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Editor's Note: Lori Scardino is available to talk with the media about this prestigious award. You can reach her at 715-577-4999 or

UW-Eau Claire Student One of 20 College Students Named to USA Today's All-USA College Academic First Team

RELEASED: Feb. 15, 2007

Lori Scardino
Lori Scardino

EAU CLAIRE — A senior chemistry and biology major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is among 20 college students nationwide to be named to the 2007 All-USA College Academic First Team.

Lori Scardino — an accomplished undergraduate researcher and single mother of two from Eau Claire — will be featured with the other 19 award winners in today's (Feb. 15) issue of the nation's USA Today newspaper and will receive $2,500 cash award. Scardino is the only student attending a Wisconsin college or university selected for 2007 First Team honors.

"I'm ecstatic, excited, shocked — words can't describe it," said Scardino, who will graduate in May after four years at UW-Eau Claire. "I've read the profiles of the other winners and they're incredibly accomplished people. I'm astounded that I'm in this group."

Given her many accomplishments, Scardino deserves to be listed among the elite undergraduate students in the country, said Dr. Scott Hartsel, a chemistry professor who is Scardino's academic adviser and mentor in the classroom and lab.

"I've never had a student achieve the level of lab skill that Lori has in such a short time," said Hartsel, who hired Scardino as a research assistant when she was a freshman. "She's caught on to and improved lab methodology quickly and wants to know why things are like they are."

Much of Scardino's research with Hartsel has focused on developing a new class of probes for fluorescence microscopy of live cells. The probes can potentially be used for various medical and diagnostic purposes, ranging from mass screening of cholesterol-lowering drugs to stem cell or cancer research to studying metabolic diseases of lysosomes.

"She's essentially operating at the level of an advanced graduate student and that is exactly what most colleagues she encounters assume she is," said Hartsel, noting that Scardino accomplished so much her first three months in his lab that she was asked to present her work to an international audience of scientists during a conference in Boston. "I can't think of another student who has worked for me who is a more gifted researcher than Lori."

Scardino's success is even more impressive given her background. Scardino came from a poor, troubled family and at 15 was placed in foster care. She finished high school and enrolled at UW-La Crosse. But she withdrew after a semester when her father died and she returned home to care for her younger brother.

In 2002, Scardino divorced and became a single parent. With little income and two young daughters, she decided to return to college. She couldn't get into UW-Eau Claire because her GPA was too low, so she enrolled in general education classes at the Chippewa Valley Technical College. She raised her GPA and was accepted at UW-Eau Claire.

"The fact that Lori made it to our university after a lifetime of struggles speaks to her resiliency, perseverance and strong character," Bonnie Isaacson, the university's nontraditional student adviser, wrote in a letter of support for Scardino's USA Today nomination. "Lori is one of the most dedicated students and parents I have met in my years of advising students."

While she's had obstacles to overcome, Scardino said she is thankful that so many things fell into place once she arrived on campus. For example, she came to UW-Eau Claire planning to earn an education degree so she could teach high school math. It was by chance — not choice — that she enrolled in a chemistry class with Hartsel, who introduced her to the wonders of the sciences and research. She soon changed her major and had new professional aspirations.

"Taking Dr. Hartsel's general chemistry class was the best thing that could have happened," Scardino said. "Everything just clicked."

Scardino's contributions to the sciences at UW-Eau Claire have been substantial, Hartsel said. She has collaborated on research with Hartsel; Dr. Julie Anderson, assistant professor of biology; and Dr. David Lewis, professor of chemistry. She's also coordinated the chemistry department's peer tutoring program, has been a presenter in the chemistry demo program, served as president of the American Chemical Society student affiliate, and has tutored students in chemistry, mathematics, human anatomy and physiology.

"I'm honored to have been selected for the USA Today award," said Scardino, a Girl Scout troop leader and frequent volunteer at her daughters' school and in the community. "At the same time, I did not and do not do what I do for accolades and awards. I volunteer because I truly want to help others, and I have double majored and participated in collaborative research because I want to get the most I can out of my undergraduate education.

"Your time is what you make of it and I live my life to make the most of it. I want to look back on my life and be proud of my contributions rather than with regret for not having tried something, helped where I could or faced a challenge. I'm very much an all-or-nothing person. If I am involved I will give my all or I won't get involved in the first place."

Scardino, who has received numerous scholarships through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation and many campus honors, said she's proud she was able to accomplish so much as a single parent. "It shows that where there is a will, there is a way," she said.

But none of it would have been possible if not for the encouragement of people throughout the UW-Eau Claire and greater Eau Claire communities, Scardino said.

"I'm so grateful to the people I've met on campus and in the community," Scardino said. "Everyone on campus — from the custodians to the faculty to the chancellor — has encouraged me. I hope this award makes all of those people proud."

UW-Eau Claire provides its students with the tools and opportunities they need to succeed at the highest levels, Scardino said.

"I think UW-Eau Claire is sometimes overlooked and underestimated because it's a 'small, state school,'" Scardino said. "I want people to know that anyone who is motivated and dedicated can attend UW-Eau Claire and have the same, maybe even more, opportunities for success that I've had. I hope my story can be an inspiration to other students and for those considering returning to college. This is an amazing institution and I'm proud to be a Blugold."

After her May graduation, Scardino plans to go to UW-Madison to earn her Ph.D.

"When I came here, graduate school wasn't even something I thought about," said Scardino. "I was a single parent, I'd been out of school for 10 years and I didn't have much money. I didn't even consider graduate school. Then I met Dr. Hartsel and everything changed."

Scardino's career goal now is to teach at a public university, much like UW-Eau Claire.

"I want to be at a place where faculty balance teaching and research, and are passionate about both," Scardino said. "UW-Eau Claire is phenomenal. This place is as good as it gets. And that's the kind of university I want to be part of as a faculty member."

Scardino is the second UW-Eau Claire student to receive the USA Today First Team honor. In 2003, Lisa Hansen, an elementary education major, was named to the First Team.



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