Miranda Denise Colletta and Cynthia Chen, undergraduates at The University of Texas at Austin, have been awarded Goldwater Scholarships, the premier undergraduate award of its type in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering.
Colletta is a student in the College of Natural Sciences, and Chen is in the Cockrell School of Engineering.
The scholarships are awarded annually to outstanding second- and third-year college students.
Colletta, a third-year Dean’s Scholars Honors biology major from DeSoto, Texas, has distinguished herself as a student and a researcher in chemistry and biology. Although she came to the university with the intention of being a doctor, Colletta has since developed a passion for research, and hopes to pursue a joint M.D.-Ph.D. degree after graduation.
“Being a physician has been a goal as long as I can remember,” says Colletta, “but I also love research. I want to be able to heal people, and I want to be able to figure out why they’re ill in the first place.”
As a researcher in the lab of “green” chemist Michael Krische, Colletta has worked on developing a process for forming carbon-carbon bonds from alcohols and alkenes that may help minimize toxic waste from industrial processes. She’s also done research in the lab of molecular biologist Paul Macdonald, has participated in the college’s Public Health Internship Program and has been a teaching assistant in chemistry courses taught by David Laude, associate dean for undergraduate education.
“Miranda tackles problems with relentless intensity, paying careful attention to details while searching for deeper levels of meaning,” says biology Professor Marty Shankland, who taught Colletta in a year-long honors biology course. “She always seems to be looking for patterns behind the data at hand, trying to synthesize a higher level of understanding. From the standpoint of a teacher, it was a delight to watch her bootstrap her way up from first principles to reach sophisticated — and almost always correct — answers to the problems that were posed.”
Chen, a senior in chemical engineering from Albuquerque, has balanced her classroom work with extensive research experiences. During the school year she conducted research in the labs of Professors Benny Freeman and Nicholas Peppas. She has also spent summers working at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. Her research has ranged from studying polymer membranes used for food packaging to fabricating polymer hydrogels for drug delivery to determine their mucoadhesive properties.
“My father and mother emigrated from China to the United States 30 years ago, and through hard work, became a chemical engineer and chemist, respectively,” says Chen. “Consequently, I have been surrounded by science and engineering all my life. Growing up in this environment has taught me diligence and persistence and has helped motivate me to pursue a career in research.”
The 278 Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from 1,111 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law in 1986. The scholarship program honoring Sen. Barry M. Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.