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Miami senior accepts prestigious astronaut scholarship


By Kaitlin Peffer, Staff Writer

With stars in his eyes, Cameron Williams leans forward in his chair after sitting back for 20 minutes. He energetically motions with his hands as he explains the implications that amoxicillin has in antibiotic resistance and how it affects the human immune system.

The night before, Williams accepted an award from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) presented by former NASA astronaut Michael McCulley in front of a full house of Miami students in Hall Auditorium.

The award that Captain McCulley presented -- based solely on merit -- is worth $10,000 and is given to 40 undergraduate students majoring in math and science related fields at 34 universities nationwide. All candidates for this scholarship must be in their junior or senior year and must exemplify leadership, initiative and creativity in their fields.

Williams -- a senior biochemistry major and mathematics minor -- has been studying the effects of antibiotic resistance, among other subjects in professor Rick Page's laboratory for the past three years. He has contributed to five of Page's publications and has accompanied him at conferences.

With Page's guidance, Williams has been creating his own experiments to answer the various questions of the biochemistry world.

Williams said that the mentorship that he has formed with Page is one of the best parts about Miami's biochemistry department.

"I really lucked out choosing Dr. Page to be my mentor," Williams said. "Miami professors are here for more than just teaching the required material. They start your career."

Along with all of his work in the laboratory, Williams has maintained a 4.0 GPA every semester. Living only 15 minutes from Oxford, he continues his lab work over summer and winter breaks, logging more hours in the lab than any of Page's other undergraduate mentees.

"Well, if you're really passionate about something, then you're going to do everything that you can to work toward your goals," said Williams.

Because of this exceptional effort by Williams, Page nominated him for the scholarship.

"Cameron is a tremendous asset to my lab," said Page. "He has more raw intellectual talent and better research skills than any student I have ever mentored. I have no doubt that he will go on to a tremendously successful career in science."

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Page won the National Science Foundation's CAREER grant in January 2016.

During the presentation, Captain McCulley shared stories of his five-day space exploration on the STS-34 mission Atlantis to successfully deploy Galileo, a probe that explored Jupiter, in 1989. McCulley has experience in the Navy, NASA and the Empire Test Pilots' School in Great Britain, as well as a Master's of Science in metallurgical engineering from Purdue University.

For an astronaut, McCulley was ironically down-to-earth, making several jokes as the night progressed.

"Going to outer space is like going camping in a Winnebago for a week," he said. "Except you don't go outside."

McCulley's success did not come easily. It took three sets of three tries for McCulley to get accepted into college, NASA and mission specialist training.

But with every setback, McCulley was even more determined to succeed. Seeing the image of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon in 1969 while studying for his Master's kept him motivated.

One of the greatest moments for Williams on Thursday evening was when McCulley pinned the ASF pin onto his jacket, officially inducting him into the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

"Looking back, everything is still so surreal," said Williams. "During dinner at Lewis Place, a president was on my left and an astronaut was on my right."

Williams is also the recipient of the 2016 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship worth $7,500. This award is based on both merit and financial need. Williams received the Undergraduate Summer Scholars Award -- a living stipend that he used for his internship this summer at the University of California, Berkeley's Department of Energy.

Williams is still a normal Miami student. He waited tables at Steak & Shake and Bob Evans up until his junior year at Miami. Currently, Williams is a physics, calculus and chemistry tutor at Rinella Learning Center.

Williams plans to use his ASF scholarship toward financing his spring semester at Miami. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a Ph. D. in biochemistry with the ultimate goal being education. Williams wants to become a professor of either biochemistry or mathematics at a university and encourage young students' passions for the sciences just as his professors did for him.

Even if Williams doesn't become an astronaut himself, the sky is still the limit.

"Coming to Miami has been the best decision I've made so far," said Williams. "It was just the right stepping stone I needed from my humble beginnings at a public high school and will transition me nicely into any prestigious postgraduate institution."