Class of 2013 graduates Will Berdanier (Goldwater Scholar) and Damilola Olatayo (Gates Millenium Scholar) talk about their lives and experiences in the College of Natural Sciences at UT.
The main thing you need to know about Boulder, Colo., native Will Berdanier is that he’s an NAUI-certified Master Scuba Diver. Oh, and he’s very good at violin, is an Eagle Scout, has been a leader on campus and is by all accounts a really nice guy.
Almost forgot: He’s done cutting-edge research investigating methods for using relativistic beams of heavy ions to compress a pellet of fuel to extremely high temperatures and pressures (see the video for more on that).
The physics and mathematics double major also been part of a team working on particle accelerator technologies that might someday help make compact accelerators for a variety of applications, such as medical therapy and homeland security.
As a result of that research — and exceptional academic performance in every respect — he’s been awarded a Marshall Scholarship and will spend the next two to three years at Cambridge University in England, earning two master’s degrees. One is a legendary Cambridge degree, known as “Part III of the Mathematical Tripos,” that covers advanced topics in pure and applied mathematics. The other is in theoretical physics. After that he plans to return to the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in physics.
When Damilola Olatayo was 11 years old her parents put her on a plane from Houston to spend a year in Nigeria, where she was born. It was formative. She learned an immense amount about Nigerian culture. In order to keep up with her Nigerian classmates, she had to work much harder in school than she was used to working (no offense, American schools). And she caught malaria, which forever changed her perspective on the importance of accessible medical care.
“I was so blessed,” remembers Olatayo, a Gates Millenium Scholar who’s graduating with a degree in neurobiology. “I was in a country where vast amounts people die from contracting the disease, but my aunts and uncles were well off, and my parents were also able to send money, so I got treated and made a full recovery, but I saw the disparities. I saw that money was often the difference between people living and dying. I saw that health is wealth. That experience made me want to be involved in global medicine.”
It’s a commitment Olatayo has kept. She has spent the last few years volunteering and working at hospitals, nursing homes and clinics in Austin and Houston (where her family lives). She’s gotten certified as a nursing assistant and medication aide. She’s worked with Texas Exes to help lay the groundwork for a medical school in Austin. And she’ll be spending next year in France and Thailand earning a master’s degree in global studies and international relations. After that she plans to go to medical school.
Her ultimate goal is help spread the blessings of good medical care, which we often take for granted in America, to the world. In this short video she talks about her “deep burning desire” to leave the world better than she found it.