Passion for Science, Love of Discovery, Leads Student to Scholarship

Although his death during a 1967 Apollo 1 pre-launch simulation was a tragedy, astronaut Roger B. Chaffee inspires Camille Phaneuf.

“Anything’s possible” is how the Northview High School senior summed up her view of Chaffee, a Grand Rapids native who died with crewmates Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Edward White in a command-module fire.

“Even though he unfortunately passed away, we were still able to accomplish the space mission,” Camille said. “He demonstrated that if you’re passionate about something, nothing can stand in your way, not even your fears.”

Her passionate commitment to science is one reason Camille has been named the 2015 Chaffee Scholar. She is the 48th recipient of the Roger B. Chaffee Scholarship, which annually awards $3,000 to an outstanding senior in the Kent ISD who intends to pursue a college career in engineering or science. She will formally receive the award during a dinner at the Grand Rapids Public Museum on April 30.

“I was honored that it spoke to what I have accomplished in high school,” Camille said. “I was really privileged to receive it, and I’m proud that I’ve joined the ranks of all the other Chaffee Scholars.”

“I like the discovery side of science – searching for an answer and not having the steps laid out for you.”Camille Phaneuf

Camille’s leadership qualities and academic achievements make her well-deserving, said Ted Burba, a Northview psychology and sociology teacher and vice president of the Chaffee Scholarship Fund.   

“She is driven. She knows her capabilities,” said Burba, whose son, Scott, was a 1989 Chaffee Scholar. “She’s going to bring a lot to this world, because of her caring and wanting to share her knowledge with other people.”

Don’t tell this $3,000 scholarship winner that girls don’t do scienceActive in and out of Classroom

The daughter of Andre and Jodi Camille, Camille has an impressive record in both academics and service. She carries a 4.452 grade-point average and scored 35 out of a possible 36 on the ACT exam. Letters of recommendation from her Advanced Placement Pre-Calculus and AP Chemistry teachers lauded her as a “stellar student” with a “passion for science.”

Beyond the classroom, she’s an active member of the National Honor Society, Student Council and Students against Destructive Decisions (SADD). She also serves on the Kids’ Food Basket Action Board and works at the YMCA. She has helped organize blood drives, distracted driving simulations and holiday food and fund drives for needy families.

Throw in tennis, ski racing, golf and band, and you have the classic all-around student. But Camille’s deep interest in math and science, and her drive to study neuroscience, set her apart for the Chaffee award.

She is considering Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania to pursue her study of a calculus-based approach to neuroscience. She is interested in researching brain disorders, the focus of an independent study she is conducting with Burba. She recently volunteered at a neuroscience fair at MSU, and also attended a research fair at the Van Andel Institute.

“I like the discovery side of science – searching for an answer and not having the steps laid out for you,” she said. As for math, “I like the concreteness of numbers. An answer always comes out on the other side of an equation.”

Showing Girls the Way in Science

Of the often-cited need for more women in the sciences, Camille said she still sees “more guys enjoy math and science than girls do.” She thinks the different brain chemistry of men and women might hold some answers as to why science is such a male-dominated field.

“Girls are more qualitative, and guys tend to be more quantitative,” she said, giving girls more “emotional intelligence” and leading them toward fields such as language arts. She would like to investigate that further in her research.

Camille Phaneuf

“I’m hoping college would be a good time for discovery of all the brain functions, and things that seem unexplainable.”

Does she consider herself a role model for other girls to explore science? Not quite yet, she said. But eventually, “I hope to show other girls it is possible to enter the science field. You can earn scholarships and do well in school. If you set your mind to it, you can get into the college of your dreams.”

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Roger B. Chaffee Scholarship Fund

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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