Yale News

Four Yale College students have been named Goldwater Scholars, joining this year’s cohort of 410 winners from across the country.

The Goldwater Scholarship — a living memorial honoring the work of former Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona — is a prestigious award that seeks to identify and support college sophomores and juniors who show “exceptional promise” for a distinguished research career in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics. The lengthy application process, which begins in September each year, includes a research essay, three letters of recommendation and an internal review process through which each university may nominate four students to compete for the scholarship. 

This year, a total of 1,256 students from 438 institutions were nominated by their universities for the award, selected from an estimated initial pool of over 5,000 applicants. All four of Yale’s nominees — Daniel Chabeda ’22, Megan He ’22, Ronald Hood ’22 and Sarah Zhao ’22 — won the scholarship. Goldwater Scholars receive up to $7,500 annually until graduation.

“I checked my email and it said ‘Congratulations,’ and I kind of, you know, was a bit in shock for like the next couple of hours,” He said. “It was this long, drawn-out process, so I was just really relieved and very happy.”

He, who is double majoring in environmental engineering and global affairs, conducts research with associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering and the environment Drew Gentner on the emissions and behavior of atmospheric gas phase organic compounds. Although He did not have research experience prior to arriving at Yale, she felt immediately welcomed by Gentner and the other lab members and expressed her gratitude for their support.

She added that the application process itself was a good opportunity to reflect on her research experiences and think about her future plans.

Chabeda, a chemistry major, has been fascinated by the natural sciences ever since his days of building with Legos and performing baking soda and vinegar experiments with his older brother. At Yale, Chabeda researches carbon-neutral fuel production and storage with professor of chemistry Victor Batista.

“I’m a Christian, and when I see the intricacy, and, you know, the complexity and the beauty of the natural world, I see it in a very wondrous way,” Chabeda said. “The world is full of unnecessary beauty in so many ways — God-hidden mysteries that we get to uncover like treasures, and so science is one of the ways in which I dig.”

Like He, Chabeda expressed his appreciation for all the support he has received from his professors, lab mentors, family and friends. He added that his teachers “all the way back [to] elementary school” have made a large impact on his life.

Hood, who is majoring in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, conducts research on protein-protein electron transfer and dissimilatory metal reduction in electrogenic bacteria.

“I was unsure of what I wanted to study until taking a first year seminar taught by Dean Sandy Chang called Molecular Medicine,” Hood wrote in an email to the News. “Specifically, I decided to study MB&B after Dean Chang introduced us to Linus Pauling’s research on the molecular origins of sickle-cell anemia.”

Hood wrote to the News that he ultimately hopes to pursue research projects such as terraforming Mars and advancing Earth to a Type I civilization on the Kardashev scale, which would indicate the ability to use and store all available energy on the planet.

He added that he is excited to have the opportunity to network with other Goldwater Scholars from across the country and learn about their research interests.

Zhao echoed Hood’s comments in an email to the News.

“Being a 2021 Goldwater Scholar is such an honor, and, to me, it’s really a culmination of the wonderful support from my mentors and teachers,” Zhao wrote. “It’s also a great opportunity to meet others from all over the nation who are doing very cool research and are interested in research-related careers.”

Zhao, a statistics and data science major, enjoys solving real-world problems through an interdisciplinary lens, combining her interests in statistics, math, computer science and physics. She currently researches statistics theory and optimization, with applications in the structural recovery problem in cryogenic electron microscopy.

Like He, Zhao found the scholarship application process to be a “nice way to reflect on [her] passions and interests in teaching and research.”

All four Goldwater Scholars intend to pursue a doctorate in their respective fields.

“Research is a slow journey — you have to really dig for answers,” He said. “And so I think that whole methodology and kind of the unearthing of new information has always intrigued me, and I’m really drawn to [the] dedication of the research process. It’s something I like doing, and I plan to keep doing it.”

The Goldwater Scholarship was established by Congress in 1986.

Zhemin Shao | zhemin.shao@yale.edu

Zhemin Shao covers the University's endowment, finances and donations. He previously covered the Office of Career Strategy. Originally from Seattle, WA, he is a sophomore in Silliman College.