Christine Faunce, a senior pursuing a dual degree in experimental neuroscience and medicinal chemistry, both in the Virginia Tech College of Science, has been named as the third Virginia Tech student to win the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation award.

A member of the Virginia Tech Honors College, Faunce follows Arianna Krinos, a triple major in biological sciences, computer science, and computational modeling and data analytics, who won the award in 2017 and 2018, and Jim Owens, a chemical engineering major who won in 2019. Krinos and Owens are both pursuing doctoral degrees at MIT.

Faunce is among 56 university students in the 2020 Astronaut Scholar Class, with each student winning a $15,000 scholarship. The nonprofit foundation was founded by members of the famed Mercury 7 NASA team and honors the brightest and most talented college juniors and seniors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

After graduating in May 2021, Faunce will apply to doctoral programs where she can combine her “passions for neuroscience and chemistry and continue pursing research studying neuropsychiatric disease mechanisms.”

Faunce is planning for a career in neuropharmacology and chemical biology to study the causes of psychiatric illnesses, and help provide novel, safe, and more effective therapeutics for them. Her inspiration for neurobiology research came from the sudden passing of her first research mentor, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology’s Center for Applied Behavior Systems, headed by Alumni Distinguished Professor Scott Geller. Faunce previously has said her mentor was “the first person who unconditionally supported me and my ambitions.”

Faunce now works in the lab of Matt Buczynski, an assistant professor in the School of Neuroscience, who researches drug addiction and its functional role in neurological disorders. Her lab work centers on the molecular and behavioral consequences of drug addiction in mice. Her work has been acknowledged through fellowships from the Henry Luce Foundation's Clare Boothe Luce Program for Women in STEM and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. The Honors College also has funded her work with Buczynski through a summer enrichment grant.

“Christine is a phenomenal researcher, with an exceptional ability to seamlessly work between disciplines to tackle challenging problems in neuroscience,” Buczynski said. “It’s been a privilege to work alongside someone with her talents, and I look forward to seeing her accomplish great things in the years ahead.”

In a student profile, Faunce stated that the School of Neuroscience — launched in 2016 — was a “driving factor” in her decision to attend Virginia Tech. “The school’s mission for embracing individuality and creativity was an essence that I had not felt at any other school,” she wrote. “Throughout my coursework at Virginia Tech, I have developed a passion for chemistry along with furthering my fascination with the human brain, which is why I decided to pursue a dual degree in chemistry.”

Faunce has worked as a resident advisor for the Honors College's Hillcrest Hall and has volunteered in ambassador programs, pre-law clubs, and cultural enrichment programs. This work previously won her the Aspire! Award for Curiosity, an honor that recognizes students, faculty, and staff who exemplify Virginia Tech Student Affairs’ Aspirations for Student Learning. 

Additionally, she was awarded the Housing and Residence Life Ryan C. Clark Award for “Most Outstanding Spirit” for her commitment to student learning. She also has served as an undergraduate teaching assistant in the Department of Chemistry, lead ambassador for the School of Neuroscience, and Student Intellectual Property Society vice president. She also helped found the Virginia Tech chapter of Nu Rho Psi, a National Honor Society in Neuroscience in 2019, of which she is chapter president.

“I am really humbled to have been nominated for this award by my two research mentors at Virginia Tech. My passion for research blossomed in Dr. Geller’s Center for Applied Behavior Systems, and I found a field I want to pursue in graduate school in Dr. Buczynski's Lab,” Faunce said. “The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation is an incredibly supportive community, and I feel extremely fortunate to now be part of it.”

Christina M. McIntyre, director of professional development and national and international scholarships for the Honors College, added: “The Astronaut Scholarship is a great opportunity for faculty to nominate a student who they think should be considered for this award. Nominating a student tells them ‘I believe in you.’ That message means a lot to them and bolsters them to put themselves forward when they might not otherwise.”

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