Casey Brayton’s passion for oceanography was ignited when she decided to join her high school’s National Ocean Sciences quiz bowl team. It was a good complement to her other interest — math, the subject her father taught her early on was “the language of life.”
The combination set her on a path to study physical oceanography and led her to the University of South Carolina where she has flourished as a student and budding researcher.
“Physical oceanography is a pretty niche field,” Brayton says. “I knew that if I decided to attend Carolina, I would not only have opportunities for research and internships, but I would have an incredible support system at the South Carolina Honors College and with the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs to help me as an undergrad.”
She was right.
A variety of high-profile research experiences and internships, in combination with impressive academic achievement, has resulted in her being named a 2018 Truman Scholar. Brayton is the ninth student in the university’s history to achieve the national honor.
“The Truman Scholarship is one of the most prestigious of national scholarships, and we’re so proud Casey Brayton is representing the University of South Carolina in the 2018 Class,” President Harris Pastides says. “From her academic, research and civil leadership to her interest in physical oceanography, she truly represents the mission and spirit of the award.”
The junior Honors College and College of Arts and Sciences student is among 59 Truman Scholars selected this year from a field of 756 top students nominated nationally by hundreds of universities and colleges.
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 with the mission of selecting and supporting the next generation of public service leaders. It has become one of the most distinguished scholarships in the U.S. for recognizing students for superior academic ability, a strong record of service and leadership and plans for careers in public service.
Truman Scholars receive $30,000 toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming to help prepare them for careers in public service leadership. At the university, recent Truman Scholars have included Jory Fleming, 2016; Asma Jaber, 2007; Thomas Scott, 2006; Jeremy Wolfe, 2004 and Lara Bratcher, 2003.
Brayton’s goal is to earn a doctorate in physical oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and possibly a master’s in science communications or environmental policy, building on her studies as a marine science and math major with a minor in geography.
Ultimately, she hopes to pursue a career in research and public policy in a NOAA research lab. This summer, she will take the first step toward that career conducting research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab as a NOAA Hollings Scholar.
“I’ll be researching interactions between ice shelves and the ocean in Antarctica using a high-resolution ice-ocean model,” Brayton says. “Ice shelves usually are hard to study because the conditions in the Southern Ocean are pretty perilous and the shelves are not easily accessible. Knowing about their dynamics is vital to predicting future sea level rise. Dynamic, high-resolution ice shelf models are still basically new, so I am ecstatic to work with one. I’m also looking forward to using a supercomputer for the first time.”
Brayton’s impact isn’t only in research. As a student leader, she founded and serves as president of Women in Geosciences and is vice president of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.
“There are still huge gender and racial disparities in the natural sciences, especially when looking at statistics for tenured professors,” she says. “I want to help create a space where aspiring women and minority scientists could access all of the guidance necessary for success in high-level academic and administrative jobs.”
Earlier this week, Brayton, along with junior Victor Madormo, was selected as a national Goldwater Scholar, building on her 2017 selection as a NOAA Hollings Scholar and Udall Scholar. She is a South Carolina Palmetto Fellow and a Lieber Scholar and 2017 Traci J. Heincelman awardee at the university.
Her research endeavors have included an NSF undergraduate research experience at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and working on research projects here at the university, including marine science professor Alexander Yankovsky’s NSF-funded research on ocean models.
Brayton, who grew up in Irmo, South Carolina, is active in many organizations. She serves on the board of Columbia’s Citizens Climate Lobby chapter, is involved with the Sierra Club, and interned with the Conservation Voters of SC where she lobbied for stricter wastewater regulations.
Galen Health Fellows Principal David Simmons, who headed up the university’s Truman committee, sees a bright future ahead for Brayton.
“We have some of the country’s brightest scholars here at the university, and Casey is no exception,” Simmons says. “Casey sees her life’s work as an effort to engage, educate and spur people to action around the central issue of climate change as seen through the lens of oceanography. I have no doubt she will do this and much more.”
While looking ahead to graduate school as a Truman Scholar, Brayton took a moment to consider her college experience as a Gamecock.
She says one of her favorite memories is jumping into the Thomas Cooper fountain after the women’s basketball team won the Final Four last year. Like many students, her bucket list before graduating includes climbing the rock wall at the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center. A true arts and sciences student, Brayton is rarely seen on campus without a sketchbook.
Brayton offers this piece of advice to incoming freshmen:
“Contact the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs early,” she says. “I visited the office during my first week of freshman year. The staff not only directed me toward scholarships and internships, but they also had many discussions with me about my larger aspirations that helped me figure out where my true passions lie.”