Goldwater scholars highlight Calvin’s commitment to research

Goldwater_Scholars

This year, Calvin has more Goldwater Scholars than Stanford, Princeton or Notre Dame.

Three Calvin students — Abigail Streelman, John Strikwerda, and Nicole Michmerhuizen — received the prestigious award this March.

Congress established the Goldwater Scholarship in 1986 in honor of former United States Senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (1909-1998). The Barry Goldwater Scholarship Foundation awards about 300 scholarships each year to science, mathematics and engineering students across the country. Goldwater Scholars receive $7,500 towards tuition, room and board and books. Competition for the scholarship, considered the premier undergraduate award of its kind, is extremely high.

Scholarship recipient Abigail Streelman described the application process.

“Schools can only nominate four students each year for the scholarship. So each science division department give[s] names of qualified students and from there a committee chooses the four nominees to represent Calvin.”

All four of Calvin’s nominees were recognized this year; three received the Goldwater Scholarship while the fourth, physics major Jake Lampen, received an honorable mention.

Since 2008, 22 of Calvin’s 24 nominees have been recognized: 14 as Goldwater Scholars and another eight as honorable mentions.

Over the last six years, Calvin has had more Goldwater Scholars than any other liberal arts college in the United States. Pomona College in California and Hendrix College in Arkansas tied for second, both with 11 Goldwater Scholars.

Calvin’s success with the scholarship highlights the school’s commitment to undergraduate research.

“Calvin has so many opportunities for students, especially given its smaller size,” Michmerhuizen said. “I think that the professors here do an amazing job of providing students with good research experiences.”

Streelman agreed. “At big schools most of the intensive research is conducted by grad students so there are fewer opportunities for undergrads. Calvin’s science departments have a big focus of giving students that opportunity so that when we leave Calvin we are really prepared…”

This year’s Goldwater Scholars are making the most of Calvin’s research opportunities.

Abigail Streelman, a biology major, is working with Professor John Wertz on new techniques for analyzing bacteria.

“My research is a mix between biology and computer science,” Streelman said.

She is currently writing a computer program that communicates with Calvin’s state-of-the-art $279,000 MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer to analyze large data sets of bacteria.

John Strikwerda, a chemistry major, is working with Professor Roger DeKock to study the atom’s electronic structure.

Nicole Michmerhuizen, a biochemistry and engineering double major, is working with Professor Kumar Sinniah to research diabetes.

Michmerhuizen said, “In my research, I study a region of DNA associated with an individual’s predisposition to developing type 1 diabetes.”

Jake Lampen, who received an honorable mention, is working with physics and astronomy Professor Matt Walhout to research electrical charges and spark formation. His findings could be used to create new water purification techniques.

While Calvin professors have helped this year’s Goldwater Scholars with their research, they have also encouraged them in their faith. “Calvin professors have helped me learn about math, science and engineering, but also about life and faith,” said Michmerhuizen.

Streelman, like the rest of this year’s Goldwater Scholars, has a lot to look forward to in terms of further research at Calvin and in graduate school. But for now, she’s just trying to take it all in.

“I keep getting emails and calls from reporters and writers for local publications which is kind of fun,” Streelman said. “I’m like a really nerdy local star.”

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