By Rae Jefferson
Streaks of green and flashes of gold are turning up in competitive arenas across the country, and academics are no different.
Three Baylor students were recognized by the research-based Goldwater Scholarship Program this month, with two receiving scholarships and one earning honorable mention.
“This is a very intense competition,” said Elizabeth Vardaman, associate dean for special academic projects. “The students who received Goldwater awards and recognition are amazing, as are their research mentors who are helping them build their research skills.”
Allen senior Ian Boys and Allen junior Rebecca Holden were two of this year’s 283 scholarship recipients. Houston senior Thomas Gibson received honorable mention.
“I was thrilled,” Boys said. “I immediately called Rebecca. It was great.”
Dr. Jeffrey Olafsen, associate professor of physics and Baylor’s faculty representative in the program, said Baylor has had an average of one student every other year win the program over the past two decades.
“We’ve had 14 winners, including this year, over the past 24 years, but this was a particularly good year,” he said.
Boys and Holden both said receiving recognition from a nationally recognized program helped confirm that she was doing well academically, she said.
“It was nice to have external validation,” Holden said. “It’ll also look really good on grad school applications, because this is a national program. Other schools know about it.”
According to the program’s website, the federally endowed scholarship program was established by the government in 1989 to encourage students to pursue research-based careers in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. This year’s winners received up to $7,500 for one or two years to cover educational costs.
“It’s very significant,” Olafsen said. “It’s for the STEM fields – science fields, and it also really takes the best students from across the country and puts them in competition with each other.”
As the faculty representative, Olafsen had the responsibility of advertising the scholarship program to Baylor’s most accomplished math, science and technology students. The university set an internal deadline in early December for students who were interested in applying for the scholarship program, Olafsen said. About 15 applications were received and then narrowed down to four students by a Baylor committee.
Olafsen also walked alongside students during the final stages of the application process, helping them polish their applications and revise their research project proposal essays.
“Each year we pick out students who we feel will be the best representatives in the competition,” he said. “We really try to help those four students go forward with the best material possible.”
Although she had to submit a research project proposal with the application, Holden said she has already begun to gain practical experience through a pediatric retinal cancer research project with a Baylor professor.
“I find it fascinating,” she said, referring to scientific research projects. “There are a lot of interesting problems to try to understand, and they have practical applications.”
Boys said he has also done research projects and internships that he believes helped him win the scholarship.
“I’ve really applied myself in my classes, worked on research projects, had an internship last summer and made relationships with my professors,” he said. “It was doing more than just going to classes.”
Olafsen said he has high hopes for Baylor’s future presence in the program. He has set two goals for his role as faculty representative to start seeing at least one Baylor student win a Goldwater Scholarship every year the competition continues to run, and to see all four Baylor-nominated students win in the same year.
“We haven’t gotten there yet, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.