to inspire students to join STEM fields so that they can … make the world healthier, cleaner and safer,” said Taryn Corbino, who manages the scholarship program for Thermo Fisher. “It seemed logical to join with these institutes of higher education.”

For Patel, who is interested in biology and health, the scholarship not only supports her desire to pursue a career in science but also lessens the burden on her parents to pay for her education.

“I was definitely super excited,” Patel said. “I ran to my dad, and I think he was more excited than I was. I was really happy.”

Although UC Berkeley faculty is in charge of the scholarship review and selection process, Thermo Fisher provides the criteria for the scholarship, which include academic success and community service before arriving at UC Berkeley.

Corbino says the STEM scholarship will be assessed by Thermo Fisher on a regular basis and judged on an array of factors, such as the company’s engagement with students and the academic standing of students in the program.

Harry Le Grande said in an email that he hopes the scholarship will prompt similar programs in the future.

“Anytime we can cut the cost of education by scholarships like this,” LeGrande said, “we all win.”

Apart from UC Berkeley, the program is open to students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Imperial College London and Fudan University in Shanghai.

Contact Chris Yoder at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @christiancyoder.