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Five University of Michigan students have received the 2022 Goldwater Scholarship, a national award for undergraduate sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in STEM. In an email to The Michigan Daily, Henry Dyson, director of the Office of National Scholarships & Fellowships, said the 2022 recipients broke the record for the highest number of Goldwater Scholarships received by U-M students in a single year, with the previous highest being four Goldwater scholars in 2021.

According to Dyson, this year, the University was one of only two universities — the other being Columbia University — to have all five of the students they nominated receive the scholarship. Dyson also said the 2022 scholars also moved the University from 11th place in 2014 to 6th place for all-time Goldwater scholars. The only university with more Goldwater Scholars between 2014 and 2022 is Stanford University, which had 31 scholars compared to the University’s 27. 

Dyson said ONSF promotes the scholarships through email, newsletter and reaching out to individual students. Dyson said the office usually receives around 20 qualified applicants and the final decision is made by a committee of faculty from LSA and College of Engineering.

“We want to make sure that all qualified students have the opportunity to apply,” Dyson said. “We especially want to reach populations like transfer students who might not know about these opportunities.”

Nick Cemalovic, Pharmacy

Hometown: Northville, Michigan

Pharmacy senior Nick Cemalovic is majoring in pharmaceutical sciences with minors in chemistry and German. In his research, he is developing biocatalytic tools for the synthesis of complex molecules in the Narayan Lab. He also plans to work on an Honors thesis with his faculty advisor, associate professor of chemistry Alison Narayan. Cemalovic was a 2021-2022 U-M STEM Research Career Award (RCA) recipient.

Cemalovic said he helped develop novel spectroscopy methods for oral drug manufacturing as an intern at Merck & Co in the summer of 2021. These methods work to improve safety and quality of heparin, a drug used before and after surgery, during kidney dialysis and during blood processing. Cemalovic also served as an instructional aide for the past two years for introductory organic chemistry and biochemistry courses and said he is passionate about addressing inequities in STEM education. 

Cemalovic said he applied for the award because he had a positive experience working with ONSF on his RCA proposal and wanted to further challenge himself to develop his science communication skills and gain experience proposing chemistry methods. 

“This experience has allowed me to push my science to explore new angles and applications, while working my creative muscles to effectively communicate the story of my work,” Cemalovic said. “A big part of being a scientist is defending your science and conveying its importance, so I enjoyed thinking about the big picture as well as hearing how my peers outside my field understand my science. These conversations really helped me gain new perspectives and future directions as well.”

In the future, Cemalovic said he hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and spend his career solving important problems in green chemistry and drug discovery while mentoring and teaching others.

Faye Jackson, Mathematics

Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee

LSA junior Faye Jackson is majoring in mathematics and said she applied for the Goldwater award because she wanted to demonstrate her achievements.

She participated in the SMALL 2021 Research Experience for Undergraduates. Her research concerned base-beta decompositions, additive combinatorics, discrete geometry and random matrix theory. In addition to research, she was the founder of the Undergraduate Climate Committee in the University’s math department and runner-up for the Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics (granted by the Association for Women in Mathematics).

“Your achievements are not defined by being the absolute brightest or most influential in your field,” Jackson said. “The sciences are like a symphony, and it takes every instrument working together for the entirety of the performance to make the solo impactful and moving.”

In the future, Jackson said she intends to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics before pursuing a career as a professor in pure mathematics.

Daniel Liu, Chemistry and Computer Science

Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan

LSA junior Daniel Liu is majoring in Chemistry, Computer Science and Business Administration through the Ross School of Business. Liu said he hopes to use his experiences to inspire others to pursue interdisciplinary research. 

Liu is currently involved in projects including C-H activation research in the Chemistry department with Dr. Melanie Sanford and in the Computer Science department with Dr. Trevor Mudge and Dr. Ron Dreslinski

Liu said he wanted to apply to the Goldwater Scholarship because he has been conducting research for a few years and knew the Goldwater would help bring his mentors additional recognition for the work they have performed. Additionally, he said he enjoyed reflecting on his research experiences while applying to the Goldwater Scholarship.

