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Four TAMS students named 2019 Goldwater Scholars

UNT faculty mentors make undergraduate research a priority

Four students from the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS) at the University of North Texas have been named 2019 Goldwater Scholars. UNT leads Texas universities in the number of Goldwater Scholars in math, science and engineering, with a total of 64 scholars named since 1996. This year, no other university in the state of Texas — public or private — had four scholars.

TAMS is the nation's first accelerated residential program for gifted students who have completed their sophomore year of high school. They then come to UNT to start their first two years of college, far earlier than their peers do.

Glênisson de Oliveira, Ellen Qian, Jonathan Lu, William Acree, Rishi Shridharan, David Yue, James Duban

Four TAMS students were named 2019 Goldwater Scholars.
From left: Glênisson de Oliveira (dean of TAMS and UNT’s Honor College), Ellen Qian, Jonathan Lu, William Acree (chemistry professor), Rishi Shridharan, David Yue, James Duban (associate dean for research and national scholarships, TAMS and Honors College)

“As a Tier One research university, UNT takes undergraduate education very seriously. Hands-on opportunities for research are very important,” says Glênisson de Oliveira, dean of TAMS and UNT’s Honor College. “TAMS students certainly learn science or engineering at a much deeper level, and they learn so much more, including leadership, organization and communication skills. They also improve their writing and their ability to deliver verbal presentations.”

2019 Goldwater Scholars:

  • Jonathan Lu conducted research on laser-aided surface treatment of magnesium-based alloys for biomedical applications in the laboratory of Narendra Dahotre, interim vice president for research and innovation at UNT. Additionally, in the lab of chemistry professor William Acree, Lu studied models of organic chemicals and their thermodynamic properties. He was one of TAMS’ first Early-Research Scholars, which allowed him to conduct research the summer before joining the TAMS program.
  • Rishi Shridharan, whose research tests a model for the maturation of brain cells, worked in the laboratory of Jannon Fuchs, professor of biological sciences. He has also developed low-cost solutions to combat disease in underserved areas and conducted research with UT-Dallas researcher Faruck Morcos on the use of mobile apps to instruct middle school students about molecular biology. 
  • Ellen Qian helped develop an innovative predictive model for solvent replacement that enabled replacement of harmful solvents with “green” solvents in the laboratory of UNT chemistry professor, William Acree. Qian also worked with Jie Zheng at UT-Dallas on the luminescence emitted by sliver nanoparticles. She also was one of TAMS’ first Early-Research Scholars.
  • David Yue, working under the guidance of John Ferraris at UT-Dallas, made strides toward the creation of a new air-pollution membrane filter for atmospheric purification and gas separation. He earned a second-place award in environmental engineering at the 2018 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his research. He also worked in the UNT laboratories of William Acree and Hong Wang, associate professor of chemistry.

“We are proud of our very creative and capable students, but equally as important, the success we have in undergraduate research is due to the quality of our faculty mentors,” de Oliveira says. 

Mentored by faculty at UNT, TAMS students tackle complex, real-world problems, working on solutions and breakthroughs in fields ranging from health care to energy consumption. TAMS is an important pipeline for STEM education, nurturing the next generation of innovators, and the program is one of the many ways UNT advances science, engineering and technology.

“At UNT, the opportunity for undergraduate research is very important across the disciplines.” de Oliveira says. “Goldwater Scholar awards represent the excellence of some of our students in STEM disciplines, but in the arts, music and social sciences they also have fantastic mentors at UNT.”

UNT encourages students to seek out mentors and experience research-based education with the campus-wide Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, along with TAMS Research Scholarships and Early Research Scholarships, which provide summer research experiences. A recent endowment by the Newman Foundation is helping ensure the future of the Early Summer Research Program, which offers scholarships for accepted TAMS students finishing their sophomore year of high school the rare opportunity to get an early start to a research career.

Three of this year’s Goldwater Scholars from TAMS conducted research in the lab of Acree, professor, associate chair and undergraduate advisor of chemistry. Acree was either the primary or secondary mentor of these students. They weren’t the first Goldwater Scholars Acree has mentored. Each semester, several undergraduate students work alongside the graduate students in his laboratory, and his students often graduate with research being published in multiple scientific journals.

“By encouraging TAMS students and undergraduates to join in the quest of producing new knowledge, Dr. Acree, as well as the other Goldwater mentors, brings out the best in his students and launches them into the world of scholarly publications,” says James Duban, associate dean for research and national scholarships, TAMS and Honors College.

At UNT, Goldwater applicants benefit, as well, from the commitment of members of the Goldwater faculty nominating and mentoring committee, which includes Jannon Fuchs from the Department of Biological Sciences, Sushama Dandekar from the Department of Chemistry, Tom Scharf from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Chris Littler from the Department of Physics and James Duban, committee chair.

Goldwater Scholar awards are considered to be among the country's most prestigious scholarships awarded to students planning careers in mathematics, science and engineering. Scholarships of up to $7,500 a year are provided to help cover costs associated with tuition, fees, books, room and board. Students are chosen on the basis of their scientific research, grade point averages and other achievements. Universities are allowed a maximum of four submissions a year.