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Four Montana State University students have been awarded prestigious Goldwater scholarships, the nation’s premier scholarship for undergraduate students who intend to pursue a research career in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.

The 2020 class of scholars announced Friday includes Franklin Alongi from Louisville, Kentucky, Sharidan Brown from Gardiner, Gabrielle Spurzem from Missoula and Mikayla Wood from Mukilteo, Washington. This is the second year in a row that four MSU students were awarded scholarships at once.

“The 2020 Goldwater scholars highlight the opportunities afforded to undergraduate researchers at Montana State University,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “They are shining examples of academic excellence and a testament to our outstanding faculty.”

Since the scholarship’s inception in 1989, 78 MSU students have become Goldwater scholars, making the university one of the top institutions in the country in the number of scholarships awarded. This year, 1,343 students were nominated by 461 academic institutions, and 396 of those students were awarded scholarships. As Goldwater scholars, they will each receive up to $7,500 per year for tuition, books and room and board.

Alongi is a sophomore in the Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology in MSU’s College of Agriculture who came to Montana from Louisville. Now he has various research projects involving the genetics of the high mountain whitebark and limber pine as well as the blister rust that infects the trees.

“Franklin has worked with five different faculty members from three different departments on four different research projects while also performing impactful community service activities and maintaining a very high GPA,” said Sreekala Bajwa, dean of the College of Agriculture. “I congratulate him on winning this prestigious scholarship and being a role model to all our students.”Brown and Spurzem are juniors in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Letters and Science, though each has a distinct area of interest in her research.

“We are delighted that these two exceptional students from our department are being recognized as Goldwater Scholars,” said department head Joan Broderick. “Sharidan’s talent, hard work and dedication have shown in both the classroom and the research lab, where she has determined an important protein structure involved in CRISPR-Cas. Gabby is a creative and relentless problem solver with a genuine desire to understand how chemical systems function and is applying this to study biofilms as related to membranes and lung surfactants. Both of these young women have incredibly bright futures ahead of them.”Brown grew up outside Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner. Her high school science teacher, who had a doctorate in microbiology, and the nature of the microscopic features living in the park’s geothermal features fed her desire to study biochemistry.

“I’ve always been fascinated by these really small complicated things in the world and wanted to know more,” Brown said. “Biochemistry does that best.”Spurzem doesn’t remember a time she didn’t want to become a medical doctor, but her interests have expanded at MSU. Her research focuses on understanding lipids films, which make up the membranes surrounding all cells, and how different organic materials interact with them. She is especially interested in how these interactions affect the human body and now plans on pursuing both research and medicine with a Ph.D. and an M.D.

“Research takes a lot of hard work, but ultimately I love it,” Spurzem said. “I’m hoping that someday I can contribute to the broader global community of medical researchers.”Wood is a junior in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering at MSU.

Wood has been inspired by her teacher parents to continually ask questions about the world around her, and her work with Engineers without Borders in Kenya has led to a desire to pursue innovative solutions when resources are limited. She has combined both motivations with research into microfluidic devices as an inexpensive, portable and customizable way to test for markers of disease and deliver high-quality medical care in underserved areas of the world.

“Mikayla is a versatile researcher who is excited to try bold new strategies for her projects,” said McCalla, Wood’s mentor and an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering. “Her attention to detail and creative thinking allows her to pick up on subtle but important experimental details and drive her projects forward. Ever since I met her, I have been impressed with Mikayla’s aptitude, perseverance, and positive attitude; she is a joy to work with.”Wood plans to pursue a career in academia, focusing on technologies with a positive impact on quality of life. She explained that undergraduate research has provided the opportunity to learn in new ways and better chart a path for the future.

“It has challenged me in a way that I have never been challenged before,” she said.All four of the awardees are students in the Honors College, and Alongi and Wood are also Presidential Scholars at MSU.

“They are most deserving of this honor as hard-working and highly motivated students who inspire all who surround them,” said Ilse-Mari Lee, Dean of the Honors College. “It is also a testament to the dedication and excellence of the faculty at Montana State University, who have selflessly mentored and inspired these students to unimagined heights.”

The awardees each have research funded through the Undergraduate Scholars Program. Alongi and Wood have additional research funding through the office of the Vice President of Research, Economic Development and Graduate Education. Brown’s research is also supported by Montana INBRE.

The Goldwater scholarships honor longtime Arizona senator and 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and were first awarded in 1989. They recognize students’ commitment to research in the natural sciences, engineering and math, their intellectual intensity and their potential for future contributions in their chosen fields.

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