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3 WKU students honored by Goldwater scholarship program

Three WKU students have been recognized in the Goldwater scholarship competition. From left are Hillary Asberry, David Brown and Sam Saarinen.

Three WKU students have been recognized in the Goldwater scholarship competition. From left are Hillary Asberry, David Brown and Samuel Saarinen.

WKU continues to lead other Kentucky universities in the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program, a premier award for undergraduates pursuing careers in science, mathematics or engineering.

Hillary Asberry, a junior chemistry major from Lancaster, and David Brown, WKU sophomore and Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky student from Central City, were selected as recipients for this highly competitive award. Samuel Saarinen, also a member of the Gatton Academy from Shelbyville, received an Honorable Mention in the national competition. Universities may nominate up to four candidates and conduct internal competitions prior to the final submissions.

WKU nominees maintain strong research agendas, often collaborating with their mentors and colleagues on cross-disciplinary and long-term projects. The Gatton Academy works to connect its students to research mentored by WKU faculty.

Established by the U.S. Congress in 1986 to recognize the former senator from Arizona, the scholarship program identifies and honors students who excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) research. To support future career researchers, winners receive $7,500 annually to apply towards undergraduate tuition, room and board, fees and books.

Hillary Asberry

Hillary Asberry

Hillary Asberry, a participant in the Honors College at WKU, conducts research with Dr. David Dahl, professor of chemistry.

“My research focuses on using strongly paramagnetic solutions in a magnetic field to enable levitation of materials,” she said. “This enables the characterization of reactions, their rates, and product distribution.”

Asberry presented her research at an international conference in 2012 and completed a 10-week National Science Foundation International Research Experience for Scientists in Taichung, Taiwan.

“The Department of Chemistry at WKU is indeed fortunate to have students like Hillary participate and obtain success in our undergraduate research programs,” Dr. Dahl said. “She is an extremely focused individual, has a high degree of maturity, and is an exceptional student.”

After graduating from WKU, Asberry plans to enroll in a Ph.D. program studying analytical chemistry before seeking employment at a national laboratory.

David Brown

David Brown

David Brown plans to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and research environmental technology with the ambition of teaching at a university. Under the direction of Dr. Hemali Rathnayake, assistant professor of chemistry, he studies the development of organic solar panels.

“I synthesize polymers that are used in these solar panels to generate electricity,” he said. “These solar panels are lighter, cheaper and more flexible than the traditional solar panels available today.”

Brown’s research has resulted in a variety of conference presentations, and he will soon be submitting his first paper to a peer-reviewed journal. Dr. Rathnayake said that Brown has achieved great success in synthesizing novel carbon-based nanomaterials.

“I have found David to be a diligent and creative student with growing enthusiasm and self confidence,” she said. “Receiving a Goldwater Scholarship is another achievement that will contribute to him becoming a future leader in science, math and engineering.”

Sam Saarinen

Samuel Saarinen

Samuel Saarinen works with his mentor Dr. Claus Ernst, professor of mathematics, improving mathematical methods for modeling long polymers such as DNA.

“Our work could eventually lead to new antiviral treatments, as well as a better understanding of several complicated chemical events,” Saarinen said. “I plan to pursue a Ph.D. and eventually teach and conduct research at a university.”

Dr. Ernst believes Saarinen is ready to compete with the best and brightest students in the country.

“Sam is interested in practically everything, and he has taken very large course loads every semester, loads that few students can handle,” he said. “Although he plans to get a Ph.D. in mathematics or a closely related field, he has the ability to obtain a Ph.D. in any science area he chooses.”

Dr. Kevin Williams, associate professor of chemistry, serves as WKU’s Goldwater faculty representative. Goldwater applicants work closely with Dr. Audra Jennings, director of the Office of Scholar Development to develop competitive applications.

Dr. Gordon Emslie, provost and vice president for academic affairs, praised the students and their faculty mentors.

“I am very proud of the achievements of these students.  Their level of success in earning recognition in the Goldwater scholarship competition speaks not only to the hard work, commitment, and resourcefulness of the students themselves, but also to the quality of the mentorship they have received from our faculty,” he said.  “As WKU continues to emphasize the importance of research experiences in the undergraduate curriculum, we look forward to a similar level of success in future years.”

About the Office of Scholar Development: The Office of Scholar Development is committed to helping WKU students in all majors and degree programs develop the vision, experience and skills to be independent, engaged scholars. OSD welcomes the opportunity to work with students interested in nationally competitive scholarships. Contact: Dr. Audra Jennings, (270) 745-5043.

About the Gatton Academy: The Gatton Academy offers a residential program for bright, highly motivated Kentucky high school students who have demonstrated interest in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Contact: Chad Phillips, (270) 745-6565.

Contact: Drew Mitchell, (270) 745-5043

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