Two outstanding undergrads earn Goldwater Scholarships

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Undergraduate students Mary (Tess) Overton and Nemah-Allah Saleh have received Goldwater Scholarships, as only the second and third students at the University ever to receive this award. The scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.

Saleh, a Biology Honors student, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology and is a biotechnology minor and chemistry minor. Overton, a Crown Scholar and University Honors Program student, is pursuing bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry.

“Tess and Nemah are ideal choices for these very prestigious national scholarships,” said Nancy Gutierrez, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. “Both are excellent scholars who have embraced interdisciplinary research. Through their work with an array of mentors, they are already contributing in a meaningful way to the intellectual life of our college, the University and the broader community.”

Saleh intends to pursue her Ph.D. in biochemistry or molecular biology. “After obtaining my Ph.D., I intend to conduct research in a university laboratory while teaching or in a government laboratory, such as at the NIH (National Institutes of Health), on the central compound necessary for life: the protein,” Saleh wrote in her scholarship materials.

Her rigorous coursework at UNC Charlotte has prepared her for research settings, building skills such as patience, resiliency and versatility, she said. “Research projects in X-ray crystallography, electrical conduction of single crystals and electron transfer in nanostructures have all helped my development as a confident, self-assured laboratory scientist,” she said.

Overton plans to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology to prepare her for a career in government research. She first began research the summer after her high school junior year at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. She did research in a lab at Duke University, followed by an internship at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

“Because of my early exposure to research in professional settings, I began working with Dr. Shan Yan my first semester of college,” Overton wrote in her scholarship materials. “The Yan lab at UNC Charlotte studies DNA damage response and repair (DDR), a multipath processes that responds to endogenous or exogenous damage to DNA.” From her early internships to her work in the Yan lab, she has realized that research is her passion, she said.

While both scholars have worked with several mentors, Overton considers Yan her primary mentor, and Saleh names Michael Walter and Daniel Jones as her primary mentors.  The students also worked closely with the Honors College Campus Endorsement Committee, chaired by Honors College Executive Director Malin Pereira, and Karen James, associate director for scholars advising, who works closely with all students applying for competitive scholarships.

The 240 Goldwater Scholars were selected based on academic merit from a field of 1,286 natural sciences, mathematics and engineering students from among 2,000 colleges and universities nationwide. Each applicant had to receive their university’s endorsement through an internal competitive process before entering the national competition.

Goldwater Scholars have very impressive academic qualifications that have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs. Recent Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 89 Rhodes Scholarships, 127 Marshall Awards, 145 Churchill Scholarships, 96 Hertz Fellowships and numerous other distinguished awards like the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

The scholarships will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.  The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law 99-661 on Nov. 14, 1986, honoring Sen. Barry Goldwater. Since its first award in 1989, the Foundation has bestowed 7,921 scholarships worth approximately $63 million.