Understanding Gillian Horn’s work can be a challenge. Understanding Gillian’s success is much easier. Since she was a toddler, she knew she wanted to be a scientist, and Converse College provided just the right chemistry for her to become an award-winning researcher.
“Since the third grade, I’ve said I want to be a biochemist,” says the Nisbet Honors Program student. “I’m one of those crazy science people, but I feel like Converse has allowed me to secure that goal and dream I’ve had since I was little.”
Thanks to the support of Converse faculty mentors, the Raleigh, NC, native has garnered state and national recognition in the form of prestigious awards during her time at Converse.
In April, she presented a talk during the South Carolina Academy of Science’s 91st annual meeting. The Academy presented her with both the Dwight Camper Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award, its highest honor for undergraduate research, and the Top Outstanding Female Scientist Award.
I want young girls to know that yes, you can be a research scientist and be a woman.
Just two weeks prior, she received word from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship competition that she was awarded an honorable mention from a nationwide field of 1,280 applicants.
The Goldwater is one of the nation’s most coveted scholarships for sophomores and juniors in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering; and Gillian is Converse’s third recipient within the last decade.
“Converse is competing on a national level. South Carolina’s other Goldwater honorees are from large research universities,” says Dr. Will Case, Gillian’s research mentor at Converse. “Although we are small, our students stand out among their peers from larger institutions. Gillian has proven that she is a shining star in the research laboratory, and I look forward to seeing what she will accomplish in the future.”
As for her perspective, Gillian says she not only feels Converse’s influence, she also looks forward to influencing the next generation of women interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
She’s definitely at a gender disadvantage. Women comprise slightly more than half of the nation’s college-educated workforce, but only a quarter of college-trained STEM workers, according to the US Commerce Department.
But Converse students have an advantage. More than 90 percent of our natural sciences majors complete a capstone research project and presentation before graduation. Gillian’s research is guided by Dr. Case with funding from the National Institutes of Health (grant P20GM103499 – SC INBRE from National Institute of General Medical Sciences). They explore the capability of sensors to detect small molecules implicated in disease states, in hopes of eventually designing a sensor template that could be used to identify a variety of diagnostic molecules.
“I want young girls to know that yes, you can be a research scientist and be a woman. Yes, you can study a STEM field, and it’s cool to study a STEM field.”
“Being at Converse makes me believe I can obtain my MD or Ph.D. It makes me believe I can cure a disease; I can be a researcher; I can be a minority in the field of science.”
It is an environment she attributes to her success and hopes will empower the women who follow in her footsteps. “Everyone supports one another here. Faculty and staff push you. They expect a lot of you, but that’s great preparation for your field. They make you think. Sometimes, they make you cry. But you will love it here,” she says.
Originally published in The Converse Magazine.