Goldwater Scholars

Mercer has produced six Goldwater Scholars over the past five years, an unusual accomplishment for an institution with Mercer's size of undergraduate student body.

The one- and two-year scholarships, awarded to undergraduate sophomores and juniors, cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. Goldwater Scholars have very impressive academic qualifications that have garnered the attention of prestigious postgraduate fellowship programs. Recent Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 89 Rhodes Scholarships, 127 Marshall Awards, 145 Churchill Scholarships and numerous other distinguished fellowships, such as the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships.

Aaron FeatherstonAaron Featherston, a 2014 graduate from Byron, received a 2012-2013 scholarship based on academic merit from a field of 1,107 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.

Featherston, a biochemistry and molecular biology major, worked in the lab of Dr. David Goode, associate professor of chemistry, on the synthesis of a natural product isolated from a sea sponge that may one day serve as the basis for a new class of antibiotics. He was accepted into a Ph.D. program at Yale University.

Kirsten BrownKirsten Brown, a 2016 graduate from Tallahassee, Florida, received a 2013-2014 scholarship based on academic merit from a field of 1,166 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.

Brown, a chemistry and computational science double-major, worked in the lab of Dr. Garland Crawford, assistant professor of chemistry, to investigate a hexosaminidase enzyme known as OGA. She brought a unique computational approach to the research as she attempted to determine how computers might be used to predict alterations to the enzyme that may increase or decrease interactions between a target and that particular enzyme. She was accepted into a Ph.D. program at Emory University.

Kayden OrcuttKaydren Orcutt, a senior from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, received a 2014-2015 scholarship based on academic merit from a field of 1,206 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.

Orcutt, who is majoring in chemistry and Spanish, works in the lab of Dr. Kathryn Kloepper, where she utilizes analytical chemistry to investigate better ways to clean up oil spills. Specifically, this research pertains to biosurfactants, which are naturally produced, soap-like molecules that enable water and oils to mix. She was accepted into a Ph.D. program at the University of California-Berkeley. 

Zechariah RiceZechariah Rice, a junior from Newberry, Florida, received a 2015-2016 scholarship based on academic merit from a field of 1,150 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.

Rice, who is majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in Christianity and computer science, works in the lab of Dr. Makhin Thitsa, where he has derived the nonlinear feedback control law for controlling a passively Q-switched pulsed laser system. Rice plans to obtain a Ph.D. in electrical engineering with a focus in non-linear controls, and to conduct research and teach at the university level.

Kyla SemmendingerKyla Semmendinger, a junior from Bremen, and Runyu Cai, a sophomore from Macon, each received 2016-2017 scholarships based on academic merit from a field of 1,286 mathematics, science and engineering students nominated by the faculties of 470 colleges and universities nationwide. They are the University’s first pair of Goldwater Scholars in a single year.

Semmendinger, who is majoring in environmental engineering with minors in Spanish, chemistry and engineering for development, conducts research in the labs of Dr. Laura Lackey, professor of environmental engineering, and Dr. Michael MacCarthy, assistant professor of environmental engineering. Semmendinger was instrumental in the success of a 2015 Mercer On Mission trip to Kenya that focused on monitoring the efficacy of using biosand filters to treat water for drinking, has been a key member of Mercer’s Engineering for Development Research Team and has conducted research related to low-cost shallow geothermal heating and cooling systems for households in Central Georgia. She plans to obtain a Ph.D. in environmental engineering with a research focus in the relationship between hydrology and forestry, specifically in developing nations.

Runyu CaiCai, who is double-majoring in electrical engineering and physics and is originally from Weihai, Shandong, China, has made significant contributions to the lab of Dr. Makhin Thitsa, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, including devising a method to apply nonlinear control to modulate 550-nanometer laser emission, which is the key wavelength of interest for underwater communication without frequency chirping, and developing a method to eliminate crosstalk in semiconductor optical amplifiers using nonlinear state feedback control. He plans to obtain doctoral degrees in both electrical engineering and physics, teach at the university level and conduct research in nonlinear control and theoretical physics. 

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law 99-661 on Nov. 14, 1986. The scholarship program, honoring Sen. Barry Goldwater, was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering, and is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields. Since its first award in 1989, the Foundation has bestowed 7,921 scholarships worth approximately $63 million.