Wheeler, Todd awarded prestigious UNCF/Merck scholarships

UAB Honors Program has 2 of 15 students chosen for national scholarship to conduct neuroscience and pharmacology research.

Ashton Wheeler and Anthony Todd, juniors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, have been selected to receive the UNCF/Merck Science Initiative scholarship. The prestigious award is given only to 15 undergraduate students nationally each year.

Anthony Todd, left, and Ashton Wheeler have been selected to receive the UNCF/Merck Science Initiative scholarship.

“Words cannot describe my excitement,” said Wheeler, who will become her family’s first college graduate when she receives her degree in May 2013. “I feel absolutely blessed that I have been given a rare opportunity, and I know that this internship will expand my appreciation of research by challenging me academically and offering me hands-on experience with research."

“It is such an honor to be one of only 15 people chosen for this award, and I can't wait to get to Merck to show them what I can do,” Todd said. “I know that I will further my interests in pharmacology and better foster my preparation for my career in clinical pharmacy.”

Todd, a chemistry major, and Wheeler, a neurology major, are members of the UAB Science and Technology Honors Program. They have been inseparable since meeting in high school both academically and personally.

“Anthony and I attended Loveless Academic Magnet Program High School in Montgomery and have been dating since 10th grade,” Wheeler said. “We know what we are both capable of achieving and we have pushed each other to ensure that we are always doing the best we can.”

Wheeler works with Farah Lubin, Ph.D., in the UAB School of Medicine Department of Neurobiology on neural substrates of memory loss in epilepsy.

“Ashton is highly motivated and passionate about her work in the lab,” said Lubin, assistant professor of neurobiology. “She aspired to and gained a highly coveted position in my lab, and I believe that she will be highly successful in her future endeavors in medicine and science.”

“The average ACT score of students entering our program is 30 and their GPA is 4.1, Ashton is one of our finest majors,” said Carl McFarland, Ph.D., founder and co-director of UAB’s undergraduate neuroscience program. “She makes me very proud to direct a program that attracts students of her caliber, and I know she will be a star someday.”

Todd works with Pengfei Wang, Ph.D., in the UAB Department of Chemistry. He is the second undergraduate researcher in Wang’s program to receive this honor.

“Anthony has a perfect GPA, but what impresses me most is his enthusiasm for research,” Wang said. “He is working on his own project, using hydrophilic photolabile protecting groups recently developed in my lab to modify highly toxic anticancer agents.”

Wang and Todd hope the modified drugs will be nontoxic, easy to deliver and locally released at cancer sites with a photochemical approach to avoid or minimize systemic toxicity associated with chemotherapeutic drugs.

“Anthony is one of our best students in the department,” said David Graves, Ph.D., chair of the UAB Department of Chemistry. “He was recruited as a freshman into the Chemistry Scholars Program. Chemistry majors are recruited into the program for their enthusiasm for chemistry, strong academic abilities and potential as student leaders. Anthony is the student we count on in our peer-learning community, and he has been a stellar student since he came to UAB.”

The scholarship includes participation in a desired field of research, neuroscience for Wheeler and pharmacology for Todd, at a Merck facility either in Boston, Pennsylvania or New Jersey for 10-12 weeks this summer. The award also includes a scholarship that covers all tuition and fees for the 2012-13 school year. In addition, the UAB Department of Psychology and the UAB Department of Chemistry may each apply for a $10,000 grant.