For the second time in UN history, two students have been nationally recognized as pioneers in the fields of science, mathematics and engineering by receiving a prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship Award.
When the UN’s latest Goldwater Fellows were announced, both sophomore Brandon Villanueva-Sanchez and junior Maia Bennet had to celebrate quietly.
“My lab meeting started at 11am so they should start the meeting while I got my results. But just before we started the lab meeting, I received an email that said “Goldwater 2022,” Villanueva-Sanchez said. “I opened it and read the first line, ‘Congratulations.’ I reached out to my mentor, I’m trying not to freak out because there’s about 20 other people in the room and I’m just like, ‘I have the Goldwater,’ and he gave me a high five.”
Bennett received the news while attending a panel for the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I was able to quietly celebrate with my mentor about 15 minutes after the Goldwater list was released,” she said.
About the scholarship
Those who receive the scholarship will receive up to $7,500 each semester toward tuition, fees, books, and room and board for up to two years. It also carries prestige and a network that will last a lifetime.
To be considered for the scholarship, applicants must have distinguished academic and extracurricular activities and submit a personal essay on what they do in their research. The application process can take months, even before their work is considered among the other applications. Getting a scholarship is far from a guarantee.
“We’ve had some applicants who didn’t receive an award, and that’s a struggle every year,” said Lucy Morrison, Ph.D., director of the UN Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships. “But these students are investing in themselves by applying because they’re learning about themselves, their career aspirations and their journeys, and it sometimes helps narrow that focus.” You learn about yourself and realize what you’ve already accomplished, and all of our applicants have already had excellent research experiments.”
Brandon Villanueva Sanchez
In his application, Villanueva-Sanchez, a distinguished student and Johns Hopkins fellow majoring in neuroscience, discussed a study he is involved in on the differences between male and female rats in opioid dependence when exposed to early childhood stressors such as social exposed to isolation. He is the first in his family to graduate from a four-year degree and plans to pursue an MD or Ph.D. program in the future.
“Brandon is the one leading the charge and he does a lot on his own. He’s very insightful and always thinking about how methods or certain technologies fit into the broader scheme of things, and I think that’s a very rare trait, especially for students at Brandon’s level,” his mentor Ryan Wong, Ph.D ., associate professor of biology, said.
Bennett, an American University transfer student majoring in bioinformatics, is an INBRE Fellow, an undergraduate research fellow, and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences. Her application focused on her research on combination immunotherapies that help natural killer (NK) cells kill B-cell lymphoma and leukemia cells more effectively, which was conducted at the Denton Immunobiology Lab.
“Bennett is a real go-getter, highly motivated, focused on achieving her career goals and has a strong work ethic,” said her mentor Paul Denton, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology. “I would call Bennett a pioneer in this lab.”
A better future
In the future, the scholarship will help both recipients in their studies.
“The financial aspect will get me through college. Now I don’t have to watch my parents work overtime just to pay the extra cost of my college tuition,” said Villanueva-Sanchez. “It’s a big help in every way. Going forward, Goldwater, as a prestigious grant, can help me reach the next level of the type of researcher I want to be.”
“The scholarship not only brings prestige to my current work and the Denton Immunobiology Lab as a whole, but also supports me in applying for various Ph.D. programs over the next year,” Bennett said.
About the Barry Goldwater Scholarship Fund
Established in 1986, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship Fund has awarded nearly 9,870 scholarships to students across the country, including 417 in the 2022 competition. The program honors the late Senator Barry Goldwater to encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in science, enter engineering and mathematics.
How to apply for this scholarship or other national scholarships
Students interested in applying for the Goldwater Scholarship or similar national scholarship opportunities should contact the UN Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships at UNOonsf@unomaha.edu.