Scholar receives Gates grant
By Rita Howell
Lucas Ferguson of Batesville, a biochemistry and molecular biology major at Mississippi State University, has been awarded the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship to pursue graduate studies next year at Cambridge University in England.
Ferguson, 22, is the son of Julie Ferguson and Travis Ferguson. He is one of 36 students at American universities selected through a highly competitive application process for the award, which is comparable to Oxford University’s Rhodes Scholarship. The scholarship is funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition to the full cost of studying at one of the world’s leading universities, the award provides additional discretionary funding.
Ferguson grew up in Batesville and attended South Panola Schools through the tenth grade, then enrolled at the Mississippi School for Math and Science in Columbus, where he completed high school in 2013.
During his time at MSMS, he had the opportunity to learn about scientific research by shadowing graduate students in Dr. Xiu-Feng Wan’s lab at Mississippi State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“This experience affirmed that I wanted to be a scientist in this field, and being able to continue working under Dr. Wan as an undergraduate researcher was the reason why I decided to go to MSU,” Ferguson wrote in an email to The Panolian this week.
“Over these four years, I have worked on influenza D virus epidemiology and pathology in cattle and I have published three manuscripts related to this topic.”
In addition, he had the opportunity to do research on avian immunology in China at the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
“These 6 weeks in China were amazing, and I traveled to and around China on my own, which was a journey in itself!” he wrote. “So many delicious foods, kind people, and unique culture, and it gave me an opportunity to see how research is conducted in China.”
At Cambridge, he will be using the field of bioinformatics (which is big-data analysis of biologic data, he said) in order to evaluate RNA virus evolution. (HIV, influenza and Ebola are examples of RNA viruses.)
Ferguson’s dad owns Complete Computers in Batesville, meaning young Lucas and his brothers always had access to the Internet.
“We had access to a wealth of information at a very young age,” he said.
Also having a lasting influence on the scholar was the South Panola School District’s program for gifted students.
“Teachers like Mrs. Emily Griste had a lasting impact on me–Her gifted class made school meaningful and fun, and gave us (her students) a chance to learn beyond what we were learning in our normal classes,” he wrote. “Personally, I think education in the US is too easy, and I do not think we are challenging our students. Programs like Merit kept me from being bored in school, and probably made more of an impact on my life than I realize.”
But it was attending MSMS that gave him the opportunity for an early start along his life’s path in research.
“MSMS was the best decision I ever made.”