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Stapleton named top woman chemistry undergraduate in the country

Saluda Abigail (Abby) Stapleton ’24.

Last updated May 10, 2024

By Tina Underwood

In a sea of honors and awards amassed by Saluda Abigail (Abby) Stapleton ’24, one of them holds particular significance. Stapleton received the 2024 Iota Sigma Pi Undergraduate Award for Excellence in Chemistry. It’s the first time a Furman University woman has received the distinction in the nearly 50 years since it was introduced by the professional society that recognizes outstanding women chemists.

When she got word of the award, she snapped a screenshot of the email and sent it to her parents.

“My parents are and always have been my biggest supporters and were just as thrilled as I was,” said Stapleton who shared the news in-person with her professors.

“Abby has been a standout student in the classroom and in the research lab while also being highly involved in campus organizations,” said Meghan Breen, assistant professor of chemistry. “She’s a great example of The Furman Advantage, and I’m so pleased that Iota Sigma Pi has recognized her hard work.”

Stapleton later learned that she was the first Furman awardee. “Being selected out of a pool of the best female undergraduate chemists is an honor beyond what I ever could have imagined,” she said.

Perhaps even more remarkable is what she’ll be doing next and how she got there.

After considering six fully funded offers from med schools to get her M.D.-Ph.D., she’ll move cross-country to attend the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Tucson. She’ll spend the next seven to nine years in the Medical Scientist Training Program, an NIH-funded program that covers tuition and health insurance and includes a stipend throughout its duration.

She also received offers from two traditional medical programs. “It made my decision for where to spend the next decade of my life difficult and nerve-wracking, but exciting at the same time,” she said, adding that the school she chose only accepts about five students each year, and most of the M.D.-Ph.D. programs only accept five to eight candidates annually. Stapleton said, “It’s an insane statistic, but it’s one I’m incredibly proud of.

The list of people at Furman she is indebted to is about as long as her list of med school suitors.

“I’m certain I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of Dr. Meghan Breen, my research mentor over the last two and a half years,” Stapleton said. “Because of Dr. Breen, I feel confident I’ve found my calling to work as a physician scientist and make advancements both in direct patient care and medical knowledge.”

Mary Elizabeth Anderson and Karen Buchmueller, professor and associate professor, respectively, of chemistry, encouraged and pushed her to pursue her passions, “no matter how scary that road seemed,” she said. Timothy Fehler, the William E. Leverette Jr., Professor of History, engaged an entirely different set of critical analysis skills in history classes. “He has been one of my strongest advocates during my time at Furman.”

While Stapleton packs up her life in Greenville to move out West, she’s prepared to pay it forward.

“I’m so grateful for everything these professors and those I haven’t mentioned have done for me,” she said. “I’m excited to serve as a resource and mentor for the next generation of young scientists.”

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