TIPSHEET: Two students at Vanderbilt Commencement May 14

More than 3,400 students will receive degrees during Vanderbilt’s Commencement ceremonies beginning 9 a.m. May 14 on Alumni Lawn. Here are two of the many extraordinary students in the Class of 2010.

Stephen Babalola

When Nigerian-born Stephen Babalola walks across the stage at the graduate school ceremony, he will become the first person to complete his doctorate through the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-Ph.D. Bridge Program. The Bridge Program is aimed at increasing the number of minority students pursuing the doctoral degrees in the sciences.

Babalola, a U.S. citizen, completed Fisk’s master’s degree in physics and then entered Vanderbilt’s Interdisciplinary Materials Science and Engineering program in 2004, the year the Bridge Program was founded.

African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians make up more than 25 percent of the population, but only 2 to 4 percent of doctorates in science are minorities. As a result, Keivan Stassun, associate professor of astronomy and the son of a Mexican immigrant, started the Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program to dramatically increase the number of minorities in the sciences. The program has gone from six students in 2004 to 30 today making it the top producer of minority students with advanced degrees in the sciences and engineering in the United States.

Babalola turned down lucrative job offers from national laboratories to teach at Alabama A&M as a research professor, where he works today. His reason: to teach and help other minority students reach their dream of gaining advanced degrees in the sciences. His research interest is developing new materials for radiation detection, which has homeland security applications.

GRADUATE DEGREE CEREMONY LOCATION: Vanderbilt’s Library Lawn in front of the general library off 21st Avenue South (nearest cross street Scarritt Place). This is not where the main graduation ceremony is held on Alumni Lawn.

DAY/TIME: Friday, May 14, Doctorate hooding ceremony starts at 10:30 a.m.

Hillary Hager

Hillary Hager was a standout player on the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team. The starting guard and two-time team captain led Vanderbilt to SEC titles in 2002 and 2004.

Following her graduation in 2004 with a degree in neuroscience, Hager was invited by coach Melanie Balcomb to stay on with the women’s team as a graduate assistant coach. Hager served in this capacity for two years while enrolled in Vanderbilt’s graduate program in biology.

After a brief hiatus in 2006-07 to play professional basketball in Europe, Hager returned to Vanderbilt to finish her graduate work, which examines a specific protein’s role in cell development. She will receive a Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology during Commencement exercises, while her husband, 2003 Vanderbilt graduate and former men’s basketball player Matt Carter, will receive his J.D. from Vanderbilt Law School.

Following graduation, the couple will relocate to Washington, D.C., where Hillary will work for the State Department on biosecurity issues and Matt will intern with the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill.

UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE CEREMONY LOCATION: Vanderbilt’s Alumni Lawn near West End Avenue and 23rd Avenue North.

DAY/TIME: Friday, May 14. Ceremony starts at 9 a.m.

A map showing Commencement-related locations is available here:

Media contact: Ann Marie Deer Owens, (615) 322-NEWS