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Senior Darcey Riley, who is triple majoring in computer science, mathematics and linguistics, will become the first UR Astronaut Scholar on Sept. 15.

She will receive the Astronaut Scholar Award from veteran astronaut and UR alumnus Ed Gibson ’59 on Thursday in Hoyt Auditorium.  The award consists of a $10,000 scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF).

In addition to an immense amount of work for her courses, Riley spends her spare time researching bioinformatics, writing poetry, fine tuning her photography skills and crafting pieces of jewelry that she sells.

Riley was nominated by the head of her Computer Science department for the scholarship. She submitted an application, and later discovered that she had won the award. She received a congratulatory email from Gibson himself.

“[It] was one of the most exciting emails I’ve ever received,” she said. Now that the day she receives this award is nearly upon her, Riley is no less honored.

“I still can’t believe an astronaut is coming here to give this award and to give a lecture, and that I’m involved in all of it,”  she said of the upcoming ceremony. “I’m just a girl who loves to research.”

Riley’s learning extends far beyond the courses she enrolls in each semester.  She is both a teacher’s assistant and a study group leader, striving to help others understand complicated scientific concepts. Last December she published her first paper, and this past summer she did research at Johns Hopkins University.

Those around Riley admire her desire to learn outside of the assigned material.

“Her ‘light reading’ might be a paper by her newest favorite researcher in machine learning,”  Marty Guenther, who works closely with Riley as the Undergraduate Liaison in the Computer Science Department, said.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation awards scholarships to students who display incredible “initiative, creativity and excellence” in mathematics or sciences, according to the foundation’s website.

Riley exemplifies the type of student the foundation hopes to honor. She is completing three majors in only four years of college, and she still yearns to complete additional academic work outside of her requirements.

She also works on extracurricular research outside of her majors, according to Physics Professor and Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research Steven Manly.

“She is thinking about how to merge these interests in the research arena of bioinformatics,” he said.
Aside from academia, Riley sells her hand-crafted jewelry on a personal web page at Etsy.com. On her store page, named ForbiddenGlade, Riley says that she makes jewelry to create a haven from all of her “academic endeavors.”

“She’s just scratched the surface of what she’ll accomplish,” Guenther said. “The sky’s the limit, so it makes sense that she won the Astronaut Scholarship.”

Duncan is a member of the class of 2014.

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