Penn State recently announced its four nominees -- Ellie Kim, Lindsay Jones, Jack Piazza and Annalee Schmidt -- for the 2022 Goldwater Scholarship, a highly competitive national award given to undergraduates in the fields of natural science, engineering and mathematics who are interested in a career in research.
Penn State has had numerous Goldwater Scholars in recent years, and in 2019 all four candidates the University put forth eventually earned the award. Two nominees from Penn State earned the award in 2020 and three in 2021.
Ellie Kim, of State College, Pennsylvania, is a junior Schreyer Scholar majoring in general music (piano) and biochemistry and molecular biology. Her undergraduate research under Moriah Szpara, associate professor of biology and biochemistry and molecular biology, focuses on how the genetic diversity of herpes viruses brings about different characteristics in their infectivity and severity.
“I really enjoy being a part of the lab, as there is always a welcoming environment for learning and inquiry,” Kim said.
Lindsay Jones, of Springfield, Pennsylvania, is a junior Schreyer Scholar majoring in materials science and engineering and pursuing a minor in statistics. During her first year, Jones was part of the Women in Science and Engineering Research program working on a computational polymers research project under Scott Milner, professor of chemical engineering.
Last year, Jones began working under Robert Hickey, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, on inorganic-organic hybrid perovskites, materials that have applications in solar cells and LEDs.
“I got to work in the lab over the summer, which was really exciting because I didn't have much prior hands-on lab experience,” Jones said. “I’ve enjoyed getting the opportunity to study such an interesting topic.”
Jack Piazza, of State College, Pennsylvania, is a junior Schreyer Scholar mathematics major. Since his first year at Penn State, Piazza has worked on computability theory under Jan Reimann, associate professor of mathematics, exploring different notions of what makes a sequence of digits random and working on finding which of these notions have properties that are useful in other areas of math.
“By doing undergraduate research, I’ve gotten a glimpse at what research at the graduate and postgraduate level is like,” Piazza said. “I’ve also learned what skills are important to conduct independent research and started developing those skills.”
Annalee Schmidt, of Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, is a sophomore biochemistry and molecular biology major. Schmidt has been involved in three research projects. The summer before her first year, she was part of a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) learning about viruses under Gregory Boussard, assistant teaching professor of biochemistry, whom she continued working with to study a bacteriophage genome and the virophage Sputnik.
Schmidt also enrolled in a CURE course under John Alumasa, associate research professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and Shawn Xiong, assistant teaching professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, to isolate and characterize antimicrobial compounds from soil. She continued working with Alumasa to determine the mechanism of action of the isolated compounds against B. anthracis, the bacterial species responsible for causing anthrax.
Currently, Schmidt works under Jeffrey Peters, distinguished professor of molecular toxicology and carcinogenesis. The Peters Lab studies the role of peroxisome proliferater-activated receptors in cancer.
“When I started my first year in college, I was not anticipating earning a Ph.D.,” Schmidt said. “It wasn’t until I started doing research in the CURE classes that I realized what research was. I was inspired by the unknown and found myself drawn to design ways to answer my questions. After this realization, I decided I wanted to pursue research as a career.”
“I’m thrilled that four Penn State students, three of whom are Schreyer Scholars, have been nominated for Goldwater Scholarships, arguably the most prestigious award for undergraduate researchers in the U.S.,” Patrick T. Mather, dean of the Schreyer Honors College. “I don’t envy the foundation with the hard work ahead in selecting awardees and I would not be surprised to see all four winning. I’m so proud to serve an institution that fosters excellence in research and creative works not only for faculty and graduate students, but also for undergraduates who follow their hearts to work on the pressing problems of our time.”
About the Goldwater Scholarship
The scholarship, named for statesman Barry Goldwater, is among the most competitive honors in the country for undergraduates in the STEM fields. Each year, 300 students across the U.S. are awarded $7,500 each through the scholarship program. Recipients are typically announced in the last week of March.
Those interested in competing for a Goldwater Scholarship next year should contact Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring (URFM) to learn more about the scholarship program, verify that they meet the eligibility criteria and begin the application process. Applicants must be U.S citizens, U.S. nationals or permanent residents in their sophomore or junior year and demonstrate an interest in a research career in select STEM fields. Applicants must submit a pre-application form and complete a full application during the fall semester to be considered for University nomination. Penn State nominates four students each year.
Students interested in developing their potential for research and fellowships can start by meeting with an Undergraduate Research Ambassador, attending a workshop from URFM or applying to the Spark Program.