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April 22, 2016

Three Undergraduates Earn Prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

Three UChicago undergraduates—third-years Seth Musser, Jonathan Sorce, and Benjamin Lowe—were recently selected by the nationally renowned Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation for the coveted Goldwater Scholarship.

For the 2016–17 academic year, only 252 applicants received the award. The scholarship recipients are awarded one- or two-year scholarships worth $7,500 per year to assist with their studies in science, technology, engineering, and math-related fields. Recipients of the award are selected based on merit, from a pool of 1,150 faculty-nominated applicants in the United States. The award is aimed at students who intend to eventually complete a Ph.D., which explains the rigorous academic qualifications of its applicants. Many of the undergraduate applicants have already co-authored publications in their fields, and the scholarship seeks to recognize these students for going above and beyond their scholastic requirements.

Award recipient Sorce intends to pursue a Ph.D. in theoretical physics in order to study interdisciplinary problems in fundamental physics. Lowe intends to complete a Ph.D. in mathematics in order to conduct research in topology. Finally, Musser intends to complete a Ph.D. in physics to research high-energy theory. All of the recipients of the award intend to teach and conduct research at the university level.

Musser, a physics and math double major, based his application on his desire to study string theory. For the Goldwater scholarship, Musser was competing with students at institutions like MIT, who already had publications to their names. “I reached out to a few professors, to work on high energy theory, [particularly] string theory, and most of them said…there is no work for undergraduates,” Musser said. However, in his second year, Musser contacted doctoral students in order to learn about fluid dynamics in high-energy circumstances. “Basically, I wrote a thousand or so lines of code in Mathematica, and I did about a thousand P-sets to learn the theories behind it,” he explained. “I think [the Goldwater scholarship] opens up a lot of doors for me.”

All potential Goldwater scholars are nominated by faculty at their respective universities, and are required to submit a two-page document exemplifying their research, including graphs and figures. In addition to his research, Musser submitted a personal essay to better contextualize his passions in higher education. Musser wrote about his mother’s childhood as an Old Order Mennonite, and how she was shunned from the community for attending college. “She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in education, even though she only had an eighth-grade education in a one-room schoolhouse,” Musser explained.

The federally endowed Barry Goldwater Foundation was created in honor of the late Senator Barry Goldwater, and is currently chaired by Senator Goldwater’s daughter, Peggy Goldwater Clay. From the time of its first award in 1989, the Foundation has distributed approximately $48 million over 7,680 academic scholarships.

“I think that UChicago does a very good job of [STEM education]. I know that when I wanted to get involved in a professor’s research, sometimes they didn’t e-mail back, but other times, I get more responses and I have to choose which person to work for,” Musser said. “I don’t think that that would happen at every university.”

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