UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Danielle Bassett, a 2004 Penn State graduate, was named a 2014 MacArthur Fellow today (Sept. 17) along with 20 other “genius grant” winners.
The prize is one of the most prestigious awards given to individuals who show originality, innovation and creativity in their professional pursuits. Other 2014 winners include artists, lawyers, scientists, historians and musicians.
“Nobody is told that they are under consideration, so every MacArthur Fellow is surprised by this,” said Bassett, a professor of bioengineering and electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Bassett’s current research focuses on how the brain is connected and how those connections change with disease and learning new skills, but she has a vast range of experience, starting with her undergraduate work.
Bassett got involved in research early at Penn State Berks, where she worked with an astrophysicist and a professor of literature. After transferring to the University Park campus to complete her physics degree, Bassett got involved in chemistry research.
“Something I wrote a long time ago in one of her many recommendation letters was that I could easily imagine her being the head of the NIH (National Institutes of Health) one day,” said Rick Robinett, a professor of physics who was Bassett’s adviser at Penn State.
Bassett also visited the University Fellowships Office early on during the summer after her sophomore year and learned about different scholarship and fellowship opportunities for undergraduate students.
Bassett was the first Penn State student to win the Winston Churchill Scholarship for a fully paid year of academic study at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. She also won a five-year NIH-Cambridge University Graduate Partnerships Fellowship, which she will use in conjunction with her Churchill scholarship.
Bassett said the office and her professors were instrumental in helping her apply for fellowships and prepare for interviews. “They were exceptionally helpful and set up mock interviews where faculty members from around campus volunteered their time to mock interview us for these fellowships,” she said. “I’m so grateful to them.”
As an alumna, Bassett is a mentor with the Schreyer Honors College Mentoring with Honors Program through which she shares advice with and answers questions from her student mentees. In 2012, the Alumni Association honored her as an Alumni Achievement Award winner.
“The honors college did so much for me when I was at Penn State that I wanted to give back to the students,” she said.
As a MacArthur Fellow, Bassett will receive a five-year, $625,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that is meant to provide recipients the ability to pursue creative research or professional interests.