Four students at both ASU, UA win Goldwater Scholarships

April 15, 2010

By hammersmith

Harvard couldn’t do it. Neither could Yale or Princeton. Neither could Stanford, Johns Hopkins, UC Berkeley, Texas, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan, or Cal Tech.

But both Arizona State University and the University of Arizona did:

Each university secured four recipients of the 2010 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the highest undergraduate award in the nation for students in mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering who intend to pursue research careers.

Among the winners was 2006 Flinn Scholar Beryl Jones, a UA Honors College student with a triple major in biochemistry and molecular biophysics, ecology and evolutionary biology, and molecular and cellular biology, and minors in chemistry and mathematics.

“It’s pretty prestigious,” Jones acknowledged. “It’ll help my status when I’m applying to graduate school.”

Jones said she began her research on mosquitoes when she arrived at UA, initially most curious about the biochemistry of insects. Gradually, her interest shifted toward mysteries of behavior. She became interested in bumblebees and their capacity to learn, and is now looking toward graduate studies in behavioral neurobiology.

“I wanted to know more about the mechanism of why,” she said.

The four-for-four sweeps that ASU and UA achieved represent an exceedingly rare accomplishment. Out of 1,111 nominations from across the country this year, 278 Goldwater Scholars were selected. Each college or university was eligible to nominate no more than four candidates, and in only 11 instances did all four of a university’s candidates receive the award. No state other than Arizona had two universities with four winners.

“A lot of people self-select out of applying because the scholarship is so competitive,” said Karna Walter, director of nationally competitive scholarships at UA’s Honors College. “You need phenomenal grades and significant research experience as well as strong letters of recommendation, predominately from the faculty.

“I think this speaks so highly of the students. They’re pretty remarkable in terms of how much they have done at this point in their careers,” Walter added.

The Goldwater is worth $7,500 per year for up to two years, but its greatest value is as a marker of the students’ focused and well-developed research achievements at a time when, in some cases, their peers are still choosing majors. Three of the four Goldwater winners at ASU are still only sophomores. All eight of the Arizona winners are students in their universities’ honors colleges. 

Recipients at ASU are Michael Christiansen, majoring in physics; Edward Lee, majoring in electrical engineering; Tyler Libey, majoring in bioengineering; and Glenn Markov, majoring in biological sciences.

Recipients at UA along with Jones are Troy Comi, majoring in chemistry, computer science, mathematics, and molecular and cellular biology; Stacy Marla Shiffler, majoring in physics and applied mathematics; and Jennifer Sierchio, majoring in astronomy, physics, and mathematics.

Two of the Goldwater winners at ASU, along with Jones and two others at UA, are headed towards research careers in the biosciences.

“Tyler is truly an exceptional student, the sort that only comes along once every few years, if that often,” said Michael R. Caplan, associate professor of bioengineering at ASU. “His intellectual abilities are exceptional, but his motivation, maturity, persistence, and professionalism make him stand out from almost all others.”

“Glenn has already made substantial independent contributions to our teams,” said Sudhir Kumar, professor of life sciences and director of the Center for Evolutionary Medicine and Informatics at the Biodesign Institute at ASU. “He also balances his research with teacher’s assistant duties, and he is well-rounded and well-respected, volunteering with schoolchildren and at a local hospital. He is highly deserving of this elite award.”

Comi will be working this summer at Karolinska Institute in Sweden as part of the UA program, Biomedical Research Abroad: Vistas Open!, which he said will prepare him for a career in medical-device design.

“”I think it’s almost a requirement at this point to be a 21st century scientist in the current interdisciplinary environment,” Comi said. “A lot of the current research indicates that new instruments are going to be computer-run.”

Shiffler is currently working with Koen Visscher, a UA associate professor of physics, conducting biophysics research on fluorescent dye molecules.

“Research is something I really enjoy,” she said. “I like the feeling that I am contributing to the useful gathering of information that is going to help people later on.”

For more information:

Undergrads win top national awards as promising scientists,” ASU news release, 4/13/2010

Four UA Students Named Goldwater Scholars,” UA news release, 4/7/2010