Four UA Students Named Goldwater Scholars

April 6, 2010
Beryl Jones
Beryl Jones

Each of the University of Arizona students nominated for the Goldwater Scholarship was selected for the award – a rarity for most institutions nationally.

Of the 278 scholarships awarded by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation for the 2010-2011 year, four of them were UA Honors College students.

"We typically have at least one, usually two and sometimes three students selected but in my recollection, this is the first time we've had all four selected," said Karna Walter, director of nationally competitive scholarships at the UA's Honors College.

The national scholarship is a highly-selective award for students studying mathematics, science or engineering.

Walter noted that only about 15 institutions that nominated four students had all nominees selected for the award.

"I think this speaks so highly of the students.They're pretty remarkable in terms of how much they have done at this point in their careers," Walter said. 

"A lot of people self select out of applying because the scholarship is so competitive," Walter said. "You need phenomenal grades and significant research experience as well as strong letters of recommendation, predominately from the faculty." 

In all, more than 1,100 students were nominated for the scholarship, which is administered by the Goldwater Foundation, a federally-endowed agency named after former U.S. Sen. Barry M. Goldwater, a UA alumnus.

Based on academic merit, the award goes to sophomores and juniors, providing a maximum of $7,500 annually to cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and housing. Sophomores typically receive the scholarship for two years while juniors receive it for one year.

"Goldwater Scholars have very impressive academic qualifications that have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs," the foundation reported, noting that its scholars have gone on to earn Rhodes Scholarships and Marshall Awards, among other prestigious honors. 

This year's Goldwater Scholars at the UA are: 

Troy Comi

As Comi began taking classes at the UA, he felt many courses were so compelling and necessary for his research interests that he kept adding majors and will graduate with a total of five.

Comi, a senior, majors in chemistry, biochemistry, computer science, mathematics and molecular and cellular biology.

"High school chemistry was definitely formative for me, and I kind of caught the bug," Comi said, adding that his broad-based interests are more practical today. " I think having an interdisciplinary background is almost a requirement for scientist at this point in the 21st century," Comi said.

He also believes the Goldwater Scholarship will boost his career. In fact, Comi had been thinking about applying for some time and said that being selected is "a great honor" and will provide tremendous financial help. 

As a student-researcher in a laboratory managed by Craig Aspinwall, an associate professor of chemistry, Comi analyzes biochemical pathways in pancreatic tissues.

During the summer, he will conduct research at Karolinska Institute in Sweden as part of the UA program, Biomedical Research Abroad: Vistas Open!, and intends to eventually conduct research in analytical chemistry with a focus on instrument development.

"I think it's almost a requirement at this point to be a 21st century scientist in the current interdisciplinary environment," Comi said. "A lot of the current research indicates that new instruments are going to be computer-run."

Beryl M. Jones 

Jones, who was nominated for the Goldwater Scholar last year, said being named a recipient comes at a good time.

"It's pretty prestigious. It will help my status when I am applying to graduate school," said Jones, a UA senior and a 2009 Galileo Circle Scholar who also was named a Flinn Scholar in 2006. 

At the UA, Jones is gaining research experience studying the brain development in bumblebees and how environment shapes their learning later in life.

A triple major studying biochemistry and molecular biophysics, ecology and evolutionary biology and also molecular and cellular biology, Jones also has minors in chemistry and mathematics. She plans to continue her study of insects and earn a doctoral degree in behavioral neurobiology.  


She first studied mosquitoes when she arrived at the UA, then took an interest in bumblebees and brain development, wanting to know how that development related to the ability of an organism to learn.  

"But I wanted to know more about the mechanism of why," she said, noting that she was interested in studying the biochemistry of insects, but soon became interested in their behavioral factors.

Currently, Jones is conducting her research the in laboratories of Daniel Papaj, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor, and Wulfila Gronenberg, an associate professor of neuroscience.

She is now evaluating how exposure to light compared with darkness or different odors, among other factors, affects the brain development of bees.

"It was my own idea, but I needed both of them to do it," said Jones. 

This month, she is presenting during the 51st Annual Drosophila Conference this month other research related to the developing fruit fly. 

Stacy Marla Shiffler

In 2009, Shiffler received an honorable mention for the Goldwater Scholarship and opted to reapply. 

Being named a recipient this year was a "blessing," she said, adding that Karna Walter and encouragement were essential during the process. 

"With the increase in tuition for this year, and being an out-of-state student, I was scrambling to figure out how I would pay for school," said Shiffler, who is from Albuquerque, N.M.

A physics and applied mathematics major, Shiffler said she would have to scale back her laboratory research if not for the scholarship, so she is grateful to be able to continue. 

She currently works with Koen Visscher, a UA associate professor of physics, conducting biophysics research on fluorescent dye molecules.

"Research is something I really enjoy," said Shiffler, who has received a summer internship at the Los Alamos National Laboratory's Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies in New Mexico.

"I think I have the gift and skills," she added. "I also like the feeling that I am contributing to the useful gathering of information that is going to help people later on."

Jennifer Sierchio

Sierchio, a certified observer at the Kuiper 61" Telescope atop Mount Bigelow, has spent years analyzing debris disk around stars in search of those similar to the system to which Earth's sun belongs.

A triple major in astronomy, physics and mathematics, Sierchio works in the laboratory led by UA Regents' Professor George H. Rieke, deputy director of the UA's Steward Observatory. The experience has led to a publsihed article on her research findings.

"What we're doing is trying to find similar systems around other stars to ultimately understand how our system formed," she said. 

When she began working in the laboratory as a freshman, Sierchio said she was immediately drawn to the broad range of projects underway. "I felt the projects were good applications of what I had been learning in class, but I had already been interested in astronomy."

Now entering her fifth year at the UA, Sierchio said the Goldwater Scholarship will provide much needed aid, as her other scholarships are coming to an end.

She has received a number of other awards and scholarships, including the Eleanor and Anthony DeFrancis Scholarship, Galileo Circle Scholarship and Glenn C. Purviance Scholarship.

Sierchio, who aspires to earn a doctorate degree in astrophysics, finds it important to encourage others to consider a career in science. 

Currently, she serves as a College of Science Ambassador and a peer mentor in the UA's physics department, mentoring incoming freshmen with a group of other peer mentors. 

"I wish I'd had someone who was an older student giving me advice as a freshman," she said. "I know that college is a tough transition from high school."