Mercer is one of the state’s leading recipients of the nation’s most prestigious scholarship for undergraduates in STEM, with 18 Goldwater Scholars since the 2012-13 academic year.
Goldwater Scholars have impressive academic and research credentials that have garnered the attention of prestigious postgraduate fellowship programs. Goldwater Scholars have gone on to win an impressive array of prestigious post-graduate fellowships, among which are the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Rhodes Scholarship, Marshall Scholarship, Churchill Scholarship, Hertz Fellowship, Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship, and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.
Ryan Brownlee, Dakota Ellis and Bryana Whitaker are among 413 college sophomores and juniors from across the U.S. — including 20 from Georgia institutions — to be awarded the scholarship for the 2023-24 academic year.
Brownlee, from Flowery Branch, is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology. He plans to obtain a Doctor of Medicine/Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology. His goal is to teach at a research university and conduct research exploring the molecular mechanisms of disease.
He conducts research in the labs of Dr. Linda Hensel, professor of biology, and Dr. Christy Bridges, professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine. In Dr. Hensel’s lab, he designs and synthesizes drug compounds that will act as inhibitors of biofilm production. Bacterial biofilm contributes to problems within the medical field such as antibiotic resistance. In Dr. Bridges’ lab, Brownlee works on a project that focuses on the toxic effects of various forms of mercury on the kidneys and explores the mechanisms by which those compounds are processed in the body.
Ellis, from Buford, is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology. She plans to obtain a Ph.D. in biochemistry and conduct cancer research at a national laboratory.
She conducts research in the lab of Dr. Emilianne Limbrick, assistant professor of chemistry, working on the biosynthesis of lanthipeptides derived from a novel source, marine bacteria. The hope is to develop new compounds with antibiotic activity.
Whitaker, from Lafayette, is double-majoring in neuroscience and creative writing. She plans to obtain a Ph.D. in neuroscience, conduct research in systems neuroscience, and mentor graduate and undergraduate students in an academic setting. Her goal is to become a faculty member at a research-intensive institution.
She conducts research in the lab of Dr. Joseph Rodefer, assistant professor of neuroscience and psychology, investigating empirical questions that probe the interactions between behavioral pharmacology and neuroscience. Specifically, she has worked to characterize the involvement of the neuroendocrine hormone progesterone more fully in disrupted cognition through a literature review. Currently, she is investigating the attentional set-shifting task in different genetic strains of rodents.
Sara Binet, Ebonye Smith and Sarah Spalding were among 410 college sophomores and juniors from across the U.S. — including 14 from Georgia institutions — to be awarded the scholarship for the 2021-22 academic year.
Binet, a 2022 graduate from Birmingham, Alabama, majored in environmental engineering. She planned to obtain a Ph.D. in environmental engineering and develop sustainable technologies to improve access to potable groundwater in developing nations while teaching at a research-intensive university.
She conducted research in the lab of the late Dr. Michael MacCarthy, associate professor and director of the Engineering for Development program, analyzing groundwater quality of mountain springs in the Dominican Republic and assessing possible sources of contamination and health risks for the community as part of the University’s Mercer On Mission program and Cecil Day Family Center for International Groundwater Innovation.
Smith, a 2022 graduate from Augusta, majored in electrical engineering. She planned to obtain a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and conduct research in aeronautics, controls and robotics at a national laboratory.
She conducted research in the lab of Dr. Makhin Thitsa, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, to develop robust data-driven system identification for traffic flow networks.
Spalding, a 2022 graduate from Macon, majored in biomedical engineering. She planned to obtain a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and work at a research university developing novel drug-delivery technologies for pulmonary diseases.
She conducted research in the lab of Dr. Sinjae Hyun, professor of biomedical engineering and director of M.S.E. and associated M.S. programs, to develop a holistic understanding of how changes to e-cigarette flavor and flow rate affect the aerosol characteristics, how the lung deposition of the e-cigarette aerosol particles vary amongst individuals, and how the lung deposition of e-cigarette aerosol particles compares to the lung deposition of conventional cigarette smoke.
