LAWRENCE — Two University of Kansas juniors are the latest KU students to earn Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, the nation’s top undergraduate award for students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
Marilyn Barragan, a junior from Olathe studying molecular, cellular & developmental biology; and Eilish Gibson, a junior from Perry studying physics and classical antiquities, are KU’s 61st and 62nd Goldwater Scholars. Emmaline Lorenzo, a junior from Leawood majoring in chemistry, earned an honorable mention.
Congress established the Goldwater Scholarship program in 1986 to help encourage talented students in the STEM fields. The scholarships provide annual scholarships to cover the winners’ cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.
Schools may nominate a maximum of four students for Goldwater scholarships each year. Barragan, Gibson and Lorenzo were nominated in March along with junior Kathryn Brewer.
“All of these students demonstrate how successful undergraduates can contribute to new research discoveries at KU. Marilyn and Eilish have already made great discoveries in their own research, and all of us are excited to see where their careers will take them,” said Anne Wallen, assistant director for national scholarships and fellowships at the University Honors Program, which oversees the nomination process.
Barragan said her desire to explore a career in science was sparked by a TED Talk she saw in high school on how 3-D printing can help the medical field. Her interests grew as she found mentors among KU faculty, and she currently works in the lab of Justin Blumenstiel, associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology.
A first-generation college student, Barragan said her parents encouraged her to pursue her interests as far as they would take her. She plans to pursue a doctorate in stem cell and regenerative research, and she is interested in becoming a physician-scientist who helps patients while conducting research as well.
“At first, I thought I would be interested in a research-only career, but then I realized I would like to get the best of both worlds,” she said.
Barragan was notified she won the scholarship when she met with a mentor, and they both jumped up and down and hugged when she found out.
“I am so honored to be selected for this national award,” she said. “I hope to set an example for other Mexican-American or underrepresented students in STEM fields, as science is strengthened by individuals with diverse experiences coming together to solve problems.”
Gibson said she has been interested in physics since she was 10 years old. She became interested in classical antiquities after taking Latin classes beginning in the eighth grade, and she has continued those studies at KU.
She believes her deep knowledge of a field in the humanities and a physical science each help her understand the other more fully. Her classical literature training helps her write and communicate ideas in her science field, while her science training helps her logically think through arguments of ancient philosophers.
At KU, she has been involved in physics research conducted by professors Phil Baringer and Alice Bean. She has traveled to the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, and her current research is related to the Compact Muon Solenoid research being conducted there.
“It was incredible,” she said of her opportunity to work at the world’s largest particle accelerator. “It was very much my childhood dream come to life.”
She plans to obtain a doctorate in physics and was honored to receive the Goldwater Scholarship.
“This scholarship allows me a bit more freedom to think outside the box,” she said, adding that she was able to consider a study abroad program after winning the award. “I’ll still work toward a career in particle physics. I really enjoy that work and the people I’ve met so far, and lI ook forward to continuing that work for years to come.”
Lorenzo, of Leawood, earned an honorable mention from the Goldwater Foundation for her work. She is majoring in chemistry and minoring in mathematics and philosophy. She works at KU in the lab of Christopher Elles, associate professor of chemistry, using ultrafast spectroscopy to understand photochemical reactions.
Lorenzo plans to earn a doctorate in chemistry and pursue a career as a research professor in spectroscopic physical chemistry research.