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Ohio Wesleyan Student Earns National Science Foundation Fellowship
Sean Williams Receives Graduate Research Fellowship in Recognition of Outstanding Abilities, Potential

April 12, 2011

Sean Williams practices a bird call. The OWU senior has just earned a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. He plans to attend Michigan State University to pursue a doctorate focusing on the conservation and ecology of birds in the tropics.
Photo by Pam Burtt
DELAWARE, OH – Ohio Wesleyan University graduating senior Sean Williams has been awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship in recognition of his “outstanding abilities and accomplishments, as well as [his] potential to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the US science and engineering enterprise.”

The national fellowship includes a $30,000 stipend for three years, a $10,500 cost-of-education allowance, international research and professional development opportunities, and access to the TeraGrid scientific supercomputer network.

Williams, an Ohio Wesleyan pre-professional zoology major from South Boston, will use the education allowance to pursue a doctoral degree at Michigan State University, where he also has been selected to receive a University Enrichment Fellowship. Only about 20 of 500 accepted graduate students are awarded such university fellowships, which include an annual stipend and health insurance.

“Sean Williams is an extraordinary student,” said Ohio Wesleyan President Rock Jones, Ph.D. “Under the mentorship of faculty member Jed Burtt, Sean has conducted original research since his freshman year, presented findings at multiple professional ornithology meetings, and published research in the cover story of a national birding magazine. I have known few undergraduate students with the deep passion for the focus of their academic work that Sean demonstrates for the study of birds. The National Science Foundation doesn’t routinely award Graduate Research Fellowships to undergraduate students, but it’s clear why Sean was selected for this wonderful recognition.”

During his time at Ohio Wesleyan, Williams has presented research at national meetings of both the American Ornithologists’ Union and the Wilson Ornithological Society, among others. He will begin pursing his doctorate in July, utilizing a Michigan State Early Start Fellowship. As part of that experience, he hopes to visit Panama, where his Ph.D. adviser has a field site, to explore new research projects. In November, he and his adviser will travel to Peru to attend the Neotropical Ornithological Congress.

Williams’ doctoral studies will focus on the conservation and ecology of birds in the tropics. After he earns his Ph.D., he hopes to work in a university setting.

According to the National Science Foundation, its Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) “has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The reputation of the GRFP follows recipients and often helps them become life-long leaders that contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. … These individuals are crucial to maintaining and advancing the nation’s technological infrastructure and national security as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large.”

Past NSF fellows have included multiple Nobel Prize winners; U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Ph.D.; Google founder Sergey Brin, M.S.; and “Freakonomics” co-author Steven Levitt, Ph.D.


Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier small, private universities, with more than 90 undergraduate majors, sequences, and courses of study, and 23 Division III varsity sports. Located in Delaware, Ohio, just minutes north of Ohio’s capital and largest city, Columbus, the university combines a globally focused curriculum with off-campus learning and leadership opportunities that translate classroom theory into real-world practice. OWU’s close-knit community of 1,850 students represents 45 states and 52 countries. Ohio Wesleyan earned a 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in General Community Service, is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” and is included on the “best colleges” lists of U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review. Learn more at www.owu.edu.