2020-2021 Goldwater Scholars
Michelle Graham, McPherson Newell and Maison Clouatre each received a 2020-21 scholarship. Mercer was the only institution in 2020 with three engineering students receiving the nation’s most prestigious scholarship for undergraduates in science, mathematics and engineering.
Graham, a 2021 graduate from Tampa, Florida, majored in environmental engineering with a minor in engineering for development. She planned to obtain a Ph.D. in environmental engineering and teach at a major university while conducting research related to sustainable infrastructure.
Graham conducted research in the lab of the late Dr. Michael MacCarthy, assistant professor and director of the engineering for development program, involving efficient building design and energy use to create affordable renewable energy options for middle- to low-income homeowners. This work involved the implementation and investigation of a low-cost solar photovoltaic starter kit that can be installed on the home by a homeowner or local technician and later expanded to produce more energy. The research team collaborated with Macon Area Habitat for Humanity to install and monitor one of these systems.
Newell, a 2021 graduate from Augusta, majored in biomedical engineering. They planned to obtain a master’s degree in disability studies and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and pursue a professorship in rehabilitation engineering at a research university, where they will conduct research on low-cost assistive technology and create research opportunities for LGBTQ+ and disabled students.
Newell conducted research in the lab of the late Dr. Michael MacCarthy on forearm rollators, wheeled mobility devices with platform rests for users’ forearms which allow the user to stand upright and offload weight from the lower body into the upper body. The long-term goal of this project was to promote a forearm rollator design that is covered by Medicaid and Medicare so the device would be financially accessible to potential users. To this end, the research team conducted a comparative gait study to examine the kinematics of using a commercially available forearm rollator and a standard rollator in order to determine the biomechanical differences in gait using each device.
Clouatre, a 2022 graduate from Demorest, majored in electrical engineering with a minor in mathematics. He planned to obtain a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering and develop the next generation of intelligent control systems as a researcher and professor at a research-intensive university.
Clouatre conducted research in the lab of Dr. Makhin Thitsa, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, developing intelligent control systems. These are unique from traditional control systems in that they must use data to learn the underlying dynamics of the systems in which they control – hence they are “intelligent.” In collaboration with Dr. Thitsa, Clouatre has applied these methods to laser microscopes, unmanned aerial vehicles and city traffic networks.
2019-20 Goldwater Scholars
Amanda Cimino, Charlotte Dungan and Brady Simon each received a 2019-20 scholarship. It was the first time three Mercer students were named recipients in a single year.
Cimino, a 2020 graduate from Flowery Branch, conducted research in the lab of Dr. Joanna Thomas involving drug-releasing polymers. She double-majored in biomedical engineering and biochemistry and molecular biology and planned to obtain a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and conduct research in the field of regenerative medicine. She has participated in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in biomedical engineering and presented her research at venues such as the 50th annual meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society and the 24th annual Regenerative Medicine Workshop. She participated in a Mercer On Mission trip to Peru and was a member of the Engineering Scholars Track of the University Honors Program, Phi Kappa Phi and Tau Beta Pi honor societies and the Society of Women Engineers.
Dungan, a 2020 graduate from Marietta, conducted research in the lab of Dr. Michael MacCarthy incorporating new and cost-effective technologies to access clean drinking water in developing nations. During her Mercer On Mission trip to the Dominican Republic, she served as water quality lead for mountain hydrology research. The environmental engineering major also participated in an NSF REU to Stanford University as part of the ReNUWIt (Re-Inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure) Program. She was selected the University’s first Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholar by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was a Stamps Scholar and member of Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Eta Sigma honor societies, and has earned President’s List and Dean’s List recognition. Dungan planned to earn a Ph.D. in water resource engineering and conduct research related to water quality, hydrology and hydraulics.
