Penn State selects four juniors as Goldwater Scholarship nominees

Sean Yoder
February 03, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State recently announced its four candidates for the 2021 Goldwater Scholarship, a highly competitive national award given to undergraduates in the fields of natural science, engineering and mathematics who are interested in a career in research.

Penn State has had numerous Goldwater Scholars in recent years, and in 2019 all four candidates the University put forth eventually earned the award. Two nominees from Penn State earned the award in 2020.

This year’s nominees — all juniors at Penn State — are:

  • Eilene Deng, of State College, Pennsylvania, majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, with a minor in music performance;
  • Peter Forstmeier, of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology;
  • Bryce Katch, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, double majoring in chemical engineering and biochemistry and molecular biology;
  • and Jasmine Arunachalam, of Canton, Michigan, majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology.

Eilene Deng

Deng said she came to Penn State seeking programs that emphasize undergraduate research, and found that through the Schreyer Honors College and Millennium Scholars Program.

During her first year, Deng had her first research experience with the Gilmour Lab under David Gilmour, professor of molecular and cell biology. Deng’s work has focused on studying a phenomenon called promoter-proximal pausing. After her first year, she conducted research at UTHealth McGovern Medical School and this summer intends to conduct research at Rockefeller University.

Photo of Eilene Deng

Eilene Deng

IMAGE: Provided

“My work in the Gilmour Lab has solidified my desire to pursue a career in research,” Deng said. “Designing and troubleshooting my own experiments has given me the confidence to ask interesting scientific questions and to think critically, which are skills that I will continue to develop in graduate school.”

After getting her undergraduate degree, Deng said she hopes to conduct research through a post-baccalaureate program or as a research assistant then enter an M.D./Ph.D. program and work as a physician-scientist in an academic setting.

“It would feel amazing to receive the Goldwater Scholarship!” Deng said. “The award would be a recognition of my hard work during my undergraduate years and a validation of my capabilities as a scientist. I am excited for the opportunities that will be available to me if I receive this award.”

Peter Forstmeier

Forstmeier is currently working on a computational project looking at RNA folding and functional RNAs in the Bevilacqua Lab, a position he’s had since his first year at Penn State, under Philip Bevilacqua, distinguished professor of chemistry and of biochemistry and molecular biology.

“Working in undergraduate research and in Dr. Bevilacqua’s lab specifically has inspired me to pursue a career in scientific research and helped me choose a path through life,” Forstmeier said.

Photo of Peter Forstmeier

Peter Forstmeier

IMAGE: Provided

Forstmeier’s professional goals include pursuing an M.D./Ph.D. degree and one day leading a lab focused on the biochemical mechanisms of human disease.

“Receiving the Goldwater Scholarship would be a huge achievement for me academically and would be a validation and a recognition of all the work and effort I have committed to learning,” he said.

Bryce Katch

Since fall 2019, Katch has worked in the Boal Lab under Amie Boal, associate professor of chemistry and of biochemistry and molecular biology. Katch uses X-ray crystallography to study enzymes that use iron and molecular oxygen to perform chemistry and investigates how specific amino acid substitutions can alter the structure and function of these enzymes.

Katch has also conducted research under Antonios Armau, professor of chemical and of mechanical engineering. This project applied principles of mathematical modeling and control theory to assess how mobility can impact the spread of COVID-19, Katch said.

“My involvement in undergraduate research has encouraged me to pursue a research-focused career,” Katch said. “I had never stepped foot in a research lab prior to my involvement in Dr. Boal's group, but soon after getting started on my project, I began to strongly consider the possibility of a career in research.”

Katch said he will pursue a doctorate in bioengineering, then hopefully work at a biomedical research institution where he can examine problems at the biochemical level.

“I would be honored to be selected as a Goldwater Scholar,” he said. “The award would not only recognize my work but also the efforts of my mentors — Dr. Amie Boal, Pedro Rivera Pomales, and Dr. Antonios Armaou — who have inspired my commitment to research.”

Jasmine Arunachalam

Arunachalam conducts research at the Keiler Lab at Penn State, which works on developing broad-spectrum antibiotics that have a novel target, under the direction of Kenneth Keiler, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. Currently, Arunachalam’s research investigates the impacts of trans-translation (a process found in bacteria) inhibitors on the gut biome.

“My research mentors have cultivated an environment that is conducive to learning about your curiosities,” Arunachalam said. “Prior to conducting research, I assumed a research-based career was a rigid, boring experience. I have come to learn that it is a creative outlet, a way to investigate my questions about how the world works.”

Photo of Jasmine Arunachalam

Jasmine Arunachalam

IMAGE: Provided

She said earning the award would be an immense honor.

“As a woman of color in STEM it is easy to feel as if you don’t belong, but such recognition is proof to myself that I am capable of great things.”

Arunachalam said she intends to pursue a doctorate in microbiology in order to continue research at a large, research-based university. She added that she would love to become a professor one day.

About the Goldwater Scholarship

The scholarship, named for statesman Barry Goldwater, is among the most competitive honors in the country for undergraduates in the STEM fields. Each year, 300 students across the U.S. are awarded $7,500 each through the scholarship program. Recipients are typically announced in the last week of March.

Those interested in competing for a Goldwater Scholarship next year should contact Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring to learn more about the scholarship program, verify that they meet the eligibility criteria and begin the application process. Applicants must be U.S citizens, U.S. nationals or permanent residents in their sophomore or junior year and demonstrate an interest in a research career in select STEM fields. Applicants must submit a pre-application form and complete a full application during the fall semester to be considered for University endorsement.

Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring is part of Penn State Office of Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.

Last Updated February 03, 2021