DENTON, Texas (UNT) — A University of North Texas student has been awarded with one of the highest honors in the scientific community. Michael Thomas, a doctoral student studying in the Department of Chemistry, has been selected to receive a 2017 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
Thomas said his eight years serving in the U.S. Marines, including a tour in Afghanistan, helped lead him to his research and even helped him win this fellowship.
“In my statement to the NSF, I tied in my military service to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics,” said Thomas. “When I was in Afghanistan, I found many people didn’t have basic electricity. With my research now, I want to make electricity converters that are cost efficient devices that you can give to rural poor areas.”
Thomas said he also found that the diversity in his unit was extremely helpful in Afghanistan and he thinks that it would also have a major impact on STEM.
“The women and minorities in my unit helped the Afghanis feel more comfortable with us,” he said. “I also relate that to STEM, we need more woman and minorities in the sciences and we need to start recruiting them early so they are comfortable by the time they are here at the university level.”
The NSF fellowship is a tremendous benefit to Thomas’ university career. Of the 13,000 who applied, only 2,000 received the award. It will give him a stipend of $34,000 a year for up to five years. The money will cover expenses like tuition, research opportunities and equipment and the cost of travel to conferences.
“I’m really going to get the chance to network through this,” said Thomas. “I’m excited to see how this helps my career going forward. I can do all sorts of things with this degree and knowledge. I’m hoping I can make the world a better place through chemistry.”
He says he already has a great start on that dream thanks to his work under his mentor, Francis D’Souza.
“The professors here are my favorite part of UNT and I’m close to my hometown of Irving, so I get to be near my family,” said Thomas. “Under Dr. D’Souza, I’ve had more opportunities than I could have had anywhere else. In my field, the only thing that matters is the quality of your work and I’ve been able to do great research here.”