Three Undergrad Researchers Receive Goldwater Scholarships

Melanie Mauer

Melanie Maurer is a biomedical engineering junior.

A record three undergraduate researchers from UT Dallas have received full scholarships this year from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program, a tally that matches top-ranked institutions such as Yale University, the University of Michigan and Rice University.

The University had more Goldwater recipients this year than the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of California, Berkeley, Texas A&M University and UT Austin.

“This is our competition now,” said Dr. Douglas Dow, associate dean of the Honors College and clinical professor of political science. “It’s really outstanding to be competitive with such STEM-forward, Tier One institutions.”

The Goldwater program, awarded to students who intend to pursue research careers in science, technology, mathematics and engineering, often opens doors to other fellowships and the top-ranking graduate schools in the country. Many of these promising undergraduate researchers also are rewarded with highly competitive grant awards.

Three of the University’s four nominees this year, Melanie Maurer, Andrew Wei and Michael Lee Jr., were selected to be among the 300 Goldwater recipients across the country.

Michael Lee, Jr.

Michael Lee Jr. is a biochemistry junior.

Maurer, a biomedical engineering junior in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and a McDermott Scholar, is the second UT Dallas student who has gone on to win the scholarship after receiving an honorable mention. Truc Do won in 2012 and is now studying at Harvard.

Maurer, who received an honorable mention last year, has worked in UT Dallas research labs since her freshman year. Her most recent project, working with Dr. Heather Hayenga in the Vascular Mechanobiology Laboratory, has applications to cardiovascular disease and examined how white blood cells called macrophages grow and proliferate on surfaces of varying stiffness.

“Melanie is a determined and bright young lady. When she says she will do something, I have no doubt she will accomplish what she set out to do. She is a self-initiator and a problem-solver — truly a rising star who I believe will make novel and significant scientific discoveries in the future,” said Hayenga, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

Maurer has also researched the tumor microenvironment of breast cancer cells and worked on flexible electronics. She spent last summer doing cancer research in Germany and the summer before researching stem cell engineering at Georgia Tech.

Andrew Wei

Andrew Wei is an electrical engineering sophomore.

“Lab work can be frustrating and tedious sometimes, but it’s the outcome and the excitement that drives me, doing something that no one’s ever done before,” Maurer said. “That moment of discovery — it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Maurer plans to pursue a PhD in biomedical engineering and conduct research in stem cell engineering applied to cancer therapeutics. This summer she will teach sustainable medical practices in the Solomon Islands and study permaculture on an organic farm in Australia.

Wei, an electrical engineering sophomore in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and a McDermott Scholar, works in Dr. Walter Voit's lab, where he researches shape-memory polymers intended for applications in flexible electronics. He has worked on projects involving the synthesis of semiconductor adhesives as well as degradable thermoset materials.

“Andrew is a brilliant young researcher, mature well beyond his age. He conducts graduate-level research with firm determination. Andrew has coupled understanding and optimization of engineered polymer networks with exciting applications in semiconductor packaging,” said Voit, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, mechanical engineering and bioengineering. 

Last summer, Wei researched organic light-emitting diodes at Georgia Tech. This year, he has a summer internship with Texas Instruments’ semiconductor packaging group.

“I like the idea-generating experience you get in the STEM fields. Once you have a background in a technical field, it’s a playground. You can just try things,” Wei said.

Wei also participates in Reaching and Inspiring Student Engineers (R.I.S.E.), a student-led science outreach organization started on campus whose members visit elementary schools to encourage an interest in STEM fields.

“We try to show that what they’re learning will actually make something cool,” Wei said.

Goldwater Scholarship
UT Dallas Recipients

Since 2005, 12 UT Dallas students have received nationally competitive Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, and five others have received honorable mention:

Michael Lee Jr.
Melanie Maurer
Andrew Wei

Maria Burbano
Michael Lau (honorable mention)
Melanie Maurer (honorable mention)

Matthew Krenik
Michael Lau (honorable mention)

Truc Do
Abhishek Raj
Elizabeth Hanacik (honorable mention)

Philip Campbell
Truc Do (honorable mention)

Mary Gurak
Alex Palmer

Austin Swafford

Kassandra McLean

UT Dallas’ third recipient, Lee, is a biochemistry junior in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and a Green Fellow this semester at UT Southwestern Medical Center. He plans to pursue an MD/PhD, followed by an academic career as physician-scientist where he can transition basic science research into the clinic.

“I’d like to have a long-term impact on medicine. I like the human interaction of clinical medical practice but also want to help find new insights and develop new technologies,” Lee said of his dual career path. “I’m particularly interested in the field of nanomedicine, in applying what we learn in basic science to cancer treatments that will avoid the effects of chemotherapy.”

At UT Dallas, Lee has worked on the uptake of carbon nanotubes by mammalian cells in Dr. Rockford Draper's research lab.  

“Michael quickly learned complex lab techniques and was soon independent enough to work without direct supervision,” Draper said. “He is bright and ambitious, but also polite, punctual and well-organized. Michael approaches his studies and work with extraordinary focus and intensity, qualities that further distinguish him.”

Lee also has worked in the lab of Dr. Sandra Schmid at UT Southwestern’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in the 2014 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program and as a Green Fellow in the spring semester of 2015.

“I still remember the first time he described his Green Fellow research to me,” said Dr. Paul Pantano, associate professor of chemistry at UT Dallas who often collaborates with Draper. “After a mere four months at UT Southwestern, he did a fantastic job of teaching me about the mechanical engineering aspects of the cellular proteins involved in the complicated process of endocytosis.”

Lee is the second student in the Draper/Pantano group to receive a Goldwater Scholarship. Austin Swafford won the award in 2008 and went on to complete his PhD in the National Institutes of Health Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program.

Since 2005, 12 UT Dallas students have won a Goldwater Scholarship. Having a cohort of Goldwater recipients on campus has had a great impact, Dow said.

“More faculty are talking about professional development with their students, and we are drawing undergraduates who engage in research from the moment they get here. It reflects our deep institutional commitment to offering research opportunities in more fields every year,” Dow said.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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