For the third time in West Virginia University’s history, three students have been named Goldwater Scholars in the same year.
Trevor Butcher, a sophomore chemistry and math double-major from Hollywood, Md., Virginia Cunningham, a physics major from Hurricane, W.Va. and Andy Maloney, a sophomore chemical engineering major from Morgantown, bring the number of WVU’s Goldwater Scholars to 39.
It is the first time since 2006 that three WVU students have earned Goldwater Scholarships in the same year. The program was established in 1986 and WVU has had at least one Goldwater Scholar in all but two of the past 22 years, and has had at least two 11 times.
WVU was the only University in the state to have a Goldwater Scholar this year.
“These three young scientists are truly deserving of the Goldwater Scholarship, and they make West Virginia University proud,” said President Gordon Gee. “There is no doubt they worked diligently for this distinction, as their faculty mentors recognized the brilliance and determination of these young superstars.”
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship is the most prestigious undergraduate award of its type and recognizes the commitment and potential each winner has to make a significant contribution to science.
The scholarship pays tribute to the former Arizona senator’s 56 years of service and leadership to the United States as both soldier and statesman through an endowed recognition program that encourages outstanding students to pursue careers as advanced scientists, mathematicians and engineers.
“It is very exciting that we have three Goldwater Scholars in one year,” said Dr. Keith Garbutt, dean of the Honors College at WVU. “It’s a testament to not only the quality of students we have but also the excellent undergraduate research opportunities at WVU. We are also lucky to have supportive faculty advisors who provide excellent mentoring to these students and give them meaningful opportunities to engage in real research.”
For a full list of WVU's Goldwater Scholars, visit here
In total, 283 Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,166 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.
The scholarships will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.
As a teenager, Butcher made messes in the kitchen.
But these messes weren’t a result of faulty cooking or sloppy eating.
They erupted from Butcher’s chemistry set.
“My dad would say, ‘When are you going to stop making weird things in the kitchen?’” recalls Butcher.
“I had a chemistry set that was probably several decades old. It had things in it that I probably should not have had as a kid. So once I got into research, I realized I could do this for real. Now I don’t have to worry about contaminating the house.”
The Hollywood, Md.-native’s passion for chemistry piqued in Ms. Owen’s AP chemistry class at Leonardtown High School.
He then discovered additional realms simmering within the world of chemistry – such as organic chemistry, which he took the most liking to.
“When you have atoms, they make these geometric structures,” Butcher explained. “And when you analyze the reactions of each molecule it’s like a rearrangement form one shape to another shape. It’s Rubik’s Cube-type logic. It’s like a puzzle, or a game.”
At WVU, Butcher’s curiosity for chemistry has not gone unnoticed.
“Trevor stands above the other candidates because of the curiosity for chemistry that he brings to the classroom and the dedication to research that he brings to the laboratory,” said Brian Popp, assistant professor of the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry. “I can safely predict that Trevor’s career trajectory in chemistry is incredibly steep and will be marked with head turning accomplishments.”
Butcher works with Popp in the chemistry research lab on organic chemistry projects.
“We’re trying to use carbon dioxide as a reactant to make certain organic transformations,” Butcher said.
As one of the newest Goldwater scholars, Butcher hopes the honor serves as a possible path to a career in academia. He has his sights set on graduate school and “likes the idea of teaching.”
“This award has me going in the right direction,” he said. “This solidifies that chemistry research can be a career for me. It makes me feel I can do this.”
As a young girl, Cunningham affixed press-on, green glowing stars to her bedroom ceiling – mapping out the constellations of the Big Dipper, Orion’s belt and the Pleides cluster.
She didn’t know it then, but she was setting the groundwork for a whole galaxy of opportunity.
The Hurricane, W.Va., native explored her passion for all things Milky Way-related at WVU, where she is majoring in physics with a minor in astronomy.
"The Goldwater Scholarship is meant to identify the next generation of STEM researchers; by choosing Andrew, Ginny, and Trevor for this award, they have done just that. I got to know these students well during the application process and I was incredibly impressed with all three of them. I have no doubt that the Goldwater Foundation made excellent choices in these three students. Their strong academic records and commitment to their labs signal that they are all on the direct path to becoming high-quality, professional researchers in their respective fields."
