Five Georgia Tech Students Named 2023 Goldwater Scholars

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The Goldwater reviewers faced the difficult task of selecting scholarship recipients from a pool of 1,267 outstanding undergraduates nominated by 427 institutions. When added to the 70 sophomores from the 2022 competition, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation will support a total of 483 scholars this year. 

Among the recipients are five outstanding undergraduate students from Georgia Tech: Jim James, Maeve Janecka, Velin "Venny" Kojouharov, Dawei Liu, and Nadia Qutob. These students were selected based on their exceptional achievements and potential for future success in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). 

Jim James, a computer science Major who also won an Astronaut Scholarship last year, is focusing his research on a combination of applications of deep learning in materials science and inverse reinforcement learning. James credits mentor Ben Blaiszik for being instrumental in developing his interest in a research career, while Ashwin Pananjady and Vidya Muthukumar helped him connect the math he studied in his coursework to cutting-edge research. "From the start of my undergraduate education, Prestigious Fellowships Advising helped me understand what steps I needed to take to make myself competitive for the Goldwater Scholarship," said James. "When it came time to apply for the award, Karen Mura gave me advice on my application essays and helped me revise them several times until they were well-refined."  

Maeve Janecka, a chemical and biomolecular engineering major, focused her research on her undergraduate thesis project, which studies the drug deliveries of a novel orthopedic implant material. "I have been fortunate to have had two incredible mentors since my first year at Georgia Tech," said Janecka. "Champion is my research advisor, and she has been an invaluable guide as I continue to develop my technical skillset. Chrissy Spencer has been a wonderful academic resource and helped me grow as a leader. I also want to thank my graduate advisor, Thomas Pho, for his support throughout our research process and for the time he has taken to mentor me as a future Ph.D. student." In the future, she wants to research diagnostic tools for the early detection of endometriosis.  

Velin "Venny" Kojouharov is a mechanical engineering major whose research is inspired by animals and the way they move. "These bioinspired robots help advance the field of robotics by expanding our ability to move in natural environments," said Kojouharov. His mentor, Daniel Goldman, has been his research mentor since his first year at Georgia Tech. "He has given me the resources, motivation, and passion for the research that I do and has inspired me to continue doing it," said Kojouharov. "My graduate student mentor, Ph.D. student Tianyu Wang, has also been crucial to my success and is the person responsible for teaching me almost everything that I know about robotics, physics, and biology." Kojouharov also thanks Karen Mura for her support in the application process. "Through our numerous meetings, she has helped me figure out my story and made me believe in myself enough to apply for fellowships and scholarships." 

Dawei Liu, a biomedical engineering major, centered his research around the use of immune cells, specifically those equipped with engineered chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), to target and eliminate tumors. Liu is grateful to have the support of his family, friends, and mentors as he conducted his research. "I want to thank my graduate student mentor Miguel Armenta Ochoa and Krish Roy for their guidance, and faculty mentors Pinaki Banerjee, Hind Rafei, and Katy Rezvani for letting me contribute to their work," said Liu. "I know for certain that without their help, I wouldn't have had any of these amazing opportunities. I hope that receiving this award is one way I can give back." Liu worked extensively with Pre-Graduate & Pre-Professional (PGPP) Advising to craft his application materials and met with Karen Mura several times to revise his essays for approval from his research mentors.  

Nadia Qutob is a physics major whose research focuses on gravitational wave data analysis with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), specifically parameter estimation optimization for the high signal-to-noise ratio regime. Qutob's mentors, Laura Cadonati and Meg Millhouse, were instrumental during her time at LIGO. "Their guidance and patience have cultivated an environment where I can thrive and reach my full research potential. I wouldn't be where I am today without them," she said. She also took advantage of Prestigious Fellowships Advising for support through the application process. "Karen Mura and Shannon Dobranski were instrumental in the success of my Goldwater application," Qutob said. "They were available to proofread my application materials, answer questions, and offer suggestions at every stage of the application process." In the future, Qutob wants to pursue a Ph.D. in astrophysics and conduct research on dark matter's influence on the formation of galaxies.  

Karen Mura, prestigious fellowships advisor, said, “I am so proud of the accomplishments and successes of these students. They worked diligently on their Goldwater applications, which required several short answer essays and a three-page research essay. In addition, this marks the first time that Georgia Tech has had five recipients – the largest number of recipients allowed by Goldwater. Each institution is allowed to nominate four applicants and a fifth applicant if they are a transfer student for the national competition per year."

The Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years, including 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate. Its goal is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and intend to pursue careers in these fields.