Meet CWRU’s four finalists for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship

Brittany Moseley | Dec. 29, 2016 

Established by Congress in 1986, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program is designed to attract outstanding students into careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. Scholarships are awarded on the basis of merit to students who are sophomores or juniors during the current academic year and who have excellent academic records and demonstrated interest in and potential for careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering. CWRU is only permitted to nominate up to four students for the national competition. Therefore, eligible sophomores and juniors are encouraged to apply to an on-campus selection process. Students submit a preliminary application and are interviewed by the Goldwater Campus Committee, comprised of STEM faculty and staff. Students are evaluated and selected based on their academic achievement, research activities, progress toward a career in research, and letter of recommendation. The four nominees are currently preparing their applications for the national competition.  Award winners will be announced March 31, 2017.

image of ​​​​​​​Benjamin Kuznets-Speck

Benjamin Kuznets-Speck knew he wanted to study physics after taking an introductory physics course his junior year of high school. “My teacher for this class was amazing and would lead you just to the brink of an answer, but actually let you solve the problem yourself, which was very refreshing,” he said. The third-year math and physics major applied for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship as a way to put himself out there and showcase his research. “Beyond the monetary value, winning the Goldwater [Scholarship] would be validation that I'm on the right track and should keep on doing what I love to do,” Kuznets-Speck said. After college, he plans to pursue a PhD in physics and a career in academia.

Nathaniel Starkman image

Nathaniel Starkman can’t remember a time when he didn’t want to be an astrophysicist (except for the summer he wanted to be an astronaut). “An early memory of mine is me standing on a table when I was 4 years old and explaining black holes to my parents’ friends,” he said. Starkman was one of CWRU’s Goldwater finalists last year. He won an honorable mention in the national competition. After he graduates the third-year math and physics major wants to attend graduate school for a PhD in physics and become a professor at a research university. “I love the two central aspects of this career,” he said, “conducting research to ask new questions that help understand the cosmos' inner working, and the joy of passing on this knowledge to inspire students to explore the universe.”

image of Matthew Thompson

Matthew Thomspon began working toward a career in research in 2012. That was the first year he participated in summer research at CWRU, in genetics and biochemistry labs. Thompson, a second-year student double majoring in biochemistry and theater, now works in the lab of Professor Drew Adams in the Department of Genetics. “My current project is in collaboration with [Professor] Xin Qi in the Department of Biophysics to investigate the mechanism through which certain drugs can improve neural function and viability in Huntington’s disease,” he said. “Winning the Goldwater Scholarship would be tremendous validation for several years of my work in genetic and biochemical research.” After graduation, Thompson hopes to complete an MD/PhD and continue researching therapies for neurological diseases.

image of Benjamin Tooke

Benjamin Tooke said if he were to win a Goldwater Scholarship, it would be validation that he is pursuing the right field. “Beyond the monetary value, the award would represent the fact that there are professionals in the career field I'm pursuing who are confident in my skills and abilities,” the third-year biochemistry major said. “It's easy for me to say that I think I have the motivation to achieve my goals, but it means even more for established persons to say it through this scholarship.” Tooke chose biochemistry because of its well-rounded curriculum which can be applied to many fields. After graduation, Tooke, whose research interest is diabetes with a neuroendocrinology focus, plans to pursue an MD/PhD and become a physician scientist.