Honors Programs+STEM Majors=Goldwater Scholars

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts on the value of Goldwater scholarships for undergraduates.  Future posts will include profiles of honors students from many universities, all of whom earned Goldwater scholarships in 2014.

Our interest in Goldwater scholars “stems,” so to speak, from the conviction that public university honors students who win the awards affirm that their typically large institutions can nevertheless provide excellent, individualized instruction and research opportunities for undergraduates, while serving the national need for outstanding STEM graduates.

Goldwater scholars earn a $7,500 scholarship to help them complete their undergraduate education.  The Goldwater award is undoubtedly the most prestigious undergraduate award.  Public university students earned more than half of the 281 awards in 2014.  Many Goldwater Scholars go on to earn Rhodes, Marshall, Gates Cambridge, Churchill, or Truman awards when they graduate.  Those and others also compete strongly for National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research fellowships to further their studies for advanced degrees.

Our view that public honors colleges and programs enjoy a significant relationship with Goldwater achievement is based on our analysis of Goldwater winners who attend one of the public universities we have reviewed, or will review in a new book to be published later this year.

A total of 90 students from these universities won Goldwater scholarships in 2014, and 71 of those students (79%) were in honors colleges or programs.  What is remarkable about this is that some STEM students, especially those in engineering, might be tempted to shy away from honors programs because the basic requirements of their majors are so rigorous to begin with.  But, increasingly, honors colleges and programs are emphasizing undergraduate research and mentoring that can give honors students more access to top researchers.

Notably, scholars from nineteen universities with multiple winners were all honors students: Alabama, ASU, Clemson, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa State, LSU, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, South Carolina, U at Buffalo, and Vermont.  Delaware, NC State, and Oklahoma each had two winners, with three total apiece.