May 27, 2016

Goldwater Foundation awards 252 scholarships to STEM undergrads

University of Maryland College Park

The Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation recently announced the awarding of 252 Goldwater Scholarships for the 2016-17 academic year to US undergraduate sophomores and juniors.

And in case you’re not familiar with this program, these scholarships represent the “gold standard” for undergraduate achievement in fields of science, mathematics and engineering. Not only are they the source of significant bragging rights for the various institutions represented among the winners, but they are quite frequently an important stepping stone toward significant financial support for postgraduate education.  PhD programs in STEM areas and important fellowship providers such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and the Hertz Foundation, consider Goldwater awards among the most prestigious of national undergraduate awards for young scientists.

The one- and two-year scholarships are set up to cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500.  They were originally designed to “alleviate a critical current and future shortage of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers.”  In today’s terms, a more realistic statement of purpose would be to provide “a continuing source” of highly qualified individuals to those fields of study and research. While the money isn’t huge, the prestige is enormous and undergrads in STEM fields compete hard for nominations based on their research, internships, and work in relevant industries.

This year’s Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,150 students who were nominated by the institutional representatives of 415 colleges nationwide.  Among these, 144 of the Scholars were men and 108 were women, and virtually all intend to obtain a PhD as their degree objective. Thirty Scholars were math majors, 157 were science and related majors, 59 were majoring in engineering and six were computer science majors.  And for the record, many have dual majors in a variety of mathematics, science, engineering and computer disciplines.

Since its first award in 1989, the Goldwater Foundation has distributed 7,680 scholarships totaling approximately 48 million dollars. And these award-winners go on to do great things. Recent Scholars have been awarded 86 Rhodes Scholarships, 125 Marshall Awards, and 134 Churchill Scholarships, in addition to winning other distinguished national fellowships.

For many prospective Goldwater Scholars, the competition is most intense at the institutional level.  Colleges establish their own nomination criteria and procedures to determine the extent to which individual students have the commitment and potential to make significant contributions to their fields. Students who plan to study medicine are only eligible if they plan a research career rather than a career as a practicing physician.  Four-year institutions may nominate up to four current sophomores or juniors.

For the second consecutive year, the University of Maryland-College Park was a big winner among competing local colleges and universities with four Goldwater Scholars. The College of William and Mary, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County had three each, while Washington and Lee University, Christopher Newport University, James Madison University, Hampden-Sydney College, and Virginia Tech each had one Goldwater Scholar. 

In addition to Maryland, the only other universities receiving the maximum of four Goldwater awards are Cornell University, Stanford University, the University of North Texas, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

From any perspective, an institution’s track record for Goldwater Scholars is a reasonable barometer by which prospective students might measure dedication to undergraduate research in STEM-related fields. For more information and complete lists of scholars going back to 2006, visit the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education website.

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