WSU students land three Goldwater Awards to support STEM research

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation has announced that Washington State University students John Bussey, Kalli Stephens, and Thomas Ballinger have received $7,500 awards to support their education.

Prestigious, nationally competitive Goldwater distinguished scholarships are given to high-achieving undergraduates intending to pursue careers in math, the natural sciences, or engineering (STEM). These latest awardees bring WSU’s total number of Goldwater recipients to 48 since the first in 1990.

John Bussey

Bussey, a sophomore from Olympia, is an Honors College student majoring in materials science and engineering, minoring in environmental and resource economics and mathematics, and seeking a nuclear materials certificate. His summer internship is at the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he is studying materials for safe disposal of nuclear waste. This work continues his quest to better understand materials involved in nuclear waste storage in order to safeguard human health and the environment.

The WSU Distinguished Regents Scholars’ undergraduate research mentors include John McCloyMarc Weber, and Jacob Leachman at WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and Brian Wright at Olympia High School.

“Receiving the Goldwater is certainly an honor for me, plus it recognizes that environmental sustainability is a critical issue for our collective future that requires advanced research. It’s a vindication of the work I’ve been doing,” said Bussey. “I’m excited to see what the next few years of my education hold, and the Goldwater enables me to double down on my efforts.”

Stephens, a senior from Hurricane, Utah, is majoring in genetics and cell biology. She is a member of the inaugural cohort of students in the National Institutes of Health-funded Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC)-WSU, a two-year program of scientific research, leadership development, and graduate-school preparation. 

Immediately out of high school, she attended culinary school and worked as a professional pastry chef. The move from preparing and presenting foods to pursuing biomedical science at a top research university wasn’t as big of a leap as it might seem, she said, because “both involve working through protocols, like recipes—it’s just a difference in the chemicals and materials you’re using.”

Kalli Stephens

In 2021, she was accepted into the first MARC cohort of future biomedical researchers. She also received her own research project into hormones in the female reproductive tract in early pregnancy conducted in the Joy Winuthayanon lab . This led to her receiving a top crimson award at the Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) in spring.

Her mentors are the School of Molecular Biology’s (SMB) Winuthayanon, Assistant Vice Provost Mary Sánchez Lanier, and Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience’s Samantha Gizerian.

“My experiments may identify critical factors in the oviduct that are important for specific developmental stages missing from cultures used in assisted reproductive treatments (ARTs) and will hopefully improve success rates,” she said. “The Goldwater scholarship will make a big impact on my future, and I am grateful to have been chosen.” 

Ballinger, a junior from Reno, Nevada, is majoring in genetics and cell biology as well as music. He is in SMB’s Students Targeted Toward Advanced Research Studies (STARS) program, which allows undergraduates to earn an accelerated Bachelor of Science degree in three years—including research rotations and mentorship–and move into a doctorate path. He envisions a career investigating aging as well as synthetic biology. 

A National Merit Scholar, he said he chose WSU for his education because of its genetics and cell biology program, the SMB STARS program, and the music program in piano.

Thomas Ballinger

His mentors include SMB’s Cynthia Hazeltine, Vice Provost for Academic Engagement and Student Achievement William B. Davis, the Institute of Biological Chemistry’s Philip D. Bates, the School of  Music’s Yoon-Wha (Yuna) Roh, and his Reno piano teacher Jeff DePaoli.

“WSU had everything I wanted and more, so it didn’t make sense to go anywhere else,” he said. “It’s been really good so far but it’s a lot busier than I thought college would be. My favorite thing is that there are ample opportunities for undergraduate research and there are professors and graduate students who are interested in teaching me lab techniques and preparing me to be a scientist. Receiving the Goldwater award is a great honor and will make a real difference to my education.”

Goldwater said 417 awards were made to U.S. college students this year—308 to natural sciences majors, 64 to engineering majors, and 45 to math and computer science majors.

“WSU has established a strong set of Goldwater awardees over the years, and the addition of this year’s recipients reinforces that tradition,” said April Seehafer, director of the WSU Distinguished Scholarships Program. Her program is part of the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement (DAESA) in the provost’s office.

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