August 1, 2019

August 1, 2019


McDermott Scholar Receives Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship

Aug. 11, 2014

Kayla Klein

Kayla Klein BS’14

Kayla Klein wasn’t sure what career she would pursue.

Then in her sophomore year, Klein began a three-year stint in the UT Dallas Think Lab, where she studied how children develop trust and critical thinking skills.

She discovered she was a natural with kids. That, combined with her love of science, developed her passion for helping children get a healthy physical and mental start in life.

Klein BS’14, who graduated in May with degrees in neuroscience and biology, is now headed to the University of Michigan Medical School with the goal of becoming a pediatrician and a public health advocate.

Her dedication to pediatric public health and advocacy has been recognized with a $5,000 Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship.

It is the third year in a row — as long as UT Dallas has been a Phi Kappa Phi chapter member — that a student or alumnus from the University has received a fellowship from the honor society.

“I was very excited to get the news, for me and the University,” said Klein, who is an alumna of the McDermott Scholars program. “I’m very proud of UTD, and anything I can contribute to make it better makes me happy.”

The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi awards 51 fellowships of $5,000 each and six at $15,000 each to members entering the first year of graduate or professional study.

Last year, Dina Shahrokhi won the Marcus L. Urann fellowship of $15,000; Emily Lichtenheld, an economics and international political economy graduate, received a $5,000 fellowship in 2012.

Each chapter is allowed to nominate just one candidate a year, so competition within a university can be intense, said Dr. Douglas Dow, coordinator of the Office of Distinguished Scholarships and associate director of the University’s Collegium V Honors Program.

Dr. Mills is the best research mentor anyone could have. She encouraged me to explore my own ideas. I found that I enjoyed connecting with children and that they felt the same way. It helped me decide that I wanted to dedicate my life to working with kids.

Kayla Klein,
BS'14 and McDermott Scholar

“There’s an incredible amount of vetting that goes on by the time a nominee gets to national competition. This year, we had seven truly outstanding applicants,” Dow said.

Rafael Martin, associate vice president for research and president of the UT Dallas chapter of Phi Kappa Phi, praised the fellowship recipients and Dow’s efforts to shepherd students through the application process.

“We are extremely proud to have had the nominee from the UT Dallas chapter of Phi Kappa Phi chosen for a fellowship award for the past three years. It is a clear indicator that others recognize the caliber of our students and the quality of our graduates,” Martin said.

“It is also a testament to the dedication and hard work of Doug Dow and his team who solicit, evaluate and select our nominees. Our success in winning these awards is a direct result of Dr. Dow’s efforts.”

While she pursues her medical degree, Klein will also work toward a master’s degree at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

She describes her undergraduate research opportunity as “the most influential thing that happened to me at UT Dallas.” The Think Lab is headed by Dr. Candice Mills, an associate professor of psychology.

“Dr. Mills is the best research mentor anyone could have. She encouraged me to explore my own ideas,” Klein said. “I found that I enjoyed connecting with children and that they felt the same way. It helped me decide that I wanted to dedicate my life to working with kids.”

Klein’s work in the lab included being an interviewer, puppeteer, vocabulary tester, and facilitator between parents and children completing tasks together. Her honors thesis project received an Undergraduate Research Scholar Award and will be submitted for publication.

“Kayla has been an excellent student, with stellar grades,” Mills said. “She has a passion for learning, and with her inquisitive mind, her kind heart and overwhelming drive to serve others, I believe she represents what Phi Kappa Phi is all about.”

Thanks to an Archer Fellowship, Klein also spent a semester as an intern at First Focus, a children’s advocacy group in Washington, D.C., where she studied health care legislation and policies affecting children.

“My dream is to help kids get a healthy start in life so they don’t have to wait until they get to be an adult to think about a healthy lifestyle. It’s easier to keep good habits than to break bad ones,” Klein said.

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