MTSU student wins research grant to study optics i...

MTSU student wins research grant to study optics in Paris

Homegrown Michele Kelley quickly has developed a flair for the international experience and studying abroad.

Kelley, 21, a Murfreesboro native and MTSU senior physics major, embarks soon on the newest international chapter in her life: an opportunity to perform physics research in Paris, France.

Michele Kelley

Michele Kelley

NSF logo webThrough the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates, or REU, the University Honors College scholar leaves Monday, May 25, for three days of training at the University of Michigan, which holds the grant. Later that week, she will fly to Paris and conduct research through July 31.

The National Science Foundation funds a large number of research opportunities for undergraduate students through its REU sites program. REU sites consist of a group of 10 or more undergraduates who work in the research programs of the host institution.

A Siegel High School graduate, Kelley came to MTSU with the Buchanan Fellowship, the highest scholarship award given to an entering MTSU freshman. It is named in honor of the late Dr. James M. Buchanan, MTSU’s Nobel Prize-winning alumnus.

In 2014, Kelley received a Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship to study in the Czech Republic.

Kelley did not know “it was such a big deal” to receive the Michigan National Science Foundation REU and waited awhile before sharing the news with the Honors College. “I thought it was a long shot,” she said. “I thought it would be interesting and a great experience.”

Dr. John Vile

Dr. John Vile

“She’s so modest,” Honors College Dean John Vile said. “Michele’s fairly typical of the type of students we’ve brought in through the Buchanan program. She’s a great student.”

Kelley also applied for research experience opportunities at the Universities of Oklahoma, Utah, Indiana and Colorado-Denver. After accepting the Michigan offer, Kelley withdrew her applications from the other schools.

Her research is expected to involve lasers and optics — “the exact project I’m not sure of yet,” she said.

“It will be a good opportunity to be more hands-on than just being in the classroom,” Kelley added.

MTSU runs deep in the Kelley family. Grandfather Marlin Dill graduated in 1951; uncle Donald Dill was a member of the class of 1976; sister Nancy Kelley is a recent alumnus; and younger sister Marilin Kelley, a Siegel senior and one of the school’s valedictorians, will be utilizing Chancellor’s and School of Music scholarships when she enters the university this fall.

“The going to college and excelling in school come from my grandfather,” Michele Kelley said, adding he was a chemistry graduate who went on to work with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“Each of my sisters set high standards for ourselves,” she said. “We knew we could do well.”

Honors College logoWith the Gilman award, Kelley took two classes, one in Czech language.

“That was one of my favorite things,” she said. “I enjoyed learning the basics of the language so I could be independent.”

The second class enabled her to view post-Soviet issues from a sociological perspective.

The Gilman opportunity allowed her to travel to Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic; Bratislava, Slovakia; Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Dresden, Germany; and Krakow, Poland, where she toured Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Originally, Kelley was an aerospace technology major, requiring physics.

“I felt compelled to switch,” she said. “It was the first thing to challenge me, so I felt good about it.”

The switch — plus the effort by Laura Clippard, coordinator of national scholarships in the Honors College — has broadened Kelley’s academic and world perspective.

For more on the Buchanan scholarship, visit or call 615-898-2152.

— Randy Weiler (