Goldwater Scholar Profiles: UMass Commonwealth Honors College

Editor’s Note:  This is another in a series of profiles of 2014 winners of Goldwater Scholarships who are students at public university honors colleges or programs.

Three Commonwealth Honors College students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have received scholarships for work in the natural sciences and engineering as part of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program. Another received an honorable mention.

According to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology and Director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement (ONSA) at the Commonwealth Honors College, “each participating campus can nominate up to four applicants, so we were particularly pleased that three of our UMass students won, and the fourth was recognized with Honorable Mention. This is a tribute to the great research being carried out by our faculty, and their dedication to advising and mentoring undergraduates in their labs.”  Working with Professor Whitbourne is Dr. Howard Schultz, a Lecturer in the Honors College, who assisted in recruiting applicants and advising those who were nominated on their final applications.

The winners are Alyson Warr, a junior majoring in microbiology from Freetown, MA; Stefan (Marco) Eres, a junior chemistry major from Knoxville, TN; and Marianne Sleiman, a junior chemical engineering major from Greenville, R.I. John Manteiga, a junior from North Andover, MA, pursuing majors in microbiology and biochemistry and molecular biology received honorable mention.

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry Goldwater for his service as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years in the U.S. Senate.

Goldwater scholarships are intended to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. Each competing university nominated its top four students, who were then evaluated by the national Goldwater Scholarship selection committee. From a field of 1,166 mathematics, science and engineering students nominated by colleges and universities, 283 received scholarships and 247 received honorable mentions. The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

Alyson Warr has worked in the laboratory of microbiology professor Steven Sandler since 2012, and has studied cell division, recombination and repair in Escherchia coli bacteria. She is currently working on a project to identify genes that contribute to a novel cell division phenotype in response to stress conditions.

“With the age of antibiotics drawing to a close, the need for innovative drug targets and novel therapies to control bacterial growth is urgent,” said Warr. “I am committed to contributing to this development by elucidating the mechanistic details of cell division.”

Warr plans to pursue a Ph.D. in microbiology. After graduate school, she hopes to conduct research at a major university with a focus on developing novel drug therapies to control the spread of antibiotic resistant pathogens.

Marco Eres has worked with chemistry professor Dhandapani Venkataraman since 2011 studying organic photovoltaic cells and pursuing a new approach to fabricate semiconducting inks and methods to print photovoltaic cells. The lab is developing nanoscale components in the inks that will self-assemble into structures necessary for the production of solar cells.

Eres said, “I am motivated to pursue this project because it enables me to contribute to the shift in the chemical research community from the study of the relationship of atoms through strong covalent bonds to the study of the relationship of molecules through weaker, non-covalent attractions, a field known as supramolecular chemistry. I aim to use the knowledge I gain in this project to design new functional materials for applications in organic photovoltaics and sensing.”

Eres plans to pursue a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering, specializing in supramolecular chemistry. His career plan is to lead a materials science research team in academia or industry.

Marianne Sleiman works with chemical engineering professor Shelly Peyton to study methods for using biomaterial systems to quantify how cancer cells respond to drugs when they are placed in environments that mimic a natural in vivo environment. In particular, they are interested in determining the relationship between tumor stiffening and the efficacy of a variety of underperforming chemotherapeutics.

“I am motivated to continue this leading research by using my knowledge to find a novel method to facilitate therapeutics during the drug screening process,” said Sleiman. “This research will help identify how mechanical and chemical changes in the ECM affect tumor growth and drug resistance, which will improve therapeutic methods, thus furthering cancer drug research.”

After graduation Sleiman will pursue a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and hopes to lead a research team that will focus on understanding carcinomas and finding novel therapies to impede the development of tumors.

John Manteiga has worked with microbiology professor John Lopes since 2012 to study the proteins responsible for the regulation of gene expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast.             

“Understanding how proteins work and interact with one another is an essential step on the path toward curing cancer and many other genetic diseases.” Manteiga intends to earn a Ph.D. and then pursue work in biotechnology, genetic diseases, or pharmaceuticals in an industrial research setting.

According to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement at Commonwealth Honors College, each nominee was required to submit an application, an essay describing academic and career plans, a research proposal, and three letters of reference.