Mercer University is a national leader in Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship recipients, surpassing all U.S. institutions with a total of nine engineering majors selected as Goldwater Scholars since 2019.
Juniors 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 2021-2022 academic year.
Binet, Smith and Spalding brought the University’s total number of winners to 15 over the past nine years, making Mercer one of the state’s leading producers of Goldwater Scholars.
A total of 1,256 natural science, engineering and mathematics students were nominated by 438 academic institutions to compete for the 2021 Goldwater Scholarship. Of the Scholars who reported, 198 were men, 207 were women and virtually all intended to obtain a Ph.D. as their highest degree objective. Fifty-one Scholars were mathematics and computer science majors, 291 were majoring in the natural sciences, and 68 were majoring in engineering.
Goldwater Scholars have impressive academic and research credentials that have garnered the attention of prestigious postgraduate fellowship programs. Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 94 Rhodes Scholarships, 150 Marshall Scholarships, 170 Churchill Scholarships, 109 Hertz Fellowships and numerous other distinguished awards like the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.
Binet, from Birmingham, Alabama, is majoring in environmental engineering. She plans 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 currently conducts research in the lab of Dr. Michael MacCarthy, associate professor and director of the Engineering for Development (E4D) program, to conduct groundwater quality analysis of mountain springs in the Dominican Republic, 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, from Augusta, is majoring in electrical engineering. She plans to obtain a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and conduct research in aeronautics, controls and robotics at a national laboratory. She currently conducts 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, from Macon, is majoring in biomedical engineering. She plans to obtain a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and work at a research university developing novel drug-delivery technologies for pulmonary diseases.
She currently conducts 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 2020-2021 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, from Tampa, Florida, is majoring in environmental engineering with a minor in engineering for development. She plans to obtain a Ph.D. in environmental engineering and teach at a major university while conducting research related to sustainable infrastructure.
Graham conducts research in the lab of 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 involves 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 is collaborating with Macon Area Habitat for Humanity to install and monitor one of these systems.
Newell, from Augusta, is majoring in biomedical engineering. They plan 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 conducts research in the lab of 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 is to promote a forearm rollator design that is covered by Medicaid and Medicare so the device will be financially accessible to potential users. To this end, the research team is conducting 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, from Demorest, is majoring in electrical engineering with a minor in mathematics. He plans 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 conducts 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.
2019-2020 Goldwater Scholars
Amanda Cimino, Charlotte Dungan and Brady Simon each received a 2019-2020 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.
2016-2017 Goldwater Scholars
Kyla Semmendinger, a 2018 graduate from Bremen, and Runyu Cai, of Macon, each received 2016-2017 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.
2015-2016 Goldwater Scholar
Zechariah Rice, a 2018 graduate from Newberry, Florida, received a 2015-2016 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.
2014-2015 Goldwater Scholar
Kaydren Orcutt, a 2017 graduate from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, received a 2014-2015 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.
2013-2014 Goldwater Scholar
Kirsten Brown, a 2016 graduate from Tallahassee, Florida, received a 2013-2014 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.
2012-2013 Goldwater Scholar
Aaron Featherston, a 2014 graduate from Byron, received a 2012-2013 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.