University of Colorado at Boulder engineering student Eric Eason is looking forward to his May graduation because of the freedom it will bring -- freedom to pursue his own educational interests with support from one of the most prestigious fellowship programs in the country.
Eason is one of only 10 students nationwide selected to receive this year's Hertz Fellowship, which provides financial support for up to five years of graduate-level studies at the school of his choice. Winners of the fellowship, which is valued at more than $250,000, were chosen from a pool of 543 applicants.
"It's a great opportunity for me -- it gives me a lot of freedom to do whatever I want to," Eason said. "I never expected I would win because it's so unlikely to win."
Adding to the exceptionality of his accomplishment is the fact that Eason is only 17 years old. The Boulder resident will turn 18 on May 5, just three days before his CU-Boulder graduation.
Eason will receive dual bachelor's degrees in applied mathematics and engineering physics from CU-Boulder, and he has been selected as the Outstanding Graduate for Academic Achievement by the College of Engineering and Applied Science, an award recognizing the student with the highest grade-point average in May's graduating class.
"Eric has both an extraordinary academic record and an extraordinary range of achievements in research," said Professor John Price, director of the engineering physics program.
Eason co-authored an article published in the European Physical Journal based on a summer undergraduate research fellowship he completed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, wrote an honors thesis in physics about improving an experimental scanning tunneling microscope to study high-temperature superconductors and made several other research presentations.
He completed two technical interviews with the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation before being selected for the prestigious fellowship.
"Hertz Fellowships are unique, no-strings-attached fellowships which allow exceptional applied scientists and engineers the freedom to pursue their own ideas with financial independence under the guidance of the finest professors at the country's top universities," according to the foundation. "Hertz Fellows are chosen for their intellect, their ingenuity, and their potential to bring meaningful and lasting change to our society."
He also has been awarded fellowships from the National Science Foundation, Tau Beta Pi and Stanford University.
Eason plans to enter Stanford's applied physics program in the fall, where his goal is to earn a Ph.D. in condensed matter physics. His specific area of focus is undetermined. "I'd like to do some research that affects people, that's practical," he said.
As far as his choice of physics, he said: "I like physics because no other science makes the world as transparent as far as math goes. I've always been inquisitive and my overriding idea has been to discover the way things work."
Besides math and physics, his other primary interest is classical piano, which he has studied since age 4. Accomplished in the works of Debussy, he also composed his own 10-part wind ensemble, which won second place in the Music Teachers National Association Composition Competition in 2002. He also has taken courses in Japanese, French and Latin, and in 2008 he earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
Eason completed his high school education through a combination of home-schooling, tutoring, enrichment programs and university classes. He first enrolled at CU-Boulder in fall 2002, taking music classes as a non-degree, high school freshman, and then entered full time in fall 2004.