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Three FAU Students Recognized as 2024 Goldwater Scholars

A trio of Florida Atlantic University students has been named as 2024 Goldwater Scholars, the third consecutive year FAU students have earned this honor.

A trio of Florida Atlantic University students has been named as 2024 Goldwater Scholars, the third consecutive year FAU students have earned this honor.

A trio of Florida Atlantic University students has been named as 2024 Goldwater Scholars, the third consecutive year FAU students have earned this honor.

Natasha Mayorga, Cristian Pena and Dana Smith have been awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, the most prestigious national research fellowship for undergraduate students. Just 438 college students from across the United States were awarded Goldwater scholarships for the 2024-25 academic year, out of an estimated pool of 1,353 science, engineering and mathematics students nominated by 446 academic institutions.

“We are proud to celebrate Dana, Natasha and Cristian, whose accomplishments bring pride to their faculty mentors and the FAU community,” said Donna Chamely-Wiik, Ph.D., associate dean for undergraduate research and prestigious fellowships, and associate scientist in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry within the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. “This coveted award highlights their exceptional academic and research accomplishments, including all three scholars being published authors by their junior year. FAU students receiving the Goldwater Scholarships three years in a row truly showcases our excellence in undergraduate research, which is now a hallmark of the FAU academic experience.”

Natasha MayorgaMayorga is a junior biochemistry and data analytics major at the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College and is dual-enrolled at FAU High School. Her current research centers around human drug-seeking behavior and its reliance on the association of specific environmental triggers with memories associated with drug use. She has research internship experience at the Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology in Jupiter, and her research mentor is Courtney Miller, Ph.D.

Mayorga’s goal is to earn a Ph.D. in neuroengineering. She intends to explore parallels between electrical and neural circuitry in the brain-computer interface with a commitment to public engagement in educative scientific programs.

“I am incredibly grateful to join the ranks of the outstanding Goldwater Scholars preceding me,” she said. “This recognition reaffirms my passion for the neuroscience research I’ve been conducting thus far and further encourages me to continue integrating computational analysis into my experience. As part of the Goldwater community, I am more eager than ever to continue on my journey toward a career exploring the brain-computer interface.”

Cristian Pena

Pena is a mechanical engineering major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and is dual-enrolled at FAU High. His research mentor is Mike Kim, Ph.D., and he works in the mechanical and ocean engineering department as an undergraduate research assistant. This summer, he will be studying at Columbia University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program, a 10-week collaboration created to foster career exploration at the frontiers of engineering research in New York City.

Pena’s goal is to earn a Ph.D. in computational fluid dynamics, and to conduct research in aerospace applications and contribute to advancements in aerospace technology at a national laboratory.

“Words cannot describe how grateful I am for this honor,” he said. “This award not only recognizes my past endeavors but also emboldens my commitment to pushing the boundaries of exploration and technology. Right now, I’m working on some really cool research focusing on how we can capture CO₂ using seawater. It’s fascinating stuff that I believe can make a big difference in environmental engineering and beyond.”

Dana SmithSmith is a junior civil engineering major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and also serves as an undergraduate researcher. Her experience began with the National Science Foundation’s Freshman-Learning Environment and Academic Research Network program, where she met her research mentor, Jinwoo Jang, Ph.D. She also worked as a research intern at the Wall of Wind at Florida International University, and currently is operating as the streetscape lead for an ongoing FAU research project titled, “Artificial Intelligence and Sensing for Smart Cities,” as a part of the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Research Center for Smart Streetscapes.

Smith’s goal is to earn a Ph.D. in civil engineering and become a leading researcher specializing in data-driven structural health monitoring and smart cities.

“I am beyond thrilled to receive such a prestigious award and honored to be recognized as a Goldwater Scholar,” she said. “I am just so thankful that I was able to make my family, friends, mentors, and school proud in such an extraordinary way.”

The three awardees applied for the Goldwater Scholarship with assistance from FAU’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry and Prestigious Fellowships. Mayorga, Pena and Smith join previous FAU honorees David Baldwin and Michael Green (2023), and Kate Maier and Samantha Zaninelli (2022) in earning this prestigious accolade.

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency. The scholarship program honoring U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics. The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields.


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