-- Keith Garbutt, dean of the Honors College
“When I first came to WVU, I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do,” Cunningham said. “I’m just fascinated by the unknown. I knew I had an interest in astronomy, so I started doing research there and discovered it was super awesome and fascinating. It drew me in. I love it – it’s definitely my area.”
She has participated in a number of research projects involving looking at HII Regions, which are star-forming regions. Her first project involved working with an astronomy professor to discover the regions by naked eye. The following summer, she helped develop an automated way to search for the regions.
That type of research was a natural fit for her Goldwater Scholar project, where she is focusing on the clustering of those HII regions, which are areas of gas and dust where only massive proto-stars are formed.
“I get to look at the clustering properties – how the stars are spaced out, how they are positioned, why they are in clusters, why others are not in clusters,” she said. “For the most part, since they are star-forming regions, we can consider them little baby star nurseries – but they’re where the most massive stars are born of gas and dust, so it’s really interesting to learn about.”
She’ll continue her work this summer for 10 weeks with a Research Experiences for Undergraduates placement at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. That achievement will join a rank of others for the junior, including titles of a Neil S. Bucklew Scholar, a NASA Space Grant Scholar and a member of the Honors College.
“Ginny has already developed the traits needed to be a successful scientist,” said physics professor Dr. Loren D. Anderson, Cunningham’s advisor for her Goldwater project. “She is hard-working, curious, and focused. What really sets her apart from other students is her ability to independently come up with creative solutions to difficult research questions.”
Upon graduation, she hopes to get her Ph.D. in astronomy or astrophysics and continue conducting research.
“I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” she said. “I found my passion here.”
Maloney’s path was paved by his past. He aspires to have a career in drug delivery systems with Alzheimer’s research, because both of his grandmothers had the disease.
“I’m the youngest in my family, so I didn’t get to know them very well,” he said. “The hardest part was seeing my parents respond to it, because it’s obviously really hard when they don’t even recognize their own children. That kind of spurred me onto it. I’m going to try my best to contribute to stopping it.”
"The Goldwater Foundation seeks to invest in the next generation of STEM researchers because they understand that it is critically important for us to continue to innovate and advance our knowledge. I am proud that West Virginia University is at the forefront of preparing these bright young people for life-long dedication to research and discovery. Andy, Ginny, and Trevor represent the future of research and truly make our university proud!"
-- Keith Garbutt, dean of the Honors College
When he was filling out college applications, Maloney really began to study what would fulfill him. Continuing to come back to his closeness to Alzheimer’s, Maloney tried to find a way to connect it with his love for science. His mother is a middle school science teacher and his father works at the Department of Energy, so he grew up around the subject.
And, since eighth grade when he realized he had a knack for finding solutions and resolving problems, Maloney knew he would study engineering in school.
“I like the fact that you can see the applications,” he said.
All of that decision-making led him to WVU – and now a successful two-year career at the University that includes tons of research experience.
Maloney has sought out opportunities from the get-go at the University. The Bucklew and National Merit Scholar began his undergraduate research during his first semester with Dr. Cerasela-Zoica Dinu, assistant professor in chemical engineering.
The two are currently continuing research with nanomaterial and enzymes in hopes to create long-lasting chemical reactions that would create bleach to clean surfaces of a period of time.
Since that point, he’s earned even more experience outside Morgantown. He’s been to China for an eight-week research trip with the chemistry department and San Francisco for an engineering conference. He will travel to Germany this summer as part of a partnership between Dinu and a university there, as well.
“The thing that sets me apart is that in coming to WVU I’ve had a lot of opportunities that most people don’t get to have. I started my undergraduate research in my first semester and most don’t start until their junior or senior years,” he said. “I’ve had more opportunities than a sophomore at another university.”
All the research he’s done up to this point in his career at WVU will help him toward the goal of Alzheimer’s research.
“It is the desire to know ‘how and why,’ something I like calling ‘fire in the belly,’ which wakes him up in the morning and makes him seek an answer. The passion that I see he cultivates daily is the same passion that I see transforming and motivating him to push boundaries for an impressive research career,” Dinu said. “He is an incredible student and I am really happy for him.”
He says the Goldwater Scholarship will open many doors for him as he plans to earn his Ph.D. in biomedicine.
In addition to his selection as a Goldwater Scholar, Maloney was awarded a fellowship to spend the summer as an intern at Fraunhofer Institute in Dresden, German. More than 2,200 students applied for the 300 available slots.
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