WSU students receive Goldwater Scholar awards

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Two Washington State University future research scientists — Jacob Buursma and Stevie Fawcett — have received awards from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program.

A prestigious, nationally competitive award, the Goldwater helps to cover tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

“Both of these students came to WSU Pullman specifically to pursue research with our faculty, and receiving these Goldwater awards will help them to focus on their studies, research, and scholarship in the coming year,” said April Seehafer, director of the WSU Distinguished Scholarships Program. It is part of the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement (DAESA) in the provost’s office.

Buursma: A medical and research career

Jacob Buursma

Buursma, a rising senior from Gig Harbor, Washington is a pre-medical neuroscience major in the Honors College planning to attend an MD/Ph.D. dual-degree program and specialize in addiction psychiatry and neuroscience.

“Following my education, I plan to treat and conduct clinical research on substance-use disorders,” he said. “My goal is to help address the current crisis in the U.S. by advancing the neuroscientific understanding of substance-use disorders and developing innovative medication-assisted interventions.” 

Receiving the Goldwater scholarship “is validating, and marks a huge step toward my career goals,” Buursma said. He credits his achievement to “outstanding support from my parents, my co-workers in Delevich labRita FuchsRyan McLaughlin, and especially my research mentor Kristen Delevich. She’s the best mentor I could ask for.”

In the Delevich lab, Buursma is studying the effects of adolescent cannabis use on the maturation of neural pathways that mediate decision-making strategies. He is grateful for support from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program that he said made his project possible. He also recently received an Undergraduate Research Fellowship from DAESA’s Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR).

In March, Buursma presented his research on the effects of cannabis exposure on the corticostriatal circuits responsible for regulating decision-making behavior to judges and the public at the WSU-wide Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA). He will spend half of this summer continuing his project in the Delevich lab and half in a research internship with the Vollum/Neuroscience Graduate Program at Oregon Health Science University. 

In addition to his research, he is an OUR peer mentor and is training to be a peer recovery coach with the Cougs for Recovery Program.

Fawcett: A research career

Stevie Fawcett

Fawcett, a rising senior in the Honors College from Bend, Oregon, is a microbiology and Spanish major pursing minors in German and jazz studies. Currently in the School of Molecular Biosciences’s (SMB) Students Targeted Toward Advanced Research Studies (STARS) accelerated-degree program, he plans to earn a Ph.D. in microbiology. He is chair of the ASWSU student body’s Environmental Sustainability Alliance.

Under the STARS program, he has studied coronaviruses and hantaviruses with mentors Michael Letko and Stephanie Seifert, and is now working with Alan Goodman to study West Nile virus. This summer he will conduct research at the University of Toronto as a Fulbright-Mitacs program scholar studying the role of tumor necrosis factor receptors in cancer and viral infections. In fall, he will return to the Seifert lab to continue his research on hantaviruses.

“I would not be anywhere close to where I am today without (my mentors),” he said. “Everything I know, I know because of them.

“I came to WSU specifically because of the research opportunities. No other university I visited allowed undergrads to jump into research right away, but WSU encouraged it.”

He also appreciates the support of his family. He said his parents, Rich and Urszula, and his brother, John, have been wonderful role models over the years.

As for the new Goldwater support, he said, “It means a lot. I’m really grateful to be selected for this award and I’m really excited to see where it leads. I think (it) will open a lot of doors for me in my career and introduce me to a community of people that have many valuable experiences to share.”

After completing his Ph.D., he plans to study zoonotic viruses and develop therapeutics for “vulnerable populations that are especially at risk for infectious disease but don’t have the same access to health care that we enjoy in the U.S.” 

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