For the first time in Chapman University’s history, we are excited to announce that two students were named Goldwater Scholars, Benjamin Janda (‘23) and Kevin H. Nguyen (‘24). This is the 3rd year in a row that Chapman has successfully mentored Goldwater Scholars. A big congratulations to the remarkable students and their faculty mentors!
The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to honor the lifetime work of Senator Barry Goldwater. By Providing scholarships to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering, the Goldwater Foundation is helping ensure that the U.S is producing the number of highly-qualified professionals the Nation needs in these critical fields. This year’s pool of applicants consisted of over 5000 college sophomores and juniors, from which 1242 outstanding undergraduates were nominated by 433 institutions to compete for this award. Out of the 1200+ students who were nominated, 417 of them were awarded the scholarship.
Nguyen, a first-generation college student working towards a B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, was first introduced to research during his junior year of high school when he met his then and current research mentor, Dr. Atamian, through the Simon-Orange-Chapman STEM Scholarship (SOCSS) Program. Since then, he has found time during various breaks and throughout the school year to slowly develop many of his rudimentary skills over the course of the past few years. Recently, Nguyen even presented his research at the West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research (WCBSUR) Conference. Nguyen had first heard about the Goldwater Scholars Award from his research mentor who encouraged him to apply despite the deadline quickly approaching. He had already completed applications for his first grant and the Beckman Scholars Program, thus he still felt confident working on the Goldwater Scholars application despite the quick turnaround.
Janda has spent most of his time as a researcher in the Liberman-Martin Group, researching the effectiveness of a cyclic carbodiphosphorane catalyst in the hydroboration of isocyanates. In addition, he was a part of Chem-SURF 2021 at the University of California, Irvine, working on probing the structure of G62, an RNA aptamer that has high binding affinity to cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Janda was prompted by his research mentor, Dr. Allegra Liberman-Martin, to apply for the Goldwater Scholarship since it was a fantastic opportunity to earn funding for the project they have been working on for the last year and a half.
When asked about his reaction when he heard the news, Janda mentioned “I was very excited, and my first thought was how grateful I was to have received this incredible opportunity. I was at home for spring break when I found out, so I sent my mentors emails thanking them as I could not have done it without any of their help.”
Nguyen had a similar response, “I was ecstatic when I first received news about being awarded the Goldwater scholarship. It almost did not feel real as I could hardly believe my first attempt at the scholarship would be successful. Although I put in a lot of time into the application, I still felt as if I were still a complete novice in the world of research and that I needed to improve upon myself more before being successful… However, now that I have been awarded the scholarship, I can confidently say that I am now a researcher, just one that still has a lot of room to improve.”
As a researcher, Nguyen has big plans for his future, “The main problem I hope to solve through my research is world hunger. I plan to contribute to the efforts made to improve food security by improving upon the traits of plants. In addition to improving food security, I also want to improve community health by possibly diverging into my own independent research that combines plant molecular biology research with nutrition research.” More importantly, though, Nguyen hopes to pay his many fortunes forward onto the future generations of researchers as well, “One of my goals is to be able to successfully mentor other students to help them gain the skills and mindset needed to be a great researcher. My mentors have invested so much time into preparing me to become a competent independent researcher, so I hope to invest just as much time into another student to make the time my mentors spent with me feel well worth it.”
Janda’s goal in his current project is to discover a plausible mechanism by which the catalyst operates in the reaction that he studies, then potentially determining its effectiveness in other reactions. In the future, “I would love to engage in pharmaceutical research that can help change the lives of people all over the world,” he says.
When each were asked about any advice they have for future Chapman students interested in applying for the Goldwater Scholarship, Nguyen answered, “Most importantly, the research project students write about should be research that they themselves know a lot about. Being able to explain one’s research project in an interesting and complete way is difficult if the student is not that invested and knowledgeable about the project.” Highlighting the importance of being passionate about any project that you choose to take part in. In addition, Janda highlights the importance of consulting your faculty mentors, “I would recommend that all students who would like to apply consult faculty members ASAP about possible projects in their lab. This is also really important because part of the application process is to write a proposal, and this is sometimes new for many applicants. My final proposal was the result of multiple weeks of work and feedback from professors on different drafts, so it is necessary to start thinking about it as soon as you want to apply.”
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