By Todd Mordhorst, Office of the Provost

Just a tiny percentage of college students from across the country earn the distinction of an Honorable Mention from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship committee. Even fewer undergo the taxing application process all over again and earn the distinction of a full Goldwater Scholarship.

Keesha Matz knew there were no guarantees when she put in long hours on top of her considerable academic load to complete the Goldwater application late last year. But using her previous experience and guidance from mentors in WSU’s Distinguished Scholarship Program, Matz was named a Goldwater Scholar in 2017, joining fellow WSU students Amelia Brown and Julianna Brutman on the hallowed list. Each of them earned $7,500 in scholarship support, in addition to the ultimate gold star on their respective resumes.

“When I came to WSU I never thought I would have an opportunity to earn a distinguished scholarship, it just never crossed my mind,” Matz says. “But once I came here and got involved in research, I think the faculty and advisors made a huge difference. The professors are more than willing to help and support students and that’s a huge strength we have here.”

Matz’s Cougar-colored mentoring began at W.F. West High School in Chehalis. Henri Weeks, a teacher and WSU alum, recognized Matz’s talent and affinity for scientific research and encouraged her to explore WSU’s Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies (STARS) program in the School of Molecular Biosciences. The program is designed to offer high-achieving students the opportunity to earn a Ph.D. in select science fields in as little as seven years.

After Matz displayed her proficiency in the lab and the classroom as a WSU freshman, advisor Bill Davis, a former Goldwater recipient himself, turned her eyes toward the Distinguished Scholarships Program.

“I think without that encouragement and nudge, I probably wouldn’t have thought that I could put together an application and get a scholarship like the Goldwater,” Matz says.

Mary Sanchez-Lanier provided guidance and mentorship as well. She serves as WSU’s Goldwater campus representative, and is on the review committee for the national award. She said Matz’s dedication to research from her freshman year is what set her apart.

“Keesha’s been very focused from the beginning,” she says. “She presented at a national conference in November of her sophomore year, and by the spring she had submitted and was presenting another abstract at the American Society of Microbiology Conference. It’s remarkable.”

The application process for the Goldwater, and other distinguished scholarships, is often daunting. In addition to the standard application, students must propose a research project. Matz revised her proposal dozens of times before earning her Honorable Mention as a sophomore. As a junior, she knew what to expect, but it didn’t make the process any less challenging.

“After I got the Honorable Mention, it was like, ‘OK, do I stop here or try to strengthen my application even more,’” Matz says. “It’s not only building the application for distinguished scholarships, it’s also build a resume and a skill set for later in my career. It’s a pathway to the type of research I’d like to go into in the future.”

Matz is interested in vaccine development and treatment for viruses and infectious diseases. She currently conducts research with Alan Goodman in the Paul Allen School for Global Animal Health and collaborates with former WSU professor Hector Aguilar-Carreno, who is now at Cornell.

Last summer, Matz spent 10 weeks in Rochester, Minn. at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. Seeking to enhance her research experience, she earned a position in Mayo’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

“I’m really interested in infectious disease research and I was offered a position at Mayo studying the Ebola virus,” Matz says. “That fit right into where I’d like to go in the future. It was really neat to get to experience that. The Mayo Clinic is an amazing place.”

For more on WSU’s Distinguished Scholarships program visit