ASU student receives prestigious Hertz award

(Photo Courtesy of Matt Brown) Physics and math senior Matt Brown received a $250,000 scholarship and a lifetime fellowship from the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation. (Photo Courtesy of Matt Brown)

Almost 800 students applied this year to the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, only 150 were interviewed and 15 were chosen. ASU’s very own Matt Brown was one of the 15.

The Hertz award is arguably the most prestigious scholarships for the applied physical, biological, and engineering sciences.

The students or fellows chosen receive a scholarship valued at $250,000 and a lifetime fellowship with like-minded individuals from different generations. This award is in a class of its own because students are not confined to strict rules on the funds. The funds help the students complete their doctorates and gives them financial independence to innovate.

Brown will be the second student in ASU’s history to be offered the Hertz Fellowship. The first scholarship awarded to a student at ASU is dated back to 1992.

Jay Davis, the president of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, said it is not the typical application process.

“We read through the essays and read through the professors' comments looking for signs of unique creativity,” he said. “We look at things like if they’ve worked in people's labs, have they done research on their own or if they’ve brought in their own ideas."

After reading the applications, the chosen 150 students go on the next round, which entails a one-hour interview to assess knowledge.

“The essence of that interview is first, 'Do you really know what you claim to learn in the classroom?' ... but then the interview shifts towards 'Can you answer questions that don’t have answers in the back of the book?'” he said.

Brown, a physics and math senior, said he was fascinated with science fiction as a child and had an inkling he would go into the field once he was of age.

“I liked science fiction stuff when I was younger and I also liked science and math in school. ... That is how I ended up where I am now,” he said.

Brown said he has grown tremendously while being a student and has acquired knowledge and skill throughout his college career.

“I‘ve definitely learned a lot about physics and math, and I know some people in certain majors don’t think that what they’re doing in class is really useful when they go out to there career. ... But I don’t think it’s like that at all, the classes in physics and math really do prepare you to be physicist or mathematician,” he said.

Brown was not actively searching for a fellowship, but a friend led him in that direction.

“I had heard of the national science foundation as a fellowship but other than that at the time I didn’t know much else," he said. "(My friend) showed me this as one of the more prestigious ones and more lucrative."

Brown said he felt uneasy before his interview with the foundation but then gained confidence.

“It’s the sort of thing where you’re nervous before it happens, but when you’re actually doing it, when someone is asking you a physics question, you don’t have enough brain power to answer it and be nervous at the same time,” he said.

Brown said he was ecstatic to hear the news he was accepted into the program.

  Wally Melnitchouk, a mentor of Brown during an internship this previous summer, said he noticed something different about Brown than the other students.

“I was very impressed with the level of Matt’s mathematical ability ... and also his hunger for learning,” he said.

It came as no surprise to Melnitchouk that Brown was granted a fellowship.

“I think Matt is probably in the top 1 percent of students I would say, in my field that I’ve come across, so it’s very clear to me that he’s going to be successful in whatever he does,” he said.

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @rashindaa

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