The College of Arts and Architecture

Music Minors Win Top Awards in Sciences

Old Main

Proving that Penn State students can do it all – and do all of it well -  music performance minors Jacob Cordell and Sylvia Biscoveanu have been named the winners of Penn State’s most prestigious awards given in the sciences.

Jacob and Sylvia are co-recipients of the Astronaut Scholarship. These awards are provided by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF), founded by the astronauts participating in the Mercury 7 space program, to recognize undergraduate students who excel in STEM disciplines. Scholarship recipients must plan to conduct research or contribute meaningfully to their fields following graduation.


Schreyer scholar Jacob Cordell is graduating in May 2017 with degrees in Materials Science and Engineering, as well as German. He holds minors in Music Performance (tuba/euphonium) and Nanotechnology.

A native of State College, Jacob is a Paterno Fellow, and is the recipient of multiple scholarships and awards for material science and earth and mineral science. He was a Fulbright Scholar semifinalist and alternate candidate in 2016.  He serves as secretary of Material Advantage, a student organization for materials science majors; president of Keramos, a professional fraternity for ceramic engineers; and as web coordinator for the American Solar Energy Society. In addition, he participates in club Cross Country.Jacob Cordell

For Jacob, sustainability and solar energy have been lifelong interests. While in high school, he realized he wanted to devote his studies to these topics after attending a presentation given by Jeffrey Brownson, associate professor in Penn State’s Earth and Mineral Science Energy Institute.

“One of Dr. Brownson's research areas, the one in which I work, is devoted to investigating tin sulfide for photovoltaic applications, the incentive being the safety and low cost of producing the material relative to other thin film solar cell constituents.”

As a musician, Jacob is a euphonium student of School of Music professor Velvet Brown. In addition to his private study, he participates in Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble and in Lower Dimensions, a tuba/euphonium jazz sextet. His original composition, “Aspen Roots,” will be premiered by Lower Dimensions at a concert on March 29, and he plans a full solo recital in late April. He is in the process of completing his 21 credits for the minor.

Professor Brown spoke glowingly of Jacob’s work in her studio, saying,

“Jacob Cordell excels in his musical pursuits and has a paramount desire to learn. I have always considered him more of a euphonium performance major than a minor. His technical and musical skills are to be admired and his dedication to learning is off the charts. I have been amazed over the last four years at his accomplishments. He has been a tremendous asset to the euphonium studio as a musician and also serving as president for the Penn State Tuba Euphonium Club. It has been rewarding for me to work with him because he enjoys music spanning from Bach to jazz.”

When asked about the role that music plays in his busy life, Jacob responded,

“Music has always provided me with a space to step back and take a different angle on life, whether that means solving a problem from a new perspective or finding a new problem to occupy my time. Continuing to play music has never really been a question to me since I started on euphonium in elementary school. It's been an integral part of my life, and it is difficult to assign any motivation for why I play. It just seems intrinsic to me.”

Sylvia Biscoveanu, a senior from Yardley, is a co-recipient of the Astronaut Scholarship and was also awarded a scholarship from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. The premier award of its type in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering, the Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of more than 1,200 undergraduate mathematics, science, and engineering students nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. Each institution may only nominate four students for the scholarship each year.

Also a member of the Schreyer Honors College, Sylvia is majoring in Physics and Spanish at Penn State. Her minors are Music Performance (violin/viola) and Mathematics. In 2014, she received the Women in Science and Engineering Research (WISER) undergraduate fellowship from the NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium. Last fall, she received the award for the top undergraduate presentation at the Mid-Atlantic Section of the American Physical Society (APS). Sylvia has again been invited to present her research in the cosmic rays category at the April 2017 APS meeting in Baltimore.

sylvia biscoveanuDuring her undergraduate career, she was involved in Dr. Miguel Mostafá’s research group. She assisted with the analysis of data, taken from the Pierre Auger Observatory in the largest cosmic ray experiment in the world, to discover the origin of the most energetic particles in the universe. She began conducting research with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) Collaboration last summer in Melbourne, Australia, and will continue this work at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) during summer 2016.

"A tremendous student and an asset to the physics department, Sylvia joined my research group as a freshman, the youngest undergraduate student I have ever invited for research experience, said Mostafá, an associate professor of physics and astronomy and astrophysics. “Her outstanding performance is a direct result of her hard work, dedication and intelligence. Sylvia has proven to be a creative thinker with an eye for details and a devotion to logic, which serves her well both in the sciences and outside them.”

As a music minor, Sylvia studies violin and viola with Penn State viola professor Timothy Deighton. She has performed multiple solo recitals on viola and violin, and will perform her final recital on campus in April 2017. She plays first violin in a string quartet, and has participated in Philharmonic Orchestra. She is currently a member of the Viola Ensemble. In addition to her musical pursuits, she was a founding member of Penn State’s Music Service Club and participates in the Spanish Club.

Professor Deighton said of Sylvia, “Sylvia is an exceptional person.  She is always looking for new ways to challenge herself, and obviously loves the process of identifying and solving the technical and musical challenges she encounters in her violin and viola playing. She clearly has a need to express herself through the medium of musical performance, and has a strong artistic personality.”

Sylvia was recently named a 2017 Fulbright Scholar, and she will be continuing her research in Melbourne, Australia at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory in 2017-18. Although world travels are in her future, she is grateful for all that Penn State has provided to her, stating,

“I have received so much encouragement, support, and guidance, and I am fortunate to have had so many opportunities to do amazing things here at Penn State.”

Portions of this article were reprinted from articles originally written for and published on Penn State News.

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