Four University of Wisconsin students received the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship this year, as announced last week. That’s the maximum number any university can receive.
The Goldwater Scholars program supports students in the science field who demonstrate excellence in conducting research. College sophomores and juniors can apply — if a junior wins, they’ll receive $7,500 for their senior year. If a sophomore wins, they’ll receive $7,500 for their junior year and an additional $7,500 for their senior year. The four UW students who received the award were all juniors.
Junior Mostafa Hassan studies mathematics and computer engineering. According to a release from UW news, he’s conducted mathematics research since his freshman year, when he started in the Edwin Sibert lab. In the time since then, he’s worked on several different projects with different labs and advisors. He also won the Wisconsin Math, Science, and Engineering Talent Search in 2017, and he’s received UW’s prestigious Van Vleck Scholarship.
In an email to The Herald, Hassan said he’s grateful for the supportive faculty at UW.
“The amount of research opportunities for undergraduates at UW and the willingness of faculty to mentor research projects and directed readings is truly astounding,” Hassan said. “That has most certainly been a great influence on my work.”
Right now, Hassan is working on a machine learning project with Mathematics professor Jordan Ellenberg. Ellenberg spoke to Hassan’s dedication to the field and his willingness to learn. He said Hassan will have countless opportunities available to him after he graduates.
Hassan said he plans to apply to graduate school to study pure mathematics next year, focusing on differential equations and harmonic analysis. He also said he is excited to work on an upcoming project about water wave equations.
“As a professor, our job is teaching but actually a lot of our job is learning,” Ellenberg said. “From meeting with Mostafa, I learned a lot every time we met. And that’s the most enjoyable part of it for me.”
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Junior Elizabeth Sumiec studies biochemistry, with certificates in global health and economics. Since her freshman year, Sumiec has conducted research in the Zachary Morris Oncology Lab at the School of Medicine and Public Health, where she studies immune responses to radiation in cancer cells. As a sophomore, she received a Hilldale award, and Morris said she’ll have the opportunity to present her research at the American Association for Cancer Research conference, one of the biggest conferences in the field.
Sumiec said in an email to The Herald she’s thankful for the support from her research mentors, and she’s impressed with all the high-quality research undergraduates conduct across campus.
“UW is the reason I even had the opportunity to be involved in such high caliber research, along with my fellow 2020 Goldwater Scholars,” Sumiec said. “Everyone is doing amazing things, and it’s amazing that it is all happening at our institution. UW is also an amazing pioneer in clinical trials.”
Morris said while Sumiec is driven and hardworking in the lab, her expertise outside of the lab will also benefit her moving forward. Sumiec said she worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant the summer after her freshman year, and Morris said this, along with other opportunities she’s had to work directly with patients, have helped her better understand what it means to be a medical researcher.
Sumiec said she hopes to complete a master’s degree in global health economics after she graduates, before moving towards an MD/PhD.
“I think she’ll be a very competitive applicant for medical school, MD/PhD programs,” Morris said. “Eventually I hope that she’ll become a leader in the biomedical research community. I think she has a strong passion for this type of research.”
Junior Mitchell Wall studies engineering mechanics. Since the summer after his freshman year, he’d conducted research with engineering physics professor Matt Allen. He interned with ATA, an aerospace engineering company, and last year was the Mechanical Director for Badgerloop, a student organization that competes in SpaceX hyperloop pod competition.
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Wall said research has helped him better understand concepts in his classes, and he’s glad he took advantage of the opportunities afforded to him at UW.
“Because [UW]’s a state school, it might fly under the radar a lot, but it’s really a great place for doing research,” Wall said. “There are a ton of universities that might have fancier names that you have probably heard about. But I mean, we have comparable if not better research programs.”
Allen said having Wall in his lab has advanced their research, and he’s watched him grow in a number of ways, both personally and professionally, by capitalizing on his internship experience, classwork and extracurricular knowledge.
Wall said he plans to apply for aerospace engineering graduate programs. He said he hopes to continue doing more applied research projects.
“He has the talent to do anything,” Allen said. “He could become a professor, he could become a researcher at a company or a national lab … but it’ll be exciting to see what he decides to do.”
Junior Stella Ma studies biochemistry and nutritional sciences, with an honors in research. Ma has conducted research since her senior year of high school. She started in the Bresnick Cell and Regenerative Biology lab, and she now works in both the Huttenlocher Immunology lab and the Blackwell chemistry lab. According to the release, Ma’s led a collaboration between the two labs, and she’s won fellowships from several departments on campus.
Ma said in an email to The Herald doing research at UW has helped her figure out her career path and passion.
“Doing research has solidified that this is what I want to do as a career,” Ma said. “Being able to answer my own questions about science through my research is my favorite part of being an undergraduate, and I cannot wait until I can fully dedicate my time to being a research scientist.”
In an email to The Herald, Blackwell said Ma has a strong work ethic and passion for research, and she was impressed with her initiative leading the collaboration between her lab and Huttenlocher.
Ma said she plans to pursue an MD/PhD in immunology after graduation.
“I am excited to see [Stella] move on to the next step in her education, whether that be medical school or graduate school, or both,” Blackwell said. “After that, the sky’s the limit.”
Director of the Office of Undergraduate Academic Awards Julie Stubbs said in a statement for The Herald it’s impressive all four of UW’s nominees ended up winning the award.
Each university can only submit four nominations, and it’s not every year all four win, Stubbs said.
“I’m so proud of the four scholars and our university,” Stubbs said. “Elizabeth, Mitchell, Mostafa and Stella’s success with the Goldwater Scholarship is a testament to their intrinsic motivation and drive, but also reflective of a campus culture that supports undergraduate research.”