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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Biochemistry Major Selected As American Chemical Society Scholar

Conducting nanotechnology research is a major achievement in itself, but being nationally recognized for doing so – as an undergraduate student – is particularly rewarding.

So says Billy Mendoza Forrest, the University of Mississippi’s newest American Chemical Society scholar.

“When I got my notification of this honor by mail, I was delighted and deeply grateful,” said the senior biochemistry major from Randolph.

Forrest is among a handful of African-American, Hispanic and American Indian students awarded renewable scholarships of up to $5,000 annually. The ACS Scholars Program was established in 1994 to attract underrepresented minority students who want to enter the fields of chemistry or chemistry-related fields, such as environmental science, toxicology and chemical technology.

“The money can go toward lab expenses and tuition,” Forrest said. “If I’d only waited to buy my tie-dyed lab coat and my new safety glasses!”

Forrest is already one of the university’s most decorated undergraduate students. Her honors include a Barksdale Award, Taylor Medal, National Merit Scholar and Phi Kappa Phi membership.

“Billy is the model student,” said Keith Hollis, associate professor of chemistry and one of Forrest’s mentors. “She is always prepared, works ahead, thinks deeply – as reflected in graduate-level questions about chemistry – and is sincerely curious. Her work in the laboratory was characterized by diligent attention to details and the determination that marks the very best scientists.”

Forrest’s level of accomplishment, professionalism and motivation is at the level that is only seen once or twice every 10 years, Hollis said.

“While she has already accomplished much in her time at Ole Miss, all of her mentors expect that she will make contributions in her independent career that will enhance the quality of human life and make major societal impacts,” he said.

Forrest is quick to acknowledge that Hollis and other chemistry department faculty have been instrumental in guiding her success. As part of the National Science Foundation’s Office of Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, Hollis’ lab is interested in harnessing the potential of organometallic nanotubes for applications such as hydrogen fuel storage, fuel cells, time-release medicines and photovoltaic technology.

“I am honored that I had the chance to work as a team with some of the finest research minds in the country,” Forrest said. “I look forward to continuing this EPSCoR research, and I thank Dr. Hollis and the chemistry department for the incredible opportunities that they have given me.”

Other faculty Forrest acknowledges include Charles Hussey, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

“It was Dr. Hussey who made me realize that opportunities abound in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He has been supportive and encouraging to me right from the start. In fact, he was the first person I told about the ACS award.”

Accolades aside, Forrest said her deepest desire is to make a difference in the world through a life of research.

“I will be forever grateful to Dr. Hollis for fostering my interest in chemical research,” she said. “Not only did he show me that I could succeed in chemistry; he changed my life in ways that will carry beyond the classroom.”

A graduate of South Pontotoc Attendance Center, Forrest is the daughter of Kori Forrest of Randolph.

The ACS Selection Committee reviews all applications to determine the best overall applicants. Scholarships are awarded to 100 to 120 recipients based on academic record, career objective, financial need, leadership ability, participation in school activities and community service.