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Charles Wan, ChemE '17 and Robert Lee, ChemE '17 named Merrill Presidential Scholars

Monday, April 3, 2017

Since 1988, the Merrill Presidential Scholars Program has honored Cornell University’s most outstanding graduating seniors, while also recognizing the teachers who have played a significant role in ensuring their success. This unique program was created by the late Philip Merrill ’55 and is made possible through annual support from the Merrill Family Foundation. Cornell University is grateful to the Merrill family—Eleanor Merrill, Douglas Merrill ’89, MBA ’91, Catherine Merrill Williams ’91, and Nancy Merrill ’96—for their continued commitment to the Merrill Presidential Scholars program.

Merrill Presidential Scholars rank among the top one percent of the class in their respective schools and colleges.

Charles Wan '17:
Charles, a chemical and biomolecular engineering major, received a 2016 Goldwater Scholarship for his research on Li-O2 batteries in the Archer group. His research resulted in an upcoming first-author publication to Science Advances. Charles also interned at UC Berkeley and ExxonMobil, filing a patent memorandum with the latter. In addition to research, Charles has been a member of the nationals-winning Cornell ChemE Car project team since freshman year, and currently assumes the role of Senior Captain. He also held teaching assistant positions for three core ChemE classes (Fluid Mechanics, Thermodynamics, and Chemical Kinetics and Reactor Design). After graduation, Charles will be pursuing a PhD in chemical engineering, funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Penfield High School Math Teacher
When I found out I could invite a high school teacher, Mrs. Vibber came to my mind as the first and obvious choice. I took two advanced calculus math classes with her, and she advised the Math League team I was a part of. What I remember about her class, first and foremost, was the open and welcoming environment she facilitated, in which students collaborated and put heads together to master new concepts and overcome tough problems. Mrs. Vibber’s style was engaging, and her enthusiasm unmatched. She gave a part of herself to every student she taught, because teaching was not only her profession, but also her passion. I did not choose to follow a career in pure mathematics, but I can trace the roots of my academic career to her classroom, where I discovered an interest for applying math to real-world situations and learned tools essential to becoming a successful engineer. Mrs. Vibber is largely responsible for where I am today, pursuing my passions in chemical engineering. 

Cornell University Most Influential Professor 
I had the good fortune of getting acquainted with Professor Archer early on as an undergraduate researcher in his group (by which I mean Professor Archer was willing to take a chance on a shameless freshman banging on the CBE Department Chair’s door asking for research). From the start, Professor Archer stressed the importance of approaching problems using scientific first-principles and focusing on practical research that would lend itself to an important cause. He treated me with respect as if I were one of his graduate students, finding time in his busy schedule for weekly meetings. He is always full of new ideas, and carries himself with an infectious energy. Chemical engineers often have attractive job options right after undergrad, and so I wasn’t always set on graduate school. But seeing the ground-breaking research Professor Archer does on a daily basis and his impact on the scientific education of others influenced my career path. I strive to one day be the role model for others that he has been for me. 

Robert Lee '17:
Robert Lee performs research with Aravind Natarajan (Ph.D. candidate, Microbiology) in the lab of Professor Matthew DeLisa and is an author on a recent publication. He has served as a co-lead facilitator for the Academic Excellence Workshop program, a teaching assistant for classes in chemical engineering, and a member of the Engineering World Health project team. He interned at DuPont Industrial Biosciences and Genentech, and is a member of the Cornell chapters of Tau Beta Pi and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Robert has received scholarships from the Goldwater Foundation, the Rawlings Cornell Presidential Research Scholarship program, Genentech, and Tau Beta Pi. He will begin a Ph.D. program in chemical engineering after graduation. 

High School History Teacher 
Mr. John Bungarden is the reason AP U.S. History was my most difficult class in high school. As I analyzed historical documents and parsed arguments of professional historians, I found myself scared of Mr. Bungarden’s responses to my positions, well-founded and insightful rejoinders that occasionally made me feel foolish. Nevertheless, this refusal to accept less than the best forced me to better defend my conclusions. Being challenged every day helped me begin to grow my strengths: thinking about cause and effect, critiquing arguments, and holding myself to the highest standard.  

Cornell University Most Influential Professor
Professor Matthew DeLisa helped me find a research and career path. I entered Cornell unsure whether I could merge my interests in biology with chemical engineering. After getting involved in Prof. DeLisa’s lab, I realized that there are many opportunities for me to grow in both fields. Just as impactful was being able to see what a career in research looks like on a day-to-day basis. Prof. DeLisa balanced countless responsibilities and still found time to champion me, nurture my development as a researcher, and even stay updated with my progress outside of lab. He and his group gave me a place to flourish and set me on my path toward a Ph.D.  

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