NC State senior becomes NC State’s 3rd Marshall Scholar
Kobi Felton, 22, can claim many places as his home: in addition to Raleigh he has lived in Doha, Qatar; Lagos, Nigeria; and Houston, TX; and he has family roots in both Trenton, NC and Elizabeth City, NC. In fall 2018, the NC State senior will be able to add a location he has dreamed of calling home since the fourth grade—the United Kingdom. Kobi, an honors chemical and biomolecular engineering major with a minor in Spanish who is a member of the University Scholars Program and a Park Scholar, was just announced as one of a 43 recipients of the 2018 Marshall Scholarships, a fully funded merit-based award for Americans of high ability to pursue postgraduate study in the UK. The prestigious one- and two-year awards commemorate the Marshall Plan and just celebrated its 65th anniversary. He is NC State’s third Marshall Scholar; its second recipient was Brian Clark in fall 2008 and its first recipient was Tómas Carbonell in fall 2002. He was one of two candidates endorsed in August 2017 by NC State’s Fellowship Advising Office (FAO) after interviewing with the campus selection committee.
Kobi will join nearly 2,000 Marshall Scholars who have been selected on the criteria of academic merit, leadership potential, and ambassadorial potential. During his two years, Kobi will study for an MPhil in chemical engineering and biotechnology at the University of Cambridge and an MRes in nanomaterials at Imperial College London. He aims to then earn a doctoral degree and one day create a cloud chemistry laboratory that can democratize access to advanced chemistry equipment, optimize chemical reactions, and facilitate scientific innovation. Kobi’s path from his past homes to his newest community can be marked by curiosity, insight, and team work.
A curious mind
As a child, Kobi was encouraged to read early and often by his parents, Fredrica McDaniel-Felton and Keith Felton. He was also encouraged to fail early and often, especially by his father and a chemistry professor in high school. This thirst for knowledge, coupled with the permission to make mistakes, dovetailed when Kobi arrived at NC State. His Introduction to Design Thinking course gave him a framework for approaching opportunities and questions with a creative mindset. He also used that creativity to continue his study of Spanish, identify leadership solutions for the NC State chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, and as a co-assignee on a patent for lab equipment that combines his love of photography with his passion for engineering research.
In the flow
While attending high school at the American International School of Lagos in their International Baccalaureate Program, Kobi realized his interest in research via a project involving optimization and computer modeling. He determined that chemical engineering was a great way to combine chemistry, math, and economics, which explains the appeal of his current research in optimization. Flow chemistry is described by Kobi as “the concept of flowing chemicals through tubes the size of a strand of hair, rather than in glass flasks, to study reactions.” He asserts that the UK is the best place to study flow chemistry, especially because of the opportunity to work with Prof. Alexei Lapkin, FRSC, and Prof. John De Mello, FRSC. “Their work is changing the face of chemistry and nanomaterials research,” said Kobi. His research at Cambridge will use flow chemistry to make it easier to incorporate new environmentally-friendly processes into pharmaceutical manufacturing. Additionally, he will use flow chemistry to produce large volumes of high- quality nanomaterials for solar cells while at Imperial College London.
Team work for dream work
“When I learned I had been selected for a Marshall Scholarship, I was ecstatic,” Kobi recalled. “It felt surreal. I could not believe that my dream of studying in the UK was coming true. I immediately contacted FAO and my parents to share the news. I felt extremely grateful to everyone who had supported me throughout this journey—FAO, family, professors, and friends.”
When asked for names of his supporters, Kobi provided a lengthy list of faculty and staff, as well as friends and laboratory colleagues, who he counts as members of the team that facilitated his success. In addition to the Park Scholarships staff, Engineering Ambassadors staff, and the leaders at Special Events NC State who work with the Chancellor’s Aides program, Kobi also detailed the support from campus mentors. Among them are his laboratory principal investigator Dr. Milad Abolhasani for giving Kobi freedom to explore his research ideas and opportunities to commercialize laboratory technology through NC State I-Corps. Kobi also cited his mentor Dr. Ruben Carbonell for his instrumental guidance on significant collegiate decisions.
Kobi also credits the impact of the Minority Engineering Program and the value of professors who have paved the way. “As NC State’s first black recipient of a Marshall Scholarship, I stand on the shoulders of many people who have been role models for me,” he shared. “I have been supported by faculty members like Dr. Joel Ducoste in the Department of Civil Engineering and Dr. Christine Grant in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. I hope I can help inspire more NC State students from underrepresented groups to seek similar prestigious award opportunities.”
Next stop: becoming a bridge
Kobi remembers a design seminar as a key moment in his life. He drew a bridge in response to a prompt that asked students to visually represent their goals, gifts, or purpose. In the UK and beyond, Kobi hopes to connect with and serve others, perhaps by using his Spanish skills as he did when volunteering with Kidznotes in Durham, NC and the Mexican Consulate in Raleigh. He also plans to build connections between his UK colleagues and those in the US to push innovation in flow chemistry and computer modeling to new heights with diverse voices at the table. In addition, Kobi is excited about nurturing his love of jazz music by seeing some of his favorite UK-based groups such as GoGo Penguin play live.
“I, of course, anticipate forming lasting friendships with other Marshall Scholars and UK-based colleagues,” beamed Kobi. “However, I see the next two years as a time to lay a foundation as I start my journey as an ambassador between the US and the UK and become a leader in my discipline by fostering scientific collaborations. I see a future where I can connect innovative minds with life-changing opportunities.”
We can’t wait to see where Kobi’s curiosity, insights, and newly expanded team will lead him next.
Click here for the Marshall Commission’s press release.
Click here for a list of specially recognized individuals.
Photography credit: Alsace Gallop/Fellowship Advising Office
The Fellowship Advising Office (FAO) helps NC State’s undergraduate students, graduate students, and alums learn of and apply for nationally competitive and prestigious awards. These awards fund a wide range of opportunities, and many are connected to undergraduate and graduate degree programs or internships, overseas opportunities, and independent projects.