Kiel Williams ’13 Earns NSF Fellowship
Kiel Williams ’13 has received a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship based on his scholarship and community service.
He felt like his volunteer work with an after-school science enrichment program at Jefferson Elementary through the Guilford Society of Physics Students gave him a shot at the highly competitive and prestigious fellowship.
“I did start with some degree of optimism, whether warranted or not, as a consequence of the Guilford Physics Department’s long-standing commitment to community outreach,” he said.
“The [National Science Foundation] places a high premium on any effort to either make science more immediately applicable to society or to bring science into under-served communities. I believed my involvement with the outreach efforts of the Guilford Society of Physics Students might provide me with a kind of ‘head start.’”
Whether or not he was expecting to receive the fellowship, upon learning of his accomplishment, Kiel was understandably excited.
“I was quite elated upon learning of my selection,” he said. “I applied with the foreknowledge both that the selection rate was exceptionally low and that my competition was extremely stiff, so my initial expectations were quite low.
“I seem to recall feeling more surprised than anything else upon finding out!”
According to Kiel, in addition to the prestige and money that comes with the fellowship, the NSF Graduate Fellowship also affords him a level of freedom he wouldn’t have otherwise.
“Typically, graduate students in physics not only have to be admitted to a particular school, but also find an advisor within that that school who can fund them,”he said.
“Consequently, professors with less funding are more reticent to accept new graduate students into their research groups. Because I now carry my own funding, the barrier to entry for me to work with a particular professor is substantially lower.”
With his fellowship in hand, Kiel will be starting graduate school in physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“The University of Illinois is home to a truly world-class physics program, and I anxiously await the start of my ‘new life’ there,” he said.
He thanked those who have helped him, especially Professor of Physics and Academic Advising Director Steve Shapiro, mentors Josef Frisch at Stanford and David Kreinick at Cornell, and Frank Erwin ’34 and Ava Roberts Werner ’33.
Frank, who died in 2007, and his wife, Ava, who died in 2003, made a $2.2 million gift to create the College’s first full scholarships. Kiel is a Werner Scholar.
“There are countless people who played a role in helping me reach where I am today, so I will attempt to restrict myself,” he said. “First, none of this would have been possible without endless support from the faculty of the Guilford Physics and Math departments, and I must acknowledge both groups. … Finally, I acknowledge the love and support of my parents, who have had a hand in making this possible far longer than anyone else.”
Story by David Pferdekamper ’12.