Public Relations  >  News Center  >  News Releases  >  May 2019  >  May 2, 2019  >  Creighton claims trio of prestigious Goldwater Scholarship honorees
Creighton claims trio of prestigious Goldwater Scholarship honorees

A trio of undergraduate researchers and budding scientists are Creighton University’s latest Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program honorees.

Juniors Mason Rhodes, Spencer Thompson and Siddharth Venkatraman continue a tradition that extends over 10 years as Creighton can lay claim to the most Goldwater Scholars produced by a Catholic university and a place among the top 25 private universities producing such scholars — joining the ranks with Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and MIT.

“I feel it’s a testament to what Creighton does in nurturing the interests of students who want to get into research,” said Venkatraman, a biochemistry and philosophy major from San Jose, California. “Creighton has definitely encouraged me to be introspective and thinking about problems and solutions that have practical applications.”

The federally funded Goldwater Scholarship is one of the nation’s most prestigious for young scientists, and highlights undergraduate research incubators such as Creighton, where the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship is giving students opportunities to engage in top-flight research with internationally recognized faculty.

For Thompson, also a biochemistry major, and Venkatraman, work in the RNA research laboratory of Juliane Soukup, PhD, looking at riboswitches has been seminal in their experience and is launching them on similar trajectories, as both plan to enter an MD/PhD program upon their Creighton graduation. Rhodes, a physics and mathematics major, has been working with physics professor Jack Gabel, PhD, in computational astrophysics with the support of a NASA Nebraska Space Grant Fellowship, and with physics professor Thomas Wong, PhD, on quantum computing.

“The Goldwater, to me, is an indication that the research I’ve been doing has been good, has been worthwhile,” Thompson said. “I’ve been in the lab since I was a freshman and have found great opportunities with Dr. Soukup and Creighton, and this is a good way to demonstrate that it’s been successful and that other people are open and interested in this research.”

Both Venkatraman and Thompson cited Soukup, along with chemistry professors Erin Gross, PhD, and David A. Dobberpuhl, PhD, and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Bridget Keegan as instrumental in their successes and decisions to pursue a Goldwater award. As a philosophy major, Venkatraman also thanked philosophy professor Elizabeth Cooke, PhD, for her encouragement.

For Rhodes, the news of his Goldwater was doubly affirming, given that his research doesn’t take place in a typical laboratory setting and, moreover, the projects upon which he’s embarked aren’t always easily comprehended.

“I’m thinking about math and physics and making an application of it,” said Rhodes, who entered Creighton on a pre-medicine track, but switched over to physics shortly after. “And it’s not always something that translates easily. Explaining quantum computing can pose significant challenges, just because it’s still new and not many people are doing it yet. But it worked out. It was a reaffirmation that the decision not to pursue the med school route was the right one and that opportunities exist for a career in this.”

With an increase in funding from Congress, 496 Goldwater Scholarships were awarded in 2019, out of an applicant pool of more than 5,000 college sophomores and juniors. Some 443 institutions nationwide submitted applications and 260 had students earn a scholarship.

“Creighton University is deeply committed to undergraduate research, which is evident by the immense success we have with the Goldwater Scholars Program,” said Soukup, a chemistry professor and director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. “Creighton’s faculty-led research opportunities provide the perfect environment for students to grow and flourish as researchers and scholars. I am extremely proud of our three Goldwater Scholars, who have the potential to succeed not only in scientific research, but to shine as leaders.”

Creighton was one of just 49 schools to have three awardees. It’s the second time in four years that Creighton has had multiple Goldwater Scholars.

The University also saw two students, Sahil Sandhu and Mary Kate Wolken, earn Fulbright Teaching Awards, again the second time in four years Creighton has had multiple honorees in that program.

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