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Honors Program student receives national recognition for academic achievement, community service

February 23, 2007
Wayne State University senior Morgan Thompson is the only Michigan student to be named to a USA Today 2007 All-USA College Academic Team, part of the newspaper’s recognition program for outstanding undergraduates. Thompson was named to the Third Team.

The All-USA Academic Team honors full-time undergraduates who excel in scholarship but also extend their intellectual abilities beyond the classroom to benefit society. Criteria include grades, academic rigor, leadership activities and an essay describing the student’s most outstanding intellectual endeavor while in college.

Thompson, of St. Clair Shores, is majoring in biological sciences and university honors and will graduate in May. Her co-authored genetic research on cellular mechanisms related to Barth syndrome, a severe genetic disorder, was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. She works in the lab of Miriam Greenberg, professor of biology and associate dean for research for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, where she is conducting an independent research project which uses genetic and biochemical techniques to address the function of phospholipids (the molecules comprising biological membranes).

Thompson, who has a 3.89 grade-point average, was named a Goldwater Scholar by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation last year. She has received four WSU Undergraduate Research Grants; presented at the university’s Undergraduate Research Conference three times; and presented at the 2005 National Conference for Undergraduate Research and the 2006 Leadership Alliance National Symposium. She has been accepted for graduate study at a dozen schools, but has narrowed her focus to Harvard, UC-Berkeley, Yale and University of Chicago to study cellular, molecular and developmental biology.

“After graduate school I plan to remain in academics as a professor and director of my own research lab,” Thompson said. “I would like to work at a major research institution which will accommodate my varied interests and allow me to use interdisciplinary approaches to answer scientific questions.

“I like basic science, and I’m interested in understanding how a cell actually works. A main motivation for my work is curiosity, but one of the rewarding parts of conducting fundamental research is uncovering applications that might potentially benefit someone else.”

In 2005, Thompson created a curriculum for a weeklong science camp for sixth grade students. During the camp she spent four hours a day with two students performing a series of six experiments and preparing a multimedia presentation. She has co-authored review articles, edited lab grant proposals, manuscripts and dissertations and mentored graduate and undergraduate students.

“She’s obviously a superb student, and she’s very serious and at the same time, nice,” Greenberg said. “I assigned her to work with one of the graduate students, and now he is a post-doctoral student at Harvard. What they did together was the first stage, and Morgan decided to continue the project. At this point, she’s taken it on as if she was a graduate student; she’s working independently as a scientist and is well on her way to the second part of her project, which is very exciting. Right now there’s a first-year graduate student working with her. She’s the only undergraduate I’ve had at this high a level.

“Morgan excels in everything she does,” Greenberg said. “Not only is she an excellent scientist she’s an excellent flutist and a wonderful baker. She does volunteer work – she does everything. She does it in such non-boastful way, just quiet and kind and unassuming. She just doesn’t toot her own horn. Everybody likes her, respects her and has fun with her, in addition to people respecting her as a scientist. It’s just been an all-around pleasure interacting with her.”

A devoted participant in the Honors Program-sponsored Detroit Fellows Tutoring Project, Thompson spends three to four hours a week tutoring Sampson Elementary School pupils to help improve their reading skills.

“I enjoy interacting with children in general and seeing that Eureka! moment when they finally have success,” she said. “Once you start making progress it’s addictive. The challenge is not unlike problem-solving in science. I love the collaborative effort with the students that it requires.”

Thompson graduated from South Lake High School in St. Clair Shores and the Macomb Math Science Technology Center in Warren and is the daughter of Ken and Mary Thompson.

In 2006, Honors student Kathleen Dass of Bloomfield Hills was named to the USA Today All-USA College Academic Team, Honorable Mention. Dass now attends the Wayne State University School of Medicine and plans to specialize in pediatric care.

Thompson was nominated for the USA Today competition by Jerry Caldwell, a senior lecturer in Honors and coordinator for post-graduate scholarships. Caldwell nominated Thompson for the Goldwater Scholarship and in 2006 he nominated student Amir Husak of Detroit for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Program Scholarship, which Husak received. It includes a $300,000 scholarship covering tuition, room, board, fees and books – up to $50,000 annually – for up to six years. Husak is enrolled in the media studies program at the renowned New School University in Manhattan.