4 ASU students awarded Goldwater Scholarship for excellence in STEM research
Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2022 year in review.
The Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement at Arizona State University has announced that four outstanding undergraduates have been selected as 2022 Goldwater Scholars. The Goldwater Scholarship is the most prestigious award in the United States for undergraduate researchers in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics.
The recipients are astrophysics major Claire Blaske, electrical engineering major Jasmin Falconer, chemistry major Lauren Harstad and mechanical engineering major Katie Pascavis. All four are students at Barrett, The Honors College.
This year is the first time since 2011 that all four ASU nominees have been awarded. Over the past 10 years, a total of 21 Sun Devils have been awarded, placing ASU ahead of Princeton, the University of Texas, Michigan State, the University of Arizona and UC Berkeley, among others.
Also notable about the nominees is that all four are women.
“According to my records, this is the first time that’s happened at ASU,” said Kyle Mox, associate dean for national scholarships and the designated campus representative for the Goldwater Scholarship. “This outcome is especially significant when you consider that while women make up nearly 60% of overall bachelor’s degree recipients in the U.S., they represent only 27% of the STEM workforce in this country, and only 35% of STEM faculty.
“I hope the example set by these remarkable students inspires girls and young women to set their goals high and pursue their passions.”
Excellence in education
The Goldwater Scholarship was established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to honor the lifetime work of Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years in the U.S. Senate. The scholarship is part of ongoing efforts to ensure that the United States continues to produce the world’s leading scientists and engineers.
“The Goldwater Scholarship is really the award for undergraduate STEM students in the U.S.,” Mox said. “If you can put ‘Goldwater Scholar’ on your CV, you automatically gain the sort of prestige needed for admission to a top-tier graduate program.”
In the 2022 competition cycle, more than 1,200 students were nominated by 433 colleges and universities across the nation. Virtually all of the applicants intend to obtain a PhD in the natural sciences, engineering or mathematics. Goldwater Scholars frequently go on to win other major fellowships, including the Rhodes Scholarship, Marshall Scholarship, Churchill Scholarship and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.
“I was shocked when I got the news,” Falconer said. “One of my friends found out before me, and I thought she was making it up.”
Blaske said, “When I found out I had won Goldwater, I was actually about to go onto the ice with my team during club curling nationals. I remember feeling so grateful, and especially proud of myself for working hard the last few months on my application and research project. Oh, and my team went on to win bronze at nationals! Getting to celebrate both accomplishments with my team was awesome.”
Before the applicants even reach the national review committees, they must first get approved by the ASU nominating committee.
“I often tell prospective applicants that the hardest part is getting a nomination,” Mox said.
“We usually see 12 to 20 applications for those four slots, and the competition is always very tight, as all of the applicants have been working on their application materials for three or four months.”
The Goldwater Scholarship nominating committee is composed of senior faculty representing a variety of STEM-oriented schools and centers, including the School of Life Sciences, the School of Molecular Sciences, the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, and the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. Collectively, they review the applications for nominations and find consensus on the four students whom they believe are most likely to succeed at the national level.
Meet the ASU Goldwater Scholars
Junior Claire Blaske hails from Grand Ledge, Michigan. Her long-term objective is to pursue a PhD in planetary science and contribute to scientific missions to the inner solar system that study the history and evolution of rocky planets.
“My passion really lies in planetary geology,” Blaske said.
Her previous research projects have centered on heat flows out of metallic cores of exoplanets and the evidence of ice in Martian gullies, and her current work under Assitant Professor Joseph O’Rourke examines the relationship between the atmosphere and the surface of Venus. Additionally, she is the president and founder of the Sun Devil Curling Club.
Jasmin Falconer, a junior studying electrical engineering, is a native of Portland, Oregon. After completing a PhD in electrical engineering, she intends to work in a national laboratory and conduct research and development related to electromagnetics and radio-frequency engineering.
She cites her experience designing and installing solar-powered refrigerators on the Navajo Nation as part of Engineers Without Borders as a clarifying experience.
“While I worked, I had a growing sense of engineering’s impact on people,” she said. “It isn’t just numbers and simulation software — it affects every person on this planet and can change the lives of many.”
Falconer’s current work is with the Compact X-ray Free Electron Laser (CXFEL) Laboratory in the ASU Biodesign Institute. As part of this research group, Falconer has designed instruments and protocols to test and calibrate the microwave equipment of the CXFEL, which is the first of its kind.