“Throughout writing my application, I was able to take the time and look back at my research journey,” Liu said. “One of the key parts about research is that eventually, you are bound to fail. It’s how you recover from these failures and use the knowledge you gained from failing to succeed in the long run. Don’t be afraid of failure, but understand how to recover from it.” 

In the future, Liu said he aims to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry or Computer Science, using this combination to unite knowledge from various disciplines. He also said he hopes to eventually create his own startup based on interdisciplinary work.

Anna Simpson, Physics and Astrophysics

Hometown: South Lyon, Michigan

LSA senior Anna Simpson is majoring in Physics, Astronomy and Astrophysics, with a minor in math. Simpson said she applied to the scholarship to gain more experience organizing her undergraduate experience and communicating it as a cohesive journey for her future graduate school applications.

“The application process was a great opportunity to think about my research career journey so far and share the results of my research work,” Simpson said. 

During her time at the University, Simpson has been working in Professor David Gerdes’s group pursuing research related to Trans-Neptunian objects, minor planets which orbit the Sun at a greater than average distance than Neptune, since 2019. In summer 2020, she participated in the WAVE Fellows program at Caltech where she studied Jupiter Trojans, large groups of asteroids that share Jupiter’s orbit around the sun. This project eventually became Simpson’s premier first-author paper. Last summer, she did an REU at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics working on a project related to confirming a system of transiting exoplanets.

Simpson is also on the executive boards of both the Society of Physics Students and Student Astronomical Society on campus. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in astronomy and planetary science with a research focus on the Solar System or exoplanets.

Jonah Nan, Mathematics

Hometown: Silver Spring, Maryland

LSA junior Jonah Nan is majoring in Mathematics and Computer Science through the LSA Honors Program.

He applied for the scholarship because both his parents and math professor Stephen DeBacker strongly encouraged him to apply. He said the application process helped his skills such as essay writing.

“The Goldwater application process helped me get better at writing application essays, asking for recommendation letters and communicating my research to others,” Nan said. “I feel more prepared to apply to grad school now.” 

Nan’s research experiences includes working in the U-M math REU,the Lab of Geometry project, Polymath REU project and in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. In his free time, Nan said he does outreach with Math Corps and Math Circles.

Nan is unsure of what he plans to pursue in the future but said he will likely to go to graduate school for math and get a Ph.D. in logic or pursue quantitative finance. 

Jose Luiz Vargas De Mendonca

Hometown: Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil

Along with the five scholars, the Office of National Scholars and Fellowships (ONSF) awarded the STEM RCA to Engineering Junior Jose Luiz Vargas De Mendonca in Aerospace Engineering. The RCA provides an opportunity for U-M’s international students to participate in summer research because the Goldwater Scholarship is available to U.S. citizens only. 

Vargas De Mendonca is studying aerospace and computer engineering. He has completed research in the Verified Aerospace Systems Laboratory, is in the Michigan Aeronautical Science Association and was an M-Write Fellow for Math 216. 

Vargas De Mendonca said he applied for the scholarship because, as an international student, it was one of the few opportunities to show he is developing high-quality research and contributing to the community at the University.

“The application process helped me to reflect upon my research experience and how much I have grown from it: intimidated by many concepts I did not know at the beginning to being fascinated by the unknown,” Vargas De Mendonca said.

In the summer of 2021, Vargas De Mendonca completed a software development engineering internship at Amazon Web Services. He was also a SGT Aerospace Honor Society Academic Chair, Center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach mentor and an application mentor at the Brazilian Student Association

Vargas De Mendonca plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering and create a startup that provides automated solutions for vehicle safety. He said his long-term goal is to become an astronaut. 

 “I would like to encourage future applicants to explore how their research contributions can make a positive impact on society and to be persistent in their ideas,” Vargas De Mendonca said.

Daily Staff Reporter Ashna Mehra can be reached at ashmehra@umich.edu.