For 2nd Year in a Row, Pitt Seniors Receive Whitaker Scholarships for International Research and Study

Issue Date: 
May 1, 2011

University of Pittsburgh Honors College seniors Nicholas V. Apollo and David Gau have been named recipients of the 2011 Whitaker International Fellows and Scholars Program award, designed to bring international experience and insight to the field of biomedical engineering. This is the sixth year of the Whitaker award competition and the second year Pitt students have applied.

Pitt’s only undergraduate applicants for this year’s Whitaker, Apollo and Gau are among 21 graduate-level Whitaker Fellowship winners chosen from a total of 38 selectees, which includes 17 postdoctoral scholarship winners.

Beginning in 1975, The Whitaker Foundation has supported the development and enhancement of biomedical engineering in the United States, contributing nearly $700 million to universities. When the foundation closed in 2006, it committed its remaining funds to the Institute of International Education to create the Whitaker International Fellows and Scholars Program, with the goal of enhancing international collaborative ties between the emerging leaders in the U.S. biomedical engineering field and their counterparts abroad.

With his Whitaker award, Apollo, of Aliquippa, Pa., will be working at Bionic Vision Australia with Lauren Ayton, optometrist and clinical project coordinator, to improve a retinal prosthetic device designed to return sight to patients with retinitis pigmentosa. Additionally, he will be volunteering with a group at Bionic Vision that works to make the City of Melbourne more accessible and safe for residents who are blind.

Gau, of Kennett Square, Pa., will use his award to conduct supervised research at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, on the molecular properties of cell migration in breast cancer under the direction of Pierre Moens, senior lecturer in New England’s School of Science and Technology. Gau will be continuing the work he began at Pitt under the direction of Partha Roy, a Pitt professor of bioengineering and pathology and Moens’ collaborator.

During Pitt’s commencement ceremony today, Apollo will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in bioengineering from the Swanson School of Engineering.

Apollo has held numerous internships, among them serving as a volunteer and lab assistant at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC; as a research associate, co-op student, and intern at Cook MyoSite, a tissue engineering company in Pittsburgh; as a research student and volunteer at the Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh; as a tutor at Pitt’s Academic Resource Center, tutoring Pitt students in general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, and mathematics; and as a research student and volunteer at SMILE (Sensory Motor Integration Laboratory and Engineering) Laboratory in Pittsburgh.

Apollo has presented his research at Pitt’s Freshman Engineering Conference, Bioengineering Intramural Internship Research Symposium, and, most recently, at Pitt’s Bioengineering Departmental Seminar, where his talk was titled “Engineering Co-Op Experience: Advice for Undergraduates.”

Active in various organizations, Apollo is a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, vice president of Pitt’s undergraduate chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society, a national member of the Pre-Professional Health Society and the Biomedical Engineering Society, and Pitt’s African Drumming Ensemble. In 2010, Apollo traveled to El Salvador to build a home for a local family. A volunteer at UPMC Shadyside in ER/Neurology, Apollo received the UPMC Above & Beyond Award given to one hospital volunteer each year for work with patients.

Gau also is graduating today, earning a Bachelor of Philosophy degree in bioengineering and a BS in mathematics and economics through Pitt’s Honors College, Swanson School of Engineering, and School of Arts and Sciences.

At Pitt, Gau worked as an undergraduate researcher in the Center for Biotechnology, studying cell migration in breast cancer. He has coauthored several papers and posters and presented his work at conferences and symposiums. Gau traveled to Vietnam and Taiwan through Pitt’s INNOVATE program to study the effects of globalization on those countries. He also spent time in China, gaining exposure to Chinese engineering and business practices.

Gau is founder of the Pitt Association for Leadership and Success, a leadership development organization that works to improve the University in sustainability, technology, residence life, and campus life. He is president of Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honor society, and president pro tempore of Pitt’s Student Government Board. Gau also has served as an undergraduate teaching assistant at Pitt.

Among Gau’s many honors are being named Pitt’s 2011 Omicron Delta Kappa Senior of the Year. He has received an Alma Newlin Education Fund award given to students from southern Chester County and a Wellington C. Carl Pittsburgh Foundation Scholarship from Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.