Lauren Harstad, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, majors in chemistry and will pursue a PhD in organic chemistry before moving on to a career in pharmaceutical research and development.
One of her current projects is the development of instructional materials for medicinal chemistry courses with Assistant Professor Kyle Biegasiewicz, under whose guidance she also is helping to prepare a journal article on chemoenzymatic catalysis. This past summer, she completed an internship at Merck, an experience that cemented her career goals. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the continuing need for pharmaceutical research, as well as the important role this industry plays in the modern world,” Harstad said.
Katie Pascavis, a Gilbert, Arizona, native, majors in mechanical engineering but intends to pursue environmental engineering in her doctoral studies.
“My career goal is to create water purification and reclamation technologies to increase access to potable water, especially for people in low-income countries,” Pascavis said.
She has participated in a myriad of applied research projects while at ASU. Since 2019, she has worked under Regents Professor Paul Westerhoff to create technologies that prevent biofilm growth in water storage tanks, and for her honors thesis, she is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a device to help small-scale farmers reduce their water consumption. As a member of the the Luminosity Lab, she helped to develop a new method for sterilizing PPE.
For each of these students, the Goldwater Scholarship is the start of a new chapter, not the end of the story. Each of the ASU Goldwater Scholars has big plans for the near future.
“I’ll be spending the next year finishing up my honors thesis and applying to graduate schools,” Harstad said. “I am planning to pursue a PhD in organic synthesis after completing my chemistry degree at ASU next spring.”
Similarly, Blaske’s focus this year will be on her astrophysics honors thesis and graduate school applications.
“I hope to be able to expand this project and publish my second paper by the time I graduate. I plan to attend graduate school to earn my PhD studying planetary science or geology,” she said.
Some of the Goldwater winners have either already won other fellowships or are planning on applying for further awards.
Falconer, for instance, also has been awarded a DAAD-RISE grant, which funds summer research experiences in Germany. She will be doing research at a university in Ulm, Germany, for the summer.
“After graduation, I would like to continue my electrical engineering path by pursuing a PhD,” she said.
Pascavis, who also has been nominated for the Udall Undergraduate Scholarship, said she plans to continue her research with the Luminosity Lab, the NEWT Center and her honors thesis.
“After graduation, I hope to dive into more research opportunities in the water and sanitation sector while pursuing environmental engineering,” she said.
Mox commented that Pascavis has also been exploring a range of postgraduate fellowships, including the Churchill Scholarship and the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
“The Goldwater Scholarship is a useful steppingstone to other major fellowships,” he said. “I expect that all four of these scholars will be applying for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program this fall, as well.”
A community of support
“ASU has been and continues to be a leading producer of Goldwater Scholars,” Mox said. “That doesn’t happen by luck — it is the result of the incredible network of support that the university has built.”
Each of the candidates acknowledges the significant support and encouragement that they have received from faculty and staff at ASU.
“I am so grateful for everyone who helped me with my projects and my application,” Pascavis said. “Special thanks to Dr. Michael McKelvy for believing in my ability to be a researcher from a young age, and to Dr. Mark Naufel, Dr. Paul Westerhoff, Dr. Michael Kozicki, Dr. Joshua Loughman and Dr. Jared Schoepf for mentoring me through my research projects at ASU. You all made this possible!”
“I would like to thank my family and friends for always being there for me whenever I need them, my curling family at Coyotes for all their support, and of course, again, all my mentors, especially Dr. Joe O’Rourke, for helping me navigate academia, research and school,” Blaske said.
“I would like to thank Dr. Steve Millman, Dr. Mark Holl and Dr. William Graves for writing me letters of recommendation and supporting me through the process,” Falconer said. “Their kind words kept me motivated when I didn't think I was qualified.”
“I couldn’t have done this without the help of my research adviser, Dr. Kyle Biegasiewicz,” Harstad said. “He provided constant mentorship throughout the application process and in my research for the past two years.”
The next Goldwater Scholarship application cycle will open in September, with a campus deadline in late November or early December. Rising sophomores or juniors who are interested in applying for nomination to the Goldwater Scholarship should contact Goldwater campus representative Kyle Mox.
Story provided by the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement