Three WSU students receive national Goldwater Awards

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Washington State University STEM majors Clara Ehinger, Julia Jitkov, and Brayan Osegueda Velazquez are the latest recipients of national Barry Goldwater distinguished scholarships.

“Each of these future scientists will receive significant financial support for the next academic year, which recognizes their outstanding accomplishments in research,” said April Seehafer, director of the WSU Distinguished Scholarships Program.

Since 1986, Goldwater awards have been available to students intending to pursue a research career in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering. WSU’s newest recipients bring the number of WSU students who have received Goldwater’s to 53. They are among 438 new awardees nationally this year, selected from 1,353 students nominated by 446 institutions.

Every Goldwater awardee has interesting goals and is taking significant steps toward reaching them, said Mary Sánchez Lanier, assistant vice provost. She is WSU’s representative to the national Goldwater organization.

For example, Ehinger, a junior from Yelm, Washington is a chemical engineering major, minoring in mathematics and a member of the Honors College. She plans to get a Ph.D. and research catalysts for sustainable energy.

Closeup of Clara Ehinger
Clara Ehinger

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she chose to attend WSU because of the opportunities available to conduct research as an undergraduate and to also study abroad. She had never set foot on campus until part-way through her freshman year.

She has worked in three laboratories at WSU—first with Von Walden in the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, next with Su Ha in the O.H. Reaugh Laboratory for Oil and Gas Research, and currently, with Yong Wang’s group, which is focused on testing catalysts for the production of biofuel.

“This will be done by using single atom catalysts doped onto metal oxides such as ceria. By using single atoms, we are trying to maximize the efficiency of catalyst per unit of mass of catalyst used. By developing better methods for producing biofuels, industries that are reliant on liquid fuel sources, such as aerospace, can use less carbon intensive fuels than traditional petrochemicals as a step towards carbon neutrality,” Ehinger said. “I am honored to have been selected. The recognition that my interest in pursuing a career in catalysis research aligns with my ability to be a successful researcher, at least in the eyes of Goldwater, is appreciated and valued.”

Goldwater recipient Jitkov, a junior from Pullman, is a physics/astronomy and applied mathematics major and Honors College member. She plans to earn a master’s and Ph.D. degree in astrophysics. Her goal is to eventually teach and lead researchers studying ways to enhance scientific understanding of the universe using light, particle, and wave observations.

Closeup of Julia Jitkov
Julia Jitkov

She said she appreciates receiving a Goldwater award to support her studies, and she will do her best to contribute meaningful insights to the academic community.

Her faculty mentor is Vivienne Baldassare. Jitkov is currently working with Baldassare to identify supermassive black holes that are found in nuclear star clusters at the center of dwarf galaxies.

“Mapping the population of black holes in the universe can help astronomers understand processes involved in their formation and evolution of galaxies,” she said.

President of the WSU Physics and Astronomy Club, Jitkov’s experience also includes a summer 2023 Research Internship for Science and Engineering (RISE) award from DAAD at the Technische Universität Dortmund in Germany, and a research assistantship at the Institute for Shock Physics at WSU Pullman.

She chose to attend WSU because of its rigorous academics, opportunities for research, meaningful interactions with faculty, and great community of students.

Osegueda Velazquez is a junior from Auburn, Washington who is majoring in bioengineering and is a member of the Honors College. He is also in the MARC-WSU program and participates in WSU LSAMP, and was previously in the two-year Esteemed MIRA program. His career goal is to earn his doctorate and become a protein engineering researcher and professor.

Closeup of Brayan Osegueda Velazquez
Brayan Osegueda Velazquez

He came to WSU Pullman in 2021 with his brother, Brandon, who is studying secondary education and rhetoric. Both are first-generation students, and Brayan said his brother was always there for him through thick and thin and that means more than he can say.

At WSU, he appreciates the sense of family and belonging.

“The tight-knit community makes me feel like I belong and there have been kind souls who have constantly reached out to and supported me,” he said.

Osegueda Velazquez conducts research in the lab of Alla Kostyukova, his “mentor in research and life.” They explore the link between bench work protein engineering and computer simulated protein stability changes.

He dedicates his Goldwater award to the late Nickolas Starks, a research assistant in Kostyukova’s lab.

“He made an impact on my life with the enthusiasm and intense passion that he carried with every project and every experiment. And brought with him an energy of positivity and whimsicality that lit the lab up and uplifted everyone around him,” said Osegueda Velazquez. “Nick inspired me, like many others, to keep pushing and exploring the sciences, not just as a degree, but as something to put your everything into.”

Osegueda Velazquez conducted summer research with Michael Regnier at the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Washington. He has received several awards and scholarships including an award in the engineering, physics, and mathematics category of the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists; volunteers as a supplemental tutor at Gar-Pal High School near Pullman; and is a mentor for undergraduates in laboratories in the Voiland College of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering.

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