Valdosta Daily Times

August 19, 2013

Scholar discovers a love for science

Kristin Finney
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — A longtime love of science and a desire to understand the world around her has molded Lizzie Atkinson into the person she is today. As a Noyce scholarship winner, a chemistry student and a future teacher, Atkinson has big plans to help others develop the same hunger for knowledge.

Since childhood, Atkinson has had a strong craving to understand how and why everything happened.

“My parents always said I was a weird kid,” Atkinson said. “When I went to the dentist, I wanted to know exactly what they were going to do and why. They would have to start telling me two weeks before my appointment what was going to happen and the reasons why.”

Atkinson always knew she wanted to study some type of science; she just wasn’t sure which field.

“I changed my major, like, six times, but it was always in a science field,” she said.

When asked what inspired her to change to chemistry, Atkinson explained, “I had one teacher one semester, he taught Chem 1152, and he was so excited about everything. He made it feel like we could do anything with chemistry. I think it was his passion that really helped me realize how much I enjoy chemistry.”

After changing her major, Atkinson planned to attend pharmacy school, though she knew it would be expensive. Then, a science professor approached her about applying for the Noyce scholarship. The Valdosta Noyce Scholars Science Teacher Preparation and Retention project allows science students to obtain a bachelor’s degree in a science major and a teaching certification through a five-year post-baccalaureate program, all through Valdosta State University.

“I had received the email several times, but I didn’t think about applying for it. Then he (the professor) came to one of my classes and talked to me. I told him my plans and he was, like, well, this is just another option and I had nothing to lose by applying. So I did,” Atkinson recalled.

Several students applied for the scholarship, which covers up to $12,000 per year. Nine were selected. Atkinson was one of them.

Through Noyce, Atkinson was able to participate in a summer internship. Her internship allowed her to work closely with other students every day to do experiments.

“It was really cool,” she said. “We did experiments and had to write our findings into scientific papers that could be published in scholarly journals. It was cool for all of us to come together.”

One of the major projects that the scholars developed is an unmanned device that could travel to the bottom of the ocean, collect sediment samples and return to the surface. The device was inspired by an idea of another science student, the Noyce interns were simply able to do trial runs and practices.

Atkinson said of the trials, “We tested it in the sinks in the labs at first. Then we tested it in a large, water-filled cylinder. We wanted to test it at Blue Springs, but with all of the rain this summer, we weren’t able to. We still want to go in the near future.”

The group was also able to create demonstration videos of experiments that will be watched by freshmen chemistry students. These videos will hopefully make science attractive and exciting to young students.

“I think everyone should be excited about science. It is knowing why everything is the way it is. Looking back at all of the scientists from the past, we would have nothing if it wasn’t for them. It is so cool to think where we will be in 100 years,” she said.

With a hectic schedule of school and work, Atkinson doesn’t have much free time. When she does have free time, she enjoys spending it with her family.

“They support me so much. They get so excited to hear me talk about what I am doing at school,” she said.

Atkinson also enjoys going to music festivals and concerts and is an alumni of Chi Omega.

Atkinson expects to graduate with her bachelor’s of science in chemistry in two years. She will then pursue her master’s in secondary education. While uncertain what she wants to do after graduation, she hopes to help people.

“I’d like to work on creating medicines and fighting illnesses.”