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Two physics majors win Barry Goldwater Scholarship

April 6, 2020

Two University of North Georgia (UNG) students felt surprised, humbled, shocked, and relieved after they learned they won the Barry Goldwater Scholarship.

Known as the most prestigious undergraduate award in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the United States, the scholarship is given to the most promising young scientists and future researchers.

Junior Amanda Ash and sophomore Tyler Wilson, both pursuing physics degrees, received the award March 27 along with 394 other college students from across the nation. More than 1,300 students pursuing degrees in natural science, engineering and mathematics were nominated.

"All of our applicants this year were very strong, and I was pleased to see two students recognized, which is a record for UNG," said Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant vice president of research and engagement and head of the Nationally Competitive Scholarships Office. "Our students' success reflects UNG's commitment to creating exceptional mentored undergraduate research opportunities. Kudos to all of our students and their mentors for their hard work and persistence."

Students at eight colleges and universities in Georgia received the scholarship, and only four had more than one. UNG tied with Georgia Tech with two students. Emory University had four while Mercer University had three. Other schools with one scholar included Agnes Scott College, Georgia Southern University, Kennesaw State University and Spelman College.

This year marks the second consecutive time that a UNG student has earned the prestigious honor. Last year, Haley Shea Barfield became UNG's first recipient.

In 2018, Caroline Brown received a Goldwater Honorable Mention. She followed the honor by earning a spot in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), which provided up to $134,000 for her graduate school research. Now, Brown is pursuing her doctoral degree at Yale University.

Wilson said Brown's achievements inspired him.

"Caroline's victory showed us that we at UNG are capable of winning these awards," he said.

Wilson and Ash have joined those winning ranks and plan to reach higher, just like Brown. Wilson said his dream graduate school was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but he was intimidated to apply.

"Now that I was awarded the Goldwater Scholarship, I'm more certain of myself and my future application to MIT," said the 21-year-old from Cumming, Georgia. "I have a chance to get into research at an R-1 school."

R-1 schools have doctoral programs with very high research activities. R-1 schools in Georgia include Emory, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, and University of Georgia.

Wilson said the Faculty Undergraduate Summer Experience (FUSE) project in summer 2019 on particle physics with Dr. Sonny Mantry, associate professor of physics and astronomy, and Dr. Mark Spraker, professor of physics, clinched the award.

"Thanks to the FUSE, I could focus on the research and learn to become a researcher," he said.

Ash agreed. Her introduction to research started with a FUSE project on starspots with Dr. Gregory Feiden, assistant professor of astronomy, in summer 2018. She has continued that research, which earned her a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the Smithsonian-Harvard Center for Astrophysics in summer 2019.

The 20-year-old from Woodstock, Georgia, said Feiden was instrumental in her application process. She also lauds Lin for her guidance with the personal statement.

"For me, writing a personal statement is like pulling teeth," said Ash, who applied for Goldwater twice. "It was difficult to get through."

She said she found her voice this year. Her research title revealed her personality: "Cool spot, dark spot, large spots, small spots: Observational constraints on starspot property for model fitting."

"I wanted it to reflect that I'm a scientist with creative abilities," she said.

Similar to Wilson, she plans to parlay her success to more accomplishments. She plans to apply to graduate school as well as the NSF GRFP like Brown.

"Having my personal statement from my Goldwater application and my research gives me a good foundation," she said.

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