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April 23, 1997

South Seattle resident is among four UW undergraduates to win national scholarship awards

News and Information

Four University of Washington students, including a South Seattle resident, have been awarded one of the most prestigious national scholarships for mathematics, science, and engineering majors. Emma P. Brunskill, Marcus D. Collins, Thao V. Nguyen and Mirna Vitasovic have won two-year, merit-based scholarships from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

The scholarships–which pay up to $7,500 per year to cover tuition, fees, books, and room and board–were awarded to 282 students nationwide from a pool of 1,164 applicants. Participating four-year institutions are permitted to nominate just four undergraduates to the national competition. This is the first year that all four of the University of Washington’s nominees have won the highly competitive awards.

“The UW is thrilled to learn that four of its students have been honored with Goldwater scholarships. Their stories of academic achievement, personal growth, discovery, and hard work are deeply moving,” said Debra Friedman, associate dean of undergraduate education. “These students have taken full advantage of the opportunities available to them at a first-rate public research- intensive university: outstanding and caring faculty, excellent and broad-based curriculum, and the chance to work with others to create new knowledge and understanding through research. The UW is blessed to have such students.”

Emma Brunskill entered the University of Washington in the spring of 1995 at the age of 15 through the Early Entrance Program. While pursuing majors in chemistry and physics, Brunskill also spends time doing undergraduate research. She works in Wendy Raskind’s medical genetics lab, working on finding a potential diagnostic tool to be used to identify people with a particular form of cancer. She also works in Martin Gouterman’s lab in the Department of Chemistry on a project to develop a pressure sensitive paint. Brunskill plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics to become a full-time researcher and teacher in the area of sub-atomic physics. In addition to doing undergraduate research, Brunskill competes as an intercollegiate athlete on the UW novice women’s crew team.

Marcus Collins is a sophomore majoring in physics. He does undergraduate research in Michael Brown’s lab in the Geophysics Program, working on a project that will help to determine the properties of the upper mantle of the Earth. This will aid geophysicists and seismologists in their understanding of the composition and structure of this region of the Earth. Recently Collins presented his findings at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Collins plans to earn a Ph.D. and will pursue a career in experimental condensed matter physics. In addition to his science courses, Collins also studies clarinet while completing a minor in music. His hobbies include mountaineering, running, and skiing.

Thao Nguyen of South Seattle is pursuing a double degree in biochemistry and bioengineering. She transferred to the University from North Seattle Community College in the fall of 1994. Under the direction of Viola Vogel and Lynne Smith, Nguyen performs undergraduate research in bioengineering. The goal of Nguyen’s research is to investigate how small surface textures impact cellular behavior. The work she does on artificial surfaces is contributing to a clearer understanding of how a body will respond to medical implants. The Undergraduate Research Program recently awarded a stipend to support her research for three quarters. Nguyen plans to earn an M.D. and Ph.D. and conduct medical research in biomaterials, developing implantable devices and artificial organs. Nguyen is an officer of the Vietnamese Poetry and Literature Club and volunteers for the Association for the Blind and Partially Sighted.

Mirna Vitasovic, who entered the University of Washington through the Early Entrance program at the age of 13, is studying chemistry. In her first two years of college, Vitasovic has participated in two different research projects. In a Health Sciences lab, she worked with Richard Albert and Wayne Lamm researching asthma in mice. Now, like fellow Goldwater Scholar Emma Brunskill, Vitasovic participates in the project to develop a pressure sensitive paint under the direction of Martin Gouterman in the Department of Chemistry. She is especially interested in quantum theory and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in either chemistry or physics and become a university professor. Vitasovic is a member of the Early Entrance Program Drama Society, which recently produced The Crucible.

All four students are members of the University Honors Program. “I’m delighted for the students, and pleased for the Honors Program that the University’s striking record of success in winning Goldwaters–in great part due to the efforts of Lori Colliander in the Undergraduate Scholarship Office–is continuing,” said Ran Hennes, associate director of the University Honors Program.

Undergraduates from the University of Washington have received Goldwater scholarships every year since 1993, the year the Undergraduate Scholarship Office began nominating students to compete for these prestigious awards.

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established in 1986 to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. Of this year’s award recipients, 122 are women, 160 are men, and more than half are majoring in the sciences.

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