Pablo Rocha, Angela Smith, Jamie Takashima, and Daniel Wieland join 392 undergraduates nationwide to receive the prestigious STEM scholarship.
A future bioinorganic chemist, pain researcher, wildlife biologist, and cancer care physician scientist were named recipients of the nationally competitive Goldwater Scholarship.
The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation announced its 2020 class of 396 scholars from across the country. The scholarship, valued at $7500 per year, can be used to fund tuition, fees, books, and room and board.
The four recipients, all members of the Arizona Honors College, are: Pablo Rocha, a natural resources major; Angela Smith, a neuroscience and cognitive science major; Jamie Takashima, a chemistry and biochemistry double major; and Daniel Wieland, a triple major in biomedical engineering, molecular and cellular biology, and biochemistry.
In total, the Goldwater Scholarship Foundation received 1343 nominations of college sophomores and juniors in the fields of natural science, engineering and mathematics. Over 2000 accredited 2- and 4-year institutions may nominate up to five students from an internal pool of applicants to advance to the national competition. The University of Arizona matched its previous best of four scholars.
All of the Goldwater Scholarship applicants received advising from the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships (ONCS). Based in the Honors College, ONCS helps all undergraduate students, graduate students, and alumni compete for awards such as the Goldwater, Rhodes, and Fulbright.
Honors College Assistant Dean Dr. Karna Walter highlighted student drive and engagement in cocurricular research as a fundamental component of their success. “These students are remarkably gifted and have taken full advantage of research opportunities at the University of Arizona and beyond. This award is a vote of confidence in their demonstrated potential to do important research in the future.”
Rocha came to the University of Arizona as a transfer student from Phoenix College after being named to the All-Arizona Academic Team.
He studies avian usage of three reaches of the Santa Cruz river in Tucson. “Two of the reaches of the river are effluent fed which makes them particularly interesting for water management decisions in the arid southwestern United States. The study will help to determine how much of an effect adding this water will have on resident and migratory birds that could make use of the river,” says Rocha.
Working in the lab of Dr. Michael Bogan in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment began even before Rocha came to Arizona. “I was lucky enough to contact Dr. Bogan about 6 months before I arrived on campus while I was still studying at Phoenix College. He was incredibly supportive and helpful from the very beginning and allowed me to join his lab as an undergraduate research assistant as soon as I made it to campus. Since then, he has encouraged and supported my personal research interests and we are currently working on my honors thesis using my work on the Santa Cruz River.”
Rocha plans on obtaining his master’s degree before moving on to a PhD program.
Smith’s research is focused on better understanding the formation of neuropathic pain to contribute to the eventual development of novel treatments that are less harmful than current options, such as opioids.
Smith plans on attending graduate school to obtain a PhD in medical pharmacology. Her time working in the lab of Dr. Todd Vanderah in the Department of Pharmacology has inspired her to want to eventually run her own research lab where she can continue contributing to research that impacts quality of life for people suffering from medical conditions including pain.
“To me,” says Smith, “continuing in research and my education is not necessarily a chance to know more, but to gain the skills needed to ask the questions that will lead me to discover new things.”
Takashima’s researches the development of new methods for investigating mechanisms of cancer metastasis using the soil-dwelling amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum as a model system.
“While numerous methods are available for investigating metastatic signaling in human cells, there are relatively fewer options in Dictyostelium despite its ease of use. By adapting these methods for use in Dictyostelium, we can create novel and significant additions to our toolkit for studying cancer metastasis,” says Takashima.
Takashima says that he owes a great deal to his mentors Drs. Pascale Charest and Tariq Islam in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. They have helped instill in him a desire to pursue research as a long-term career goal.
“To me, wonder is about embracing what we don’t know and deciding to ask, ‘why?’. It’s looking at a problem or barrier and asking, ‘what can be done?’. It’s experiencing failure and asking, ‘what can I do better?’. There’s an intrinsic excitement that encompasses these moments of discovery. That wondrous excitement is an essential component of science, and it’s what drives my passion for research above all else.”
Wieland works in the lab of Dr. Jacob Schwartz in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. "I research a mutation of a protein called FUS which is known to cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a rare and fatal neurodegenerative disorder. Specifically, I study how FUS may have an intrinsic ability to promote transcription, the process of generating the RNA from one’s DNA code to ultimately make vital proteins for the cell,” says Wieland.
In the future, Wieland plans to conduct translational biochemical research related to cancer care and practice at an academic medical institution upon completion of an MD-PhD program.
Wieland says that he finds a sense of wonder in “asking a ‘what if question that you end up following through. It may lead you down a rabbit hole of unexpected epiphanies or mundane answers, but you will always learn something in the end. Wonder means having the courage to jump into the rabbit hole if you wish to find answers.”
In speaking about the Goldwater scholarship, he states that his application “was in no means an individual endeavor and should be celebrated as the achievement of many contributors,” and thanks members of his research lab, advisors, and his family for their support.
If you would like more information on applying to the Goldwater Scholarship or other Nationally Competitive Scholarships, please contact the Arizona Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships at email@example.com.