Ansley Elkins couldn’t stop smiling. She called her mom. She called her dad. And then she threw on her shoes and ran to campus and told everyone she saw the news: She’d officially been named a Goldwater Scholar.
“My face hurt by the end of the day because of how hard I had been smiling,” says the rising senior, who applied for the Goldwater Scholarship – one of the nation’s highest honors for undergraduates studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics – at the urge of her faculty advisors, but never dreamed she’d actually be awarded the scholarship. “In my head, there was no way I was going to get it. But I put my name in the hat, and I’m so glad that I did!”
Aiming to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in STEM disciplines, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship recognizes college sophomores and juniors who show exceptional promise of becoming the next generation of research leaders in their fields.
“Winning this award has been a transformative experience, confirming my identity as a scientist and affirming the validity and importance of my research,” says Elkins, a biology major in the Honors College. “Getting that recognition helped alleviate any kind of imposter syndrome I felt and really made me feel very recognized and accomplished.”
This is hardly Elkins’ first accomplishment. The Charleston Fellow has received a Pee Dee Alumni Club Scholarship, a Swanson Family Scholarship, a College of Charleston Merit Scholarship, the Baikal Foundation Scholarship and the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship.
“All of these different scholarships have just taken the financial burden off of my back,” says the Florence, South Carolina, native, noting that she wouldn’t have been able to come to the College without scholarship support.
And she certainly wouldn’t have been able to spend her summers in Charleston conducting research without the SC-INBRE research grants and the summer research grants she’s received from the School of Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering for three summers.
“Summer research wasn’t even on my list of possibilities,” says Elkins. “All these different grants, all these different scholarships, have made it so that I can focus on my education and focus on my research, and I’m so grateful for that.”
She’s also grateful that she found Renaud Geslain, associate professor of biology, her second semester at the College, and has been able to work with him on his research ever since.
“I am very interested in proteomics and translation, which matched Dr. Geslain’s research project perfectly. It was just like it was meant to be,” says Elkins.
As a high school student at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Math, Elkins researched wheat proteins at the Clemson Pee Dee Research and Education Center and Geslain’s research focuses on the translation of genetic information into proteins, with a goal of disproving the assumption that all organs and tissues have the same type of tRNA at the same level.
It’s the kind of research that takes consistency over a long period of time, so pairing up together so early in Elkins’ CofC career has been great not just for the research goals, but for Elkins’ growth as well.
“My research and working with him has really made my college experience incredibly fulfilling,” she says. “He’s always giving me advice and opportunities, while supporting and encouraging me along the way.”
It’s been pretty great for Geslain, as well.
“Discussing ideas with Ansley opens my mind because she asks questions from a student’s perspective, which for me is great,” he says. “Ansley embodies what I believe a great scientist is, and will be in the future – she is on track for greatness.”
“Dr. Geslain helped me explore different avenues and see what all a degree in molecular biology can hold for me – it’s great to think about all of the amazing possibilities that I can do,” says Elkins. “He’s really inspired me to go get my Ph.D. and teach at the undergraduate level – just seeing how he interacts with students has really made me want to work with undergraduates in a similar close-knit relationship.”
It’s not just Geslain who has inspired her – it’s all of her mentors and teachers at the College.
“Here at the College, I never feel alone. I have my mentors and all these people that aren’t going to let me mess up. They’re not going to let me stumble,” says Elkins, who minors in chemistry and women’s and gender studies. “When I came to the College of Charleston, I made the decision that I wanted to be a good citizen, I wanted to be well educated, I wanted to be able to support others and navigate the scary world that we’re in. I hope that, as I become a professor and enter the workforce, I’m able to tackle the social injustices and promote equity in education. That’s really my goal.”
And – now with the Goldwater Scholarship – she is more ready to achieve her goals than ever before. In addition to covering the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to $7,500 per year, the scholarship connects recipients to other Goldwater Scholars, giving them a supportive community to work with and learn from throughout their careers.
“There are so many different opportunities,” says Elkins. “I’m excited to see where it takes me.”
And that’s something to smile about.