Meet Our Marshall Scholar
The Marshall Scholarship, for graduate studies in the U.K., is awarded to 40 American students a year—at most. The small pool of recipients tend to do well in life: Marshall Scholars can be found among current CEOs, Supreme Court justices and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors. Phillip Tucciarone, a senior majoring in chemical and biological engineering, is the first UB student to receive the prestigious award since 1988.
Not bad for someone who didn’t even plan to go to college. “I worked in trades all of my life—as a plumber’s apprentice, mowing lawns for a landscaping company and drilling water wells,” Tucciarone says. “Attending college didn’t make sense to me. It didn’t make sense to go into debt.”
But then he received a scholarship from UB supported by private philanthropy, and everything changed. Not only could he attend college: He had the time and freedom to excel. “I was able to research and do internships instead of waiting tables or bartending,” he says. “I was able to focus only on the things I was passionate about, rather than trying to pay for my education.”
The results speak for themselves. A University Honors College scholar (and president of the Honors Student Council), Tucciarone has a near-perfect GPA, has won several awards in addition to the Marshall—including a 2013 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for outstanding college students who intend to pursue research careers in math, the natural sciences or engineering—and has co-authored two academic papers that were published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In his downtime, he has managed to play on the UB rugby team all four years, mentor high school students through UB’s Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership and organize an annual volunteer trip to the Dominican Republic to teach children English. He also plays trombone, bass and guitar.
Tucciarone’s studies at UB have been largely devoted to nanomaterials and the development of methods of non-toxic bio-imaging, which play a role in cancer treatment. In the U.K., he plans to pursue a doctorate in materials science, either at the University of Oxford or the Imperial College of London. His focus will be on graphene, one of the crystalline forms of carbon. “If copper is your grandma’s Buick,” says Tucciarone, “then graphene is the new Ferrari.”
“The Marshall Scholarship is a mark of great distinction,” says University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi. “These are not just some of the nation’s best and brightest young scholars; they are intellectually passionate, globally minded students dedicated to enriching the world around them. We’re all deeply proud to see one of our top students earn this recognition, and we’re all eager to see what Phil achieves next with this wonderful opportunity.”
Read more in the UB Reporter.
Tell us about your upbringing.
I grew up in a musical household—my dad is a professional musician and plays the bass. I’ve been playing jazz trombone, guitar and bass for years. I was even in a band back home in Washingtonville, N.Y. [a village in Orange County], called Blank Check.
Are you the first person in your family to go to college?
I’m among the first generation in my family to go to college. All of my three sisters and cousins went. [But] if not for my scholarships, I would not have gone. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.
Have you studied abroad before?
I spent a summer studying engineering at the University of Technology of Troyes in France. I studied the development of the European Union and the Eurozone. I also volunteered and led programs for English education in the Dominican Republic.
What drives your passion for education?
After moving to Buffalo, I tutored and mentored young children at the North Buffalo Community Center. The rampant illiteracy across age groups—especially in Buffalo's growing refugee communities—was heart-wrenching. I was moved by the refugees' struggles, which paralleled my mother’s struggle to graduate high school after she emigrated from Italy to the U.S. as child.
Do you have any hobbies?
Rugby has been a critical part of my life, and I’ve grown to love the culture surrounding it. I’ve played all of my four years at UB and I’m now a starting wing. We won the state championships in 2010 and we’ve competed in the National Rugby 7s tournament. I even play for the Buffalo Men’s Rugby Club during the summer.
Do you plan to play in the U.K. next year?
I want to play for the Oxford Blues, the University of Oxford’s rugby team. My first experience with a U.S.-U.K. relationship came from rugby. I’ve played with and against English ruggers, and the camaraderie of the sport has always left us at some pub laughing after 80 minutes of fighting.
Is there any public figure you particularly admire?
Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist and science communicator. He’s one of the great orators of science and the academic community. He’s incredible at explaining things to the general public.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
After earning my doctorate in materials science, I plan to become a professor of materials science. I see education as the strongest mechanism for change in the world.
What do you value most about your education at UB?
The engagement of the professors. I was involved with them from day one and I never felt disconnected. They are incredible, both in the classroom and as personal mentors.
What did your professors say when they learned you won the Marshall Scholarship?
Folarin Erogbogbo, a former research assistant professor at UB and one of my mentors, called me and said, “Started from the bottom, now we’re here.” It’s a line from a popular Drake song.
How did your parents react?
They were pretty excited. My mom still isn’t sure what it is I won, but she understands that it’s a big deal.