Orion Williams, a 2013 Rogers High School graduate, is one of 38 University of Virginia undergraduate students recently awarded an opportunity to research a grant-funded project this summer.
The 19-year-old and his good friend, Sarah Koch, a 20-year-old from Kansas City, were recently named Harrison Undergraduate Research Award recipients. The research awards support students who present detailed plans for projects that have been endorsed by a faculty mentor. In February, a Faculty Senate committee selected the winners, who receive up to $3,000.
Williams and Koch will research how girls perform on a science exam based on the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment test results, comparing high school-age girls in the classroom internationally. The study will examine whether or not non U.S. young women outperform their male classmates and young women in the U.S. in a classroom environment.
Both Koch and Williams will travel to schools abroad and in the U.S. to collect and compare data.
“The winning applications are compelling evidence of the ability of our best undergraduates to pose significant questions and design research to answer them,” committee chair Bruce A. Williams, a professor of media studies at the university, said in a release. “As one of the highest awards an undergraduate at UVa. can earn, the Harrison Award allows students to work with faculty mentors who help them hone their research skills and produce findings that often lead to publications or presentations at national and international scholarly conferences.”
While Williams says he doesn’t know firsthand what it is like being a woman studying math or science, growing up with a single mom opened his eyes to gender issues in the science field.
“It can only benefit the world to bring more of the community into the scientific studies,” he said.
Williams said that according to an article titled “Girls Lead in Science Exam, but not in the United States” that was published in The New York Times in 2012, 15-year-old girls outperformed their male counterparts in much of the world, including Asia and the Middle East, but not in the United States, Britain or Canada.
“These statistics were based on the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment test results, so we will be comparing how high-school-age girls perform in the classroom internationally,” he said.
Williams is a member of Army ROTC, the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and the High Power Rifle Club at the University of Virginia.
Currently, he is working toward a double major in Middle Eastern Language and Literature and Computer Science, and hopes the research grant will help him in his future career endeavors.
“As I will be an officer in the U.S. Army, being culturally aware is essential in today’s conflicts,” he said. “Any experience abroad and interactions with international communities will only expand my ability to connect and understand with other people and cultures. Although I am a male and have not personally experienced any gender issues in the science field, I grew up with a single mother studying science who discussed her struggles as a woman in the scientific community.”
Williams and Koch’s grant application was one of more than 50 grant applications submitted, which were reviewed by nearly 50 faculty members, including the members of the Faculty Senate’s Research, Teaching and Scholarship Committee.
“I was surprised and ecstatic (to be awarded the grant),” he said. “I honestly had not expected to receive this award.”