Laura South arrived at Colorado State University with a passion for social justice, planning to major in political science. She soon discovered, however, that she could effect more change through the natural sciences and majors in computer science and statistics.
“I didn’t realize that technical education could be a path toward making the world a better place until I took my very first computer science class,” she said at this year’s College of Natural Sciences Scholarship and Fellowship Recognition Luncheon. Now in her fourth year, she said, “I have discovered and deepened my love for science and math and technology during my time in the College of Natural Sciences, learning from brilliant, encouraging faculty and from my fellow students. At the same time, I have been able to work toward improving the societal problems that I have been passionate about my entire life.”
Like many of her peers, South’s journey has been made possible through scholarship gifts from generous donors. These donors – and their student recipients – were the guests of honor at this year’s luncheon, held Oct. 12 in the Lory Student Center.
Thanks to the support of donors, the College of Natural Sciences was able to award more than 275 scholarships and fellowships to students this academic year, which is a 22 percent increase from the previous year. The luncheon also broke records, with more than 350 people in attendance. “It’s an amazing time for us in the College of Natural Sciences,” said dean of the college Jan Nerger.
An education to change the world
Among those supporting academic excellence in the college is Dr. Jack Cochran (biological science, ’68), who is this year’s College of Natural Sciences Distinguished Alumnus and keynote speaker at the luncheon. Cochran, who created the first active college professorship, the Dr. Jack Cochran Family Professorship in Natural Sciences, didn’t know what he would be signing up for when he applied to medical schools in his fourth year. “When I walked out of CSU, I didn’t have any doctors in my family,” he said at the Scholarship Luncheon. “I didn’t know what medical school was going to be like. And, so, I thought, maybe I’m just going to get run over by how hard it is and by how smart everybody is.”
Cochran received his medical training at the University of Colorado, Stanford University, and the University of Wisconsin. And at each of these schools, he discovered: “I was fine. I was well prepared. I was one of the students who really could accomplish anything I wanted. The CSU preparation needs no explanation. You’ll do very well.”
He also noted that the foundation attained at CSU can truly make a difference in the world. “Take this platform that you have – and celebrate what you have done and what you will do. But not only celebration but acceleration. Because you’re just prepped. You’re just ready. You’re just getting good. What you have here has really prepared you to make big differences where you go, and when you really take on the world outside of the walls of CSU.”
Cochran retired in 2015 as executive director and CEO of the Permanente Federation, which oversees all Kaiser Permanente groups in the country, including more than 20,000 physicians and 10 million patients. “I want to acknowledge this gathering of great scholars and a great community of people,” he said. “And whether we know each other or not, we do know that we care a lot about the future of the world… All of us in this room, I believe, are the collation for a better future, and we all have different ways to contribute.”
Such an empowering education is not available to everyone. Scholarships and fellowships can make a difference for talented students – not only in the financial support, but also in affirming their direction and capabilities, as South discovered.
“Today, I am proud to be receiving the Thomas J. Heindenfelder award for academic excellence and service to the field of computer science,” said South, who is a member of the University Honors Program and vice chair of the Association for Computing Machinery – Women. While at CSU, she has not only excelled on campus but also interned with Hewlett Packard Enterprise building business software that is used internationally and conducted original research on mobile security at Rutgers University.
Despite all of her achievements, she said, “there are still days when I go back to that feeling of imposter syndrome, as if I don’t truly deserve these opportunities… The scholarships that are given out by the College of Natural Sciences and the many wonderful donors help to quell those silly little voices that argue against reason. [The scholarships] truly are a vote of confidence in the abilities of my generation. They provide students the strength and the courage to continue down the challenging but rewarding path that is higher education in the sciences.”