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Barry Goldwater black and white

Two Penn State undergraduates win Goldwater Scholarships

9 April 2020

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation announced March 27 that Penn State’s Rachel Swope and Autumn Deitrick were named as 2020 Goldwater Scholars.


Rachel Swope

Swope and colleagues

Swope, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, with a molecular and cell biology option. She is also a Schreyer Honors Scholar.

The junior aspires to earn a doctorate in neurobiology, a goal she said developed as she worked in Melissa Rolls’ lab over the last two years. There, she worked on several projects related to axon and dendrite regeneration in Drosophila (fruit fly) sensory neurons.

“Rachel is a student with tremendous promise,” said Rolls, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Eberly College of Science and Swope’s research mentor. “I have no doubt she will be one of my top undergraduate researchers of all time, and am continuously grateful she chose my lab for her research. She is extremely smart, very motivated and unfailingly positive. Her commitment and absolute fit for a career in research is obvious.”

Rolls said Swope produces work of those typically much further along in their research careers. Swope also made use of an Erickson Discovery Grant to perform summer research as a rising junior in 2019, where she developed her own distinct project in Rolls’ lab.

“This recognition really makes me appreciate how much I have grown and learned while at Penn State,” Swope said. “I have my amazing mentors to thank for this! It also makes me feel more confident about pursuing a Ph.D. and a career in research.

Autumn Deitrick

Autumn Deitrick with poster

Deitrick, of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, is a civil engineering major in the water resources track in the College of Engineering and a Schreyer Honors Scholar.

“I am incredibly honored and grateful for this award, and know it would not have been possible without the unwavering support from my mentors, parents, family and friends,” Deitrick said. “Being named a 2020 Barry Goldwater Scholar has been a goal of mine since my first year of college because of the award's ability to open opportunities for graduate school and beyond.”

Since her first year at Penn State, Deitrick has been a member of the Environmental Fluid Dynamics research group under Dr. Xiaofeng Liu, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. During her two years with this group, she worked on her own research project titled, “Optimizing the Weir Equation for Nature-Like Fish Passages.” As part of this research, she said, she constructed her own experimental flume last summer thanks to support from an Erickson Discovery Grant. Deitrick researched how to accurately predict attraction flow for nature-like fish passages which help aquatic life complete their migratory journeys. She said that while biologists have determined the optimal flow patterns to entice fish to enter these passages, there isn't yet a formula to predict these flows.

This work is currently on hold, however, as Deitrick has recently joined the FEWs Lab under Dr. Caitlin Grady, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and research associate in the Rock Ethics Institute. Here, Deitrick will work alongside lab mates to investigate embedded nitrogen and phosphorous accounting into and out of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed as part of the “Thriving Agricultural Systems in Urban Landscapes” project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Deitrick was also mentored by Schreyer Honors College Dean Peggy A. Johnson, who lauded Deitrick’s abilities and enthusiasm.

“Autumn has been strongly engaged in research at Penn State, almost since she walked in the door,” Johnson said. “Since I am also a professor of civil engineering, she came to me for advice on how to get started in research. I was able to connect her with a research project that I had left behind when I became the dean. I would place Autumn in the top 1% of students I have known in civil engineering over my 30 years as a professor. I am so impressed with her spirit, intelligence, curiosity, maturity, and creativity.”

Deitrick said she plans to pursue a doctorate in environmental fluid mechanics and become a professor, one day directing her own hydraulics lab while leading a research group in the study of river hydraulics.

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. The Goldwater Foundation announced 396 scholarship recipients for 2020 from the 1,343 nominated students from 461 academic institutions in the U.S. Scholarships are awarded up to $7,500 per year for a maximum of two years.

Those interested in competing for a Goldwater Scholarship next year should contact the University Fellowships Office 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. Applicants must submit a pre-application form and complete a full application during the fall semester to be considered for University endorsement. For more information on the application process, visit the office website.

The University Fellowships Office is part of Penn State Office of Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at