LAWRENCE — A record number of KU juniors — five — have earned Barry M. Goldwater scholarships, recognizing their achievements in the STEM fields.
Five Goldwater Scholarships represent the maximum possible awards that a single school can receive, and KU has never celebrated five awards in one year before. The award is regarded as the premier undergraduate award to encourage excellence in science, engineering and mathematics.
KU is one of five institutions across the country this year that received five scholarships, joining the University of Michigan, Dartmouth College, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, according to the KU Office of Fellowships, which coordinates the application process for students each year.
- Bryce Gaskins, a junior majoring in biochemistry and Spanish
- Jessica Miears, a junior majoring in physics & astronomy
- Sarah Noga, a junior majoring in biochemistry
- Mary Sevart, a junior majoring in chemical engineering
- Kade Townsend, a junior majoring in microbiology
“We’re absolutely thrilled this year to receive five Goldwater Scholarships, and I’m happy to be able to celebrate with our outstanding recipients. Each of them has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to come up with new ways to tackle some of our planet’s greatest challenges,” said Chancellor Douglas A. Girod. “I congratulate all of them on achieving this recognition, and I’m proud of the members of our university community who helped them along the way, allowing them to continue on to even greater heights.”
The students have worked on various research projects that help to address societal challenges, including human diseases and pathogens, climate change and renewable energy.
With these awards, 76 KU students have received Goldwater scholarships since they were first awarded in 1989. Congress established the program in 1986 in tribute to the retired U.S. senator from Arizona and to ensure a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers.
The scholarships cover tuition, fees, books and room and board, up to $7,500 annually. Students interested in applying next year should contact Erin Wolfram, education program manager at the Office of Fellowships.
Brief descriptions of KU’s winners’ research experience, organizational involvement and future aspirations follow.
Bryce Gaskins, from Springfield, Virginia, is the son of Heather and Elliott Gaskins and a graduate of West Springfield High School. Gaskins plans to pursue a doctorate in organic chemistry to teach at a university, focusing on research in organic and synthetic chemistry. He said he appreciated the help of those who assisted him throughout his career.
“I was excited to receive this award,” he said. “And I’m really excited to see what comes next; I feel this is good representation for KU and good representation for people of color in the STEM fields.”
Gaskins currently conducts research under Zarko Boskovic, KU assistant professor of medicinal chemistry, developing novel pathways to access structurally complex and possibly biologically active molecules. He has presented on this research both regionally and nationally in both oral and poster presentations and published research with the group in 2021. In summer 2021, Gaskins participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the University of California-Irvine within Professor Vy Dong’s research group. The team attempted to use photoredox catalysis to translocate the amino group on an alpha-amino acid to the beta position, using hydrogen atom transfer.
He is also a member of the KU McNair Scholars program, a KU Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) scholar and an American Chemical Society (ACS) scholar.
Jessica Miears, from Fort Worth, Texas, is the daughter of Ollie and Sharon Miears and a graduate of Granbury High School. Miears aspires to obtain a doctorate in physics. She said she plans to become a university professor with a research focus in astroparticle physics because of her desire to help students who have an interest in physics, but may not have a traditional background in academics.
Miears herself initially had no intention of attending college because of misgivings with the education system and found an early career as a court clerk in Jackson County, Missouri, before deciding to dedicate herself to a career in physics. She said she appreciated receiving the award that would help lessen the costs of tuition and living expenses and thanked those who helped her along the way.
“This award is a reassurance to me that I made the correct decision when I left a stable job with benefits and started a new career path,” she said. “Maybe it’s OK that it took awhile.”
She currently conducts research with David Besson, KU professor of physics, to find effects of high-energy particles on organic matter to support missions to Mars. In summer 2021, Miears completed an internship in association with the Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory, where she assisted in upgrading the facility to the next generation by gathering data of energy produced from wind turbines at the South Pole. She is also the recipient of the Leader of the Pack Scholarship and Midwest Student Exchange Scholarship.
Sarah Noga, from Des Moines, Iowa, is the daughter of Dave and Gina Noga and a graduate of Waukee High School. Noga plans to pursue a doctorate in a biotechnology program to conduct drug development research and teach at the university level. She thanked those who had helped her to achieve this recognition.
“I feel like all my hard work leading up to this point paid off,” she said after receiving the award. “Getting the email was surreal, and I couldn’t wait to tell my family and research mentors.”
She was one of two students selected for the 2021 Beckman Scholars Program, a 15-month mentoring opportunity aimed at developing research and communication skills. In fall 2020, Noga joined the Slusky Lab led by Joanna Slusky, associate professor of molecular biosciences, exploring how outer membrane proteins fold for the purpose of developing therapeutics for antibiotic resistance and novel methods of environmental remediation.
As a key researcher in projects aiming to inhibit an outer membrane protein critical for antibiotic resistance, Noga has given multiple presentations on these findings. In summer 2021, she participated in the KU REU Program among 20 of her peers and is looking forward to a research-intensive study abroad program in Denmark during fall 2022. Noga is also active in Christian Challenge and has worked as a certified pharmacy technician.
Mary Sevart, from Wichita, is the daughter of Eric and Karen Sevart and a graduate of Maize High School. Sevart plans to pursue a doctorate in chemical engineering. She aspires to employ solutions to the world’s dependence on fossil fuels through a research career.
“I felt very honored and very blessed to receive this award,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without my research mentors, and I know they’ll continue to help guide me as I go to graduate school.”
As a freshman, she joined the KU Biodiesel Initiative lab of founding faculty member Susan Williams, Charles E. & Mary Jane Spahr Professor of Engineering, and currently serves as the testing lab manager. Specifically, Sevart participates in research initiatives under the guidance of Williams with a focus on creating a potential fuel source from thermochemical processing of hemp biomass after CBD oil extraction.
She also is the recruitment chair of KU's Society of Women Engineers and serves as an ambassador for the KU School of Engineering. This spring, Sevart was awarded the NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship and earned an Undergraduate Research Award through the KU Center for Undergraduate Research. In fall 2021, she won first place in the poster competition at the national conference for Society of Women Engineers and received a scholarship from the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel in fall 2020. This past summer, Sevart completed an internship at Spirit AeroSystems, and she looks forward to participating in an internship at the National Weather Service in summer 2022 through the NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship program.
Kade Townsend, from Topeka, is the son of Hollee and Ryan Townsend and a graduate of Seaman High School. Townsend plans to pursue a doctorate, focusing on bacterial genetics research.
He said he appreciated receiving the award and the help he received from mentors and others at KU to help push him forward.
“It’s really an eye-opening experience to see all these projects together,” he said of his fellow scholars’ work. “It’s exciting to be part of a new generation of scientists, and I’m glad I am able to contribute to it.”
As a freshman Emerging Scholar, Townsend joined the Chandler Lab, led by Josephine Chandler, associate professor of molecular biosciences, and has continued to be an important contributor to the lab’s research on antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
He has participated in oral and poster presentations alongside the research team at national conferences, as a Maximizing Access to Research Career Scholar and McNair Scholar. He was the 2021 SACNAS Outstanding Presentation Award recipient for his poster presentation titled “Adaptive mutation which alters tobramycin susceptibility in Pseudomonas aeruginosa,” and he earned the Courtwright Award for outstanding research among other Undergraduate Research Award winners.