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Biomedical Engineering Grad Becomes First Phi Kappa Phi 1897 Fellow
Aug. 12, 2019
Sydney Sherman BS’19
Sydney Sherman BS’19 has been named the first 1897 Fellow of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. The new national award recognizes the highest-scoring applicant in a STEM discipline.
Sherman, a Eugene McDermott Scholar and a National Merit Scholar, graduated in May from The University of Texas at Dallas’ Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. The 1897 Fellowship provides $35,000 to support her next step: pursuing a PhD through the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology.
Sherman plans to continue research she conducted at UT Dallas on how the central nervous system can recover after disease or injury through a combination of implantable devices and nerve-tissue regeneration.
“I was very excited by the surprise and honor of being selected as the first 1897 Fellow,” she said. “I appreciate the recognition in a very skilled and accomplished group of applicants. I was very impressed in realizing Phi Kappa Phi’s selection committee was quite thorough in reviewing application information and expressed an in-depth understanding of my research, interests and pursuits.”
“The people [at UTD] made the difference and created a learning and social environment where I was constructively challenged and grew in experiences and opportunities that friends at other schools had less available. From UTD, I will most remember the relationships I developed and the culture of support.”
The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, the nation’s oldest and most selective collegiate honor society for all academic disciplines, awards 50 fellowships of $8,500 each, six at $20,000 each, and two at $35,000 each to members entering the first year of graduate or professional study. The selection process for a fellowship is based on the applicant’s evidence of graduate potential, undergraduate academic achievement, service and leadership experience, letters of recommendation, personal statement of educational perspective and career goals, and acceptance in an approved graduate or professional program.
The 1897 Fellow, named for the year the society was founded, follows other major honors Sherman has received while earning her degree at UT Dallas. In 2018, she won an award from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which supports undergraduates pursuing careers in natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Earlier this year, Sherman was selected for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which provides three years of financial support for graduate studies.
Sherman said she became interested in science in high school in Wrightstown, Pennsylvania, where she participated in a neuro-electrophysiology project at the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences hosted by Carnegie Mellon University.
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At UT Dallas, she continued to develop her interests by conducting research in various labs, including the Advanced Polymer Research Lab of Dr. Walter Voit BS’05, MS’06, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering. In that lab, Sherman worked on a project to develop a spinal-cord stimulation device made with material that physically softens once it has been implanted onto the spinal cord, resulting in less damage to surrounding tissue. Spinal-cord stimulation is used for pain management and is being researched for use in promoting motor recovery after paralysis from a spinal-cord injury.
Sherman also joined Dr. Joseph Pancrazio’s Neuronal Networks and Interfaces Laboratory, where she was introduced to neuroscience research using cells rather than devices to study neurodegenerative disease progression.
“Sydney has a remarkably sharp intellect complemented by curiosity and drive for pursuing research opportunities offered outside the classroom,” said Pancrazio, vice president for research and professor of bioengineering.
In addition, Sherman worked in the Motor Recovery Lab at Burke Neurological Institute, an academic affiliate of Weill Cornell Medicine, where then-lab director Dr. Jason Carmel was collaborating with Voit to evaluate the softening spinal-cord stimulators. In the summer of 2018, Sherman researched neuromodulation therapies to augment recovery after spinal-cord injury at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne.
As she prepares for the next step in her academic career, Sherman is thankful for the “incredibly supportive environment” at UT Dallas that allowed her to explore her interests and determine her current focus.
“The people [at UTD] made the difference and created a learning and social environment where I was constructively challenged and grew in experiences and opportunities that friends at other schools had less available,” Sherman said. “From UTD, I will most remember the relationships I developed and the culture of support.”