Published on June 12, 2023 by Diamond Nunnally  
Megan Elliott

Biological and Environmental Sciences alumna Megan Elliott '21 is now among an elite group of STEM students nationwide. She is pursuing her Ph.D. and was recently selected to receive a 2023 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. With an annual acceptance rate of 16%, this scholarship has a track record of producing Fellows who "achieve high levels of success in their academic and professional careers."  

"I am super excited and thankful to have been awarded this fellowship," Elliott said. "I feel fortunate to be in this position with all the support and resources I have received."  

The NSF Fellows program supports graduate students in "NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions." Elliott is part of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Genome Science and Technology Program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Under the supervision of Professor Robert Hettich, she is using mass spectrometry to find solutions to important environmental problems surrounding global warming and the use of fossil fuels.  

"My research for this fellowship focuses on using Mass Spectrometry to better understand the molecular functions of two bacteria that can produce ethanol from plant feedstocks," Elliott said. "This is important to find other alternatives to crude oil extraction and eventually replace the need for fossil fuel use." 

Elliott will receive an annual stipend of $37,000, a $12,000 education allowance for tuition and fees and opportunities for professional development.  

She said, "This fellowship will allow me to focus my undivided attention on my research. It will give me the financial freedom to attend more conferences where I will present posters and talk about my research."  

While at Samford, Elliott was a research student for Emeritus Biological and Environmental Sciences Professor Dave Johnson. She said he impacted her life immensely and even wrote a recommendation letter for this fellowship.  

"I can't thank him enough,” Elliott said. “Dr. Johnson has been an integral part of my success in science and continues to be, way past graduation. Also at Samford, Dr. Malia Fincher was my academic advisor, and she was the person who opened my mind to the possibility of getting a Ph.D. Dr. Drew Hattaway, who taught me in his genetics class, also told me about the Ph.D. program I am in today!"  

“While I realize I was just one of her undergraduate mentors, it is truly rewarding to know that I had a part in Megan excelling in her dreams,” Johnson said.  

Elliott hopes to become a full-time researcher or professor at a university like Samford. She wants to mentor as many young students as possible.  

She said, "Education of the general population, as well as advocacy and outreach to the next generation of scientists, is vital to decreasing our carbon footprint as global warming continues." 

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.