Simon, a 2020 graduate from Rome, conducted research in the lab of Dr. Makhin Thitsa involving the development of control systems for lasers. He planned to earn a Ph.D. in computer engineering and develop data-driven control strategies as a computationally-oriented control researcher. The computer engineering major has participated in a U.S. Army Research Laboratory summer internship working with erbium-doped laser fibers to determine feasibility as a laser component, published two peer-reviewed research articles, and attended an Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in San Jose, California. He was a member of Tau Beta Pi honor society and earned President’s List and Dean’s List recognition.
2016-17 Goldwater Scholars
Kyla Semmendinger, a 2018 graduate from Bremen, and Runyu Cai, of Macon, each received 2016-17 scholarships based on academic merit from a field of 1,286 mathematics, science and engineering students nominated by the faculties of 470 colleges and universities nationwide. They were the University’s first pair of Goldwater Scholars in a single year.
Semmendinger, who majored in environmental engineering with minors in Spanish, chemistry and engineering for development, conducted research in the labs of Dr. Laura Lackey, professor of environmental engineering, and Dr. Michael MacCarthy, assistant professor of environmental engineering. Semmendinger was instrumental in the success of a 2015 Mercer On Mission trip to Kenya that focused on monitoring the efficacy of using biosand filters to treat water for drinking, has been a key member of Mercer’s Engineering for Development Research Team and has conducted research related to low-cost shallow geothermal heating and cooling systems for households in Central Georgia. She planned to obtain a Ph.D. in environmental engineering with a research focus in the relationship between hydrology and forestry, specifically in developing nations.
Cai, a double-major in electrical engineering and physics and originally from Weihai, Shandong, China, made significant contributions to the lab of Dr. Makhin Thitsa, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, including devising a method to apply nonlinear control to modulate 550-nanometer laser emission, which is the key wavelength of interest for underwater communication without frequency chirping, and developing a method to eliminate crosstalk in semiconductor optical amplifiers using nonlinear state feedback control. He planned to obtain doctoral degrees in both electrical engineering and physics, teach at the university level and conduct research in nonlinear control and theoretical physics.
2015-16 Goldwater Scholar
Zechariah Rice, a 2018 graduate from Newberry, Florida, received a 2015-16 scholarship based on academic merit from a field of 1,150 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.
Rice, who majored in electrical engineering and minored in Christianity and computer science, worked in the lab of Dr. Makhin Thitsa, where he derived the nonlinear feedback control law for controlling a passively Q-switched pulsed laser system. Rice planned to obtain a Ph.D. in electrical engineering with a focus in non-linear controls, and to conduct research and teach at the university level.
2014-15 Goldwater Scholar
Kaydren Orcutt, a 2017 graduate from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, received a 2014-15 scholarship based on academic merit from a field of 1,206 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.
Orcutt, who majored in chemistry and Spanish, worked in the lab of Dr. Kathryn Kloepper, where she utilized analytical chemistry to investigate better ways to clean up oil spills. Specifically, this research pertained to biosurfactants, which are naturally produced, soap-like molecules that enable water and oils to mix. She was accepted into a Ph.D. program at the University of California-Berkeley.
2013-14 Goldwater Scholar
Kirsten Brown, a 2016 graduate from Tallahassee, Florida, received a 2013-14 scholarship based on academic merit from a field of 1,166 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.
Brown, a chemistry and computational science double-major, worked in the lab of Dr. Garland Crawford, assistant professor of chemistry, to investigate a hexosaminidase enzyme known as OGA. She brought a unique computational approach to the research as she attempted to determine how computers might be used to predict alterations to the enzyme that may increase or decrease interactions between a target and that particular enzyme. She was accepted into a Ph.D. program at Emory University.
2012-13 Goldwater Scholar
Aaron Featherston, a 2014 graduate from Byron, received a 2012-13 scholarship based on academic merit from a field of 1,107 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.
Featherston, a biochemistry and molecular biology major, worked in the lab of Dr. David Goode, associate professor of chemistry, on the synthesis of a natural product isolated from a sea sponge that may one day serve as the basis for a new class of antibiotics. He was accepted into a Ph.D. program at Yale University.
The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law 99-661 on Nov. 14, 1986. The scholarship program, honoring Sen. Barry Goldwater, was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering, and is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.