Mercer boasts three engineering Goldwater Scholars for third consecutive year

Mercer University’s School of Engineering earlier today continued a run of unprecedented success with the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. For the third consecutive year, three students were announced as recipients of the nation’s most prestigious scholarship for undergraduates in science, mathematics and engineering.

Mercer leads 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 are 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 bring 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 those Scholars who reported, 198 are men, 207 are women and virtually all intend to obtain a Ph.D. as their highest degree objective. Fifty-one Scholars are mathematics and computer science majors, 291 are majoring in the natural sciences, and 68 are majoring in engineering.

The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

“The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier program for recognizing America’s best young scientists and engineers. Applicants undergo a rigorous application process during which they must highlight their knowledge of their own research area and demonstrate their commitment to pursuing a career in research,” said Dr. Adam Kiefer, Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry and Goldwater Scholarship faculty representative at Mercer. “This award is not only a testament to these students’ hard work, intelligence and determination, but also recognizes their potential as future researchers.”

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.

“It is such an honor to be named a Goldwater Scholar, and I am so thankful,” said Binet. “I would not have received this award without the work of Dr. Michael MacCarthy and Ms. Monica Resto-Fernandez, who both helped me grow in my research since my first year at Mercer. I am proud to be a part of such a long history of excellence, and I look forward to seeing where this opportunity takes me in my research.”

Binet conducts research in the lab of Dr. 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.

“Sara is very deserving of this honor, having excelled in environmental engineering research and service, as well as being an outstanding student in the classroom,” said Dr. MacCarthy. “She has contributed significantly toward both groundwater research and education at Mercer over the past two years. Since participating in the Mercer On Mission program in the Dominican Republic following her freshman year, Sara has helped advance research focused on improving access to safe water in underserved communities. Her contributions have been impressive and continue to grow in her role as a research assistant with Mercer’s newly founded 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.

“I am extremely thankful and proud of myself for receiving this prestigious award,” said Smith. “I have always wanted to serve as an inspiration for Black women and young Black girls, and I am grateful that they can see people who look like them achieving great things and be inspired. I also want to give a special thanks to Dr. Makhin Thitsa for working as my mentor and continuing to push me to strive for excellence.”

Smith conducts research in the lab of Dr. Thitsa, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, to develop robust data-driven system identification for traffic flow networks.

“It has been a pleasure to mentor Ebonye in my research lab, where she investigates data-driven control algorithms for transportation networks and unmanned vehicles,” said Dr. Thitsa. “Her work demonstrates proficiency in advanced numerical analysis, programming skills and out-of-the box thinking at an extraordinary level for an undergraduate student. I am absolutely confident in Ebonye’s ability to successfully conduct challenging research projects and her potential as a future research scholar.”

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.

“I am so incredibly honored to be receiving this award. It is truly a dream come true,” said Spalding. “I could not have achieved this without the help of my mentors, including Dr. Sinjae Hyun, Dr. Joanna Thomas and Dr. Lee Troupe. I am so blessed to have such an amazing support system.”

Spalding conducts research in the lab of Dr. 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.

“Sarah’s dedication and sense of social responsibility are core to the service-learning projects she has chosen to participate in,” said Dr. Hyun. “The Mercer On Mission Korea program and Touch3D Yearbook projects for the Georgia Academy for the Blind are only a couple examples of her potential to become a future engineering leader. She has conducted research in my Inhalation Experiments Laboratory since her freshman year, and during this pandemic, she has dedicated her time to studying the efficacy of face masks and leading a group of undergraduate students in the lab. Her contributions to inhalation aerosol research have been honored by several researchers and engineers at professional conferences.”

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.

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 research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics. The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

Written by: Kyle Sears, Mercer University
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Founded in 1978, the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) focuses on providing high-quality and collaborative undergraduate research, scholarly, and creative activity. Among the many activities and networking opportunities that CUR provides, the organization also offers support for the professional growth of faculty and administrators through expert-designed institutes, conferences, and a wide-range of volunteer positions. The CUR community, made up of nearly 700 institutions and 13,000 individuals, continues to provide a platform for discussion and other resources related to mentoring, connecting, and creating relationships centered around undergraduate research. CUR’s advocacy efforts are also a large portion of its work as they strive to strengthen support for undergraduate research. Its continued growth in connections with representatives, private foundations, government agencies, and campuses world-wide provides value to its members and gives voice to undergraduate research. CUR is committed to inclusivity and diversity in all of its activities and our community.

CUR focuses on giving a voice to undergraduate research with learning through doing. It provides connections to a multitude of campuses and government agencies, all while promoting networking and professional growth to its community.