Spotlights & Profiles

Student Spotlights

Griffith awarded Churchill Scholarship for graduate study

Jan. 31, 2013

Kent Griffith arrived at IU Bloomington four years ago, a small-town Indiana student with a driving curiosity about how things work and a conviction that studying chemistry would help him answer fundamental questions.

Kent Griffith in lab

Kent Griffith

Through participation in the STARS program, he was able to conduct laboratory research throughout his undergraduate career, working with some of IU Bloomington’s leading scientists and co-authoring articles that were published in academic joumarnals.

His work and dedication have paid off in a big way. Griffith has been awarded a prestigious Churchill Scholarship, enabling him to pursue one year of graduate study in chemistry leading to a Master of Philosophy degree at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

He is one of only 14 U.S. students to receive a Churchill Scholarship this year, and one of only three recipients from public universities. He is one of five IU students to have ever been awarded the scholarship and the first to receive the honor since 2001-02.

Griffith intends to study physical and analytical chemistry, working with Clare P. Grey, a Cambridge professor who uses solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance techniques to investigate the physical properties of technologically important materials, such as those used in lithium-ion batteries.

“Most of all I’m just very proud to represent Indiana University,” Griffith said. “The people here have helped me so much. I’m really thankful to IU for having given me this opportunity.”

The Churchill Scholarships are awarded by the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States, which was established in 1959 to support Churchill’s wish of always having American students represented at Churchill College at the University of Cambridge. The program allows students of exceptional ability and outstanding achievement to pursue studies in mathematics, engineering and the sciences.

Griffith’s scholarship is worth more than $60,000; it covers tuition, travel and visa costs and provides a living stipend and travel allowance.

“Kent Griffith has shown there are no limits to what a motivated and hard-working student can accomplish at Indiana University Bloomington,” said Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel. “His experience confirms the importance of providing opportunities for undergraduates to take part in original research. We at IU Bloomington are very proud and wish him the best in his graduate studies in the U.K.”

Griffith will graduate from IU with honors in May with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and with minors in geological sciences and mathematics, carrying a 4.0 grade-point average. A native of Mooreland, a town of fewer than 500 people in Henry County in east-central Indiana, he graduated from Blue River Valley High School, where there were about 50 students in his class.

He was named a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar in 2011. An IU Herbert Presidential Scholar, Founders Scholar and Excellence Scholar, he has received numerous departmental awards in chemistry and geological sciences. He has served as an officer with the Hutton Honors College Association and the Geology Club, taken part in a construction service trip to New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.

Griffith said he has always been curious about how things work, and explanations from chemistry have always made the most sense to him. Inspired by a high school field trip to a biodiesel facility, where he later worked as a summer intern, he developed a keen interest in research and was accepted at IU into the STARS program, which matches talented undergraduates with faculty research mentors.

He has worked for four years with Dennis Peters, the Herman T. Briscoe Professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences. He has also worked in the labs of David Clemmer, the Robert and Marjorie Mann Chair in the Department of Chemistry, and David Bish, the Haydn Murray Chair of Applied Clay Mineralogy in the Department of Geological Sciences. As an undergraduate, Griffith has co-authored two published journal articles and presented research findings at conferences.

“Over the almost 51 years that I have been a faculty member at Indiana University, I have had 62 undergraduates carry out meaningful research in my laboratory,” Peters said. “Among all of these highly talented and professionally successful former students, I would rank Kent as easily being among the top 10 percent. He is one of those rare individuals who come along just once or twice each decade.”

The University of Cambridge, which recently celebrated its 800th anniversary, is one of the world’s most celebrated academic institutions. As a Churchill Scholar, Griffith will live in Churchill College, one of 31 residential colleges that make up the university.

After completing the one-year program, he plans to either stay at Cambridge or return to the U.S. to continue work toward a doctorate in chemistry. He intends eventually to conduct research and teach at the university level.

This year’s Churchill Scholars represent 11 U.S. institutions -- three public universities, two liberal arts colleges and seven private universities. They will study a range of subjects including astronomy, chemistry, computational biology, earth sciences, engineering, theoretical mathematics, neuroscience and veterinary medicine.

Read more Student Spotlights stories »