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WVU grad students awarded first Ruby Fellowships for innovative doctoral work

on Tue, 10/02/2012 - 08:00

Two West Virginia University doctoral students are the recipients of the first Ruby Scholars graduate fellowships – awards designed to assist talented graduate students pursuing degrees in predominantly energy-related or science and engineering disciplines.

In addition to graduate and tuition fee waivers, Derrick Banerjee of Parkersburg and Thomas Devine of Fairmont will each receive a $30,000 stipend and a $2,000 travel grant for professional development opportunities as part of the 2012-2013 Ruby Scholars Graduate Fellowship Program, established last year with a $5 million gift from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust and matched by the West Virginia Research Trust Fund, bringing the total value of the fellowship program to $10 million.

"These two scholars are the first of many who will build a proud legacy for the Ruby Fellowship program at WVU," said President Jim Clements during an event today (Oct. 2) announcing the recipients. "I want to again thank the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust for giving us this unprecedented opportunity to support outstanding graduate students. It was an historic day when we announced the endowment, and it is very exciting to now see the impact of the Trust's vision for this program.

"Both Derrick and Thomas will be able to pursue their dreams of advancing the world of science and their successes will bring honor to WVU and our entire community. I wish them the best in their graduate studies and congratulate them on the distinction of being a Ruby Fellow," Clements said.

The program is designed to attract and assist talented graduate students from across the country to further develop their talents, benefiting the people of West Virginia, the nation and the world.

“The selection committee has found two outstanding people in this first class of Ruby Fellows,” said Stephen B. Farmer, member of the Hazel Ruby McQuain Trust board. “We have great hopes for you in your endeavors, and wish you wonderful success in your life.”

The program requires that the student must be pursuing a graduate degree in a field that focuses on research in energy and environmental sciences; nanotechnology and material science; biological, biotechnological and biomedical sciences; or biometrics, security, sensing, forensic sciences and related identification technologies.

Derrick Banerjee

Banerjee already has earned two degrees from WVU – a bachelor’s and a master’s in mechanical engineering. As a Ruby Fellow, he will be pursuing a doctorate in mechanical engineering, focusing on materials research.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity. The fellowship provides me with flexibility in my academic and research pursuits” Banerjee said. “It allows me to take more risks on my research direction and really delve into problems of my interest. I wouldn’t necessarily be able to do that if I were funded differently. It really allows me to have a lot of academic freedom.”

This flexibility will allow Banerjee to continue his outreach to high schools within the state, teaching and promoting the subject of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to students and teachers. Along with outreach to high schools, he has also taught an undergraduate course, supervised the day-to-date research of undergraduate students and worked as a tutor throughout his high school and undergraduate education. All of these experiences have led him to his passion of working in academia.

“By receiving a fellowship this prestigious, I’ve seen that hard work does pay off and that you can accomplish your goals,” Banerjee said. “I want to teach others of their potential broader impacts and inspire underrepresented groups including women and first-generation college students to study in the STEM fields.”

After finishing his doctorate, Banerjee hopes to continue working in academia so that he can pursue his research interests while teaching and recruiting others.

Thomas Devine

Devine already holds four degrees. He has a master’s degree in computer science from WVU, and has earned bachelor’s degrees in philosophy/history of science and mathematics, mathematics and computer science from other schools.

He is pursuing a doctorate degree in computer science, while focusing his research on computer science issues within the astrophysics industry.

“This is a childhood dream come true. The fellowship is allowing me to continue my education and quest to make an impact on the world,” Devine said. “I am so appreciative and thankful for the support from the McQuain Trust, WVU Foundation, the teachers and my family.”

For Devine, the fellowship offers something more than just an education.

“I have worked my entire life for my education. I’ve made countless sacrifices and worked multiple jobs to pursue my dream of making significant contributions to mankind,” he said. “This program is offering me the chance to pursue that dream without having to constantly worry about finances. It will provide me a whole new focus and clarity of vision.”

After completing his doctorate, Devine plans to continue working in computer science, specifically within the astrophysics industry. He hopes to advance both fields of science and ultimately contribute to our understanding of the universe.

The Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust, a renowned WVU and community benefactor, was established by Mrs. McQuain, who died in 2002 at the age of 93. The retired president of Ruby Enterprises Inc., Mrs. McQuain engaged in philanthropic endeavors of benefit to the University and local organizations for more than 20 years, including an $8 million gift toward construction of Ruby Memorial Hospital, which was named after her late husband, J.W. Ruby.

The gift establishing the fellowship program was made through the WVU Foundation, the private non-profit corporation that generates and provides support for West Virginia University.