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Headshot of winner Maggie Nelson. Maggie has dark curly har and is wearing a blazer.

Maggie Nelson, Auburn's first Churchill Scholarship Winner

Maggie Nelson sees the world through a lens of opportunity and collaboration. These traits have proven to work toward her benefit as Nelson has recently won her fifth national prestigious scholarship, the Winston Churchill Scholarship, thanks in part to the myriad of researchers and scientists she has met along her academic journey.

Nelson, a senior in the Honors College from Birmingham, Alabama, will graduate this spring with a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering and minors in materials engineering, philosophy and sustainability studies within the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts, respectively. She will attend Churchill College at the University of Cambridge this fall, and work towards her MPhil in materials science and metallurgy.

Nelson is receiving an award in a formal setting

Nelson has received five national prestigious scholarships, including two Astronaut Scholar Awards, one of which she is receiving here.

One for the Books

Nelson now sits comfortably at the top of the list of Auburn’s most prestigious scholars. Over the course of her time at Auburn, she has won two Astronaut Scholar Awards, the German Exchange DAAD RISE Award, the Barry M. Goldwater Award and now the Churchill Scholarship. Nelson is the first student at Auburn University to win this award.

No other undergraduate in the history of Auburn University has won as many prestigious scholarships as Nelson. “It feels like a little much, but I’m honored and thankful. I would like to thank all the people who supported me through my undergraduate journey at Auburn,” said Nelson. She was quick to note that even though it seems she has achieved a lot, she has also failed about the same amount of times. “Winning these awards is a testament to building a tolerance for failure, but I’m always trying,” added Nelson.

 This attitude of hard work exemplifies Nelson’s nature. 

"Maggie is the personification of the Auburn Creed, particularly where it reads ‘I believe in work, hard work.’ While her performance in the classroom has been truly outstanding, we have always emphasized the importance of quality experiences outside of the classroom. This is where I think Maggie has truly shined,” said Brian Thurow, chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering.

Nelson with safety equipment working on a materials lab project

Nelson at work, and at home, in the lab.

Collaboration in Research

While most people stay within a field of study in their careers, Nelson is interested in finding new opportunities within aerospace engineering and materials science while applying philosophical and sustainable use factors. While at Cambridge, Nelson will research ways of improving the efficiency of solar energy cells in interior light. She hopes she can apply this knowledge to earth and space-based solutions for sustainable energy production.

In fact, her multiple awards have led her to a career path filled with collaboration in research. Her introduction to research began here at Auburn within the Aerospace Engineering department. She spent a summer as an intern at MIT researching cement, while her semester in Germany for the DAAD RISE scholarship had her working on polymers and other materials. 

 These interdisciplinary studies give Nelson a leg up in the world of research. “I’ve learned, over time, how international research really can be; the collaboration between studies, colleges and universities is widespread.” While in Cambridge she hopes to strengthen those connections and research fields as her career grows. 

 “Maggie is one of the rare students that a professor or director hopes to have the opportunity to teach and work with once in their career. Between her research on advanced materials, the service she has given to the university, and her innate curiosity, she's truly at a level few of us can reach,” said Christopher Lepczyk, interim director of the Honors College.

Nelson standing in front of her Materials Lab sign at MIT

Nelson spent a summer collaborating with researchers at MIT

Paving the way

As Auburn University celebrates 100 years of Women in Engineering, one of Nelson’s proudest achievements is her work encouraging other women to pursue the field of engineering. “Anyone can do anything,” said Nelson. “Women provide a different perspective, we can do things men can do and we can do things women can do – we can also all work together,” added Nelson. Currently, Nelson is a Student Advocates and Allies Liaison, a group in which women in engineering train their male peers in diversity, equity, and inclusion; a Cupola Engineering Ambassador, where she tours prospective students in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering; and a past Woman in Engineering E-Team Leader, where she mentored freshman women in engineering. 

Nelson standing on a path with bright green trees surrounding her

Nelson's scholarship wins have sent her across Europe.

While in the UK

“I’m so excited to get to Cambridge and meet my cohort,” said Nelson. According to Nelson, Churchill Scholarship winners tend to create a tight community during their time in Cambridge and create connections that last a lifetime. Once again, Nelson proves that creating connections and collaboration within the sciences is beneficial not only personally but globally. 

While there, Nelson is most looking forward to traveling within England as well as Europe as a whole, and perhaps playing some grass-court tennis. 

Sir Churchill’s Vision

The Winston Churchill Scholarship is an annual award given to only 16 students nationally to study at Churchill College in Cambridge. The scholarship is regarded as one of the nation’s most prestigious awards. 

Established at the request of Sir Winston Churchill as part of the founding of Churchill College. The Churchill Scholarship fulfills his vision of deepening the US–UK partnership in order to advance science and technology on both sides of the Atlantic, ensuring our future prosperity and security. 

Prestigious Scholarships

Students from all academic disciplines and colleges are encouraged to apply for national prestigious scholarships. The Honors College is here to individually mentor and support applicants from across the university. For more information on prestigious scholarships, what they entail and how to apply, contact the Honors College at