Four Montana State University students — everyone nominated from the university this year — learned Friday that they had won the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.
Alissa Bleem from Fort Collins, Colo., Natasha Pettinger from Laramie, Wyo., Brian Redman from Crane, Mont., and Matt Sherick from Hudson, Wis., each received the nation’s premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences and engineering.
MSU has now received 58 Goldwater Scholarships, keeping the university one of the nation’s top institutions for numbers of recipients. The scholarship gives each student up to $7,500 a year for tuition, fees, books, and room and board.
“It’s an extraordinary and historic accomplishment for our university and our students,” said Ilse-Mari Lee, director of the MSU Honors Program.
A university is only allowed to nominate four students per year, so the fact that all four nominees were selected is a tremendous achievement that recognizes the accomplishments of highly motivated students, Lee said.
All four recipients are juniors and University Honors Program students who conduct research, Lee said. Bleem is majoring in chemical engineering. Pettinger is majoring in biochemistry, chemistry and German. Redman is majoring in electrical engineering. Sherick is majoring in chemical engineering and bioengineering.
They are also well-rounded individuals, Lee said. Bleem, for one, is an athlete and violinist. Pettinger is a concert pianist. Redman develops state-of-the-art instruments and enjoys taking apart tractors with his father and grandfather. Sherick is an MSU AdvoCat and College of Engineering ambassador.
Bleem said she was sitting down for breakfast at Bozeman’s Cateye Café when she received the stunning text message telling her she’d won.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Her need to see evidence was bred during her time working in professor Ross Carlson’s biochemical engineering lab in MSU’s Center for Biofilm Engineering, Bleem said. With hopes of following a career in research and teaching, Bleem said the Goldwater Scholarship gives a big boost to her aspirations.
“It’s really an honor to be recognized on the same level as these undergrads from across the country who are doing some amazing work,” Bleem said. “Perhaps we’ll end up working together. Who knows what we’ll accomplish?”
Pettinger, who was “kind of in shock” when she found out about her Goldwater, lived in Switzerland at age 15 when her father was working there. The experience gave her a foundation for majoring in German, Pettinger said. She also gained an affinity for research after talking to her adviser, Bern Kohler, as a freshman. She started working in his chemistry laboratory at the end of her freshman year.
“I really liked it,” she said. “It was kind of hard to get into, but after a couple months, I didn’t want to stop.”
Pettinger is now studying water oxidation and plans to attend graduate school. After that, she may conduct research and teach at a university.
If Redman’s wait to hear about a Goldwater Scholarship seemed especially long, that was because he’d already received a Goldwater honorable mention as a sophomore.
“I was pretty happy with that,” Redman said of last year’s achievement.
This, Redman added, is obviously even better: “I’m really happy about it.”
Redman, who has been doing research in infrared cloud imaging in professor Joe Shaw’s lab since he was a freshman, said he is planning for a career in research.
Sherick works in the Magnetic Resonance Microscopy lab under the supervision of Joe Seymour, Sarah Codd and Jennifer Brown. He thanked them — as well as Abigail Richards — for all the support they gave him in the Goldwater nomination process. Researching gels that may someday benefit people with cystic fibrosis and be used in tissue engineering, Sherick said he enjoys research because it allows him to apply what he learns in the classroom.
Although he has strong family ties at MSU, the main reason he came to MSU from Wisconsin was because of the College of Engineering, Sherick said. He added that he couldn’t believe MSU’s success this year with the Goldwaters.
“That’s incredible for us,” he said. “It was a real good Friday.”