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Three female UB science students win competitive Barry Goldwater Scholarship

Four UB students nominated for 'Holy Grail' of scholarships

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Since UB began nominating students for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, which was created in 1986, only a handful of women have won.

This year, three UB students – all women – received the scholarship, and a fourth male student received an honorable mention.

“Not many women have won [the Goldwater Scholarship],” said Elizabeth Colucci, UB’s coordinator of nationally competitive fellowships and scholarships. “So this was big, to actually have three people win, all women, and then the fourth for an honorable mention – that’s the best we’ve ever done.”

Juniors Stephanie Kong, Sharon Lin and Kristina Monakhova received the Goldwater Scholarship this year, and Dante Iozzo, a junior dual major in physics and mathematics, received an honorable mention.

The scholarship, presented yearly to college juniors and seniors by The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program, is meant “to foster and encourage excellence in science and mathematics by [covering the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year for] highly qualified individuals [in] those fields of academic study and research,” according to its website.

Many students in the sciences and mathematics refer to it as the “Holy Grail” of scholarships. The elusiveness of the scholarship, rather than being unaware of it, is why it never occurred to Kong to apply.

“It’s pretty well known among students in the sciences, so I knew that it existed,” Kong said. “I just never thought to apply for it myself because it seemed like something that was very unreachable.”

Kong, a dual major in chemical engineering and Spanish, said she no idea she would win the Goldwater Scholarship before this year. Colucci, who was previously Lin’s honors adviser, encouraged her to apply.

“A year ago I would not have imagined being called a Goldwater Scholar,” Lin, a chemical engineering major, said. “It’s still really weird to me now, people will mention it and it just doesn’t feel real.”

Lin said she still couldn’t believe she won.

Monakhova, an electrical engineering major, said it was always her dream to be a Goldwater Scholar.

“The Goldwater Scholarship is one of the most competitive fellowships that an undergraduate student in STEM can obtain. It’s been a goal of mine since I first heard about it freshman year,” Monakhova said.

Up to 300 scholarships can be awarded each year according to the scholarship website. But as was the case this year, that doesn’t mean there will be 300 winners.

Out of the 1,206 scholarship applicants this year, only 260 scholarships were awarded. Only 68 of these scholarship winners were engineering majors.

This was a standout year for UB, according to Colucci. Each year students apply to UB for a nomination for the national scholarship, out of which only four can be picked. This year out of the four nominated, there were three winners – Kong, Lin and Monakhova. The fourth nomination – Iozzo – received an honorable mention.

Part of making this year so memorable at UB for the Goldwater scholarship was the fact that all three winners were women.

Women as a whole are greatly underrepresented in STEM fields. According to the 2009 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, while women and men hold an almost equal amount of all U.S. jobs, men hold 76 percent of STEM jobs, compared to the 24 percent held by women. This statistic has remained consistent since 2000, even as the percentage of college educated women in the workforce has gone from 46 percent to 49 percent.

Lin appreciates how special it is to have three women Goldwater winners.

“It’s nice to see that people underrepresented in STEM fields are being recognized,” she said.

UB prides itself in encouraging women and minorities to pursue studies and future careers in STEM fields, according to Lin. She said she has experienced this pride firsthand. Although she is excited that three women were recognized this year, she said UB’s encouragement of those underrepresented in STEM fields is mostly evidenced by treating all students the same, regardless of gender.

“I don’t feel any different from the guys,” Lin said. “Even though I’m a woman and I’m underrepresented, I don’t feel like I am. Everyone’s encouraging and works together.”

The three women engineering majors said the encouragement they feel doesn’t come from special treatment, but a feeling of equality across the board.

Monakhova said her success has not been influenced by her gender.

Kong said that’s the way it should be.

“I never felt pushed into [engineering] or pushed out of [engineering] and I think that’s the best situation to have,” Kong said. “If you’re entering the program and you’re a woman, they shouldn’t just want you because you’re a woman – they should want you because you want to be an engineer, regardless of your gender.”

Kong wants people, and especially engineering majors, to not be afraid to reach for their goals.

Regardless of gender, age, race or anything, Lin said you should never be afraid to make steps to get what you want and achieve your goals.

“If I could tell people one thing it would be to pursue what you want even though it may seem impossible because you never know what could happen,” Lin said.

After finishing up her undergraduate degree at UB, Lin plans to attend graduate school and hopes to do so at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Kong will be spending the fall 2015 semester studying abroad in Spain and plans to attend graduate school– hopefully at one of the top-20 research institutes in the country.

Monakhova is currently backpacking through Europe, but plans to get her Ph.D. and continue to pursue research after graduating from UB. Above anything else, Monakhova said she just wants to have a “lasting positive impact on society.”

Sophia McKeone is a staff writer and can be reached at features@ubspectrum.com


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