For the second time in UNO history, two students have been nationally recognized as pioneers in the fields of natural science, mathematics, and engineering by earning a prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship Awards.
When UNO’s most recent Goldwater scholarship winners were announced, both sophomore Brandon Villanueva-Sanchez and junior Maia Bennet had to celebrate quietly.
“My lab meeting started at 11, so they were supposed to start the meeting while I got my results. But right before we started the lab meeting, I got an email that said Goldwater 2022,” Villanueva-Sanchez said. “I opened it and read the first line saying ‘congratulations.’ I turned to my mentor, I’m trying not to freak out because there’s like 20 other people in the room, and I’m just like, ‘I got the Goldwater,’ and he gave me a high five.”
Bennett received the news while participating in a panel for the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I was able to celebrate quietly with my mentor about 15 minutes after the Goldwater list was released,” she said.
About the Scholarship
Those who are awarded the scholarship are given up to $7,500 each semester for tuition, fees, books, and room and board for up to two years. It also carries prestige and a network that lasts a lifetime.
To be considered for the scholarship, applicants must excel at their academic and extracurricular activities, and provide a personal essay about what they are doing in their research. The application process can take months and that is even before their work is considered among fellow applications. Earning a scholarship is far from a guarantee.
“We did have some applicants who did not receive an award and that’s always a struggle every year,” Lucy Morrison, Ph. D., director of UNO’s Office of National Scholarship and Fellowships said. “But these students are investing in themselves by doing the application because they will learn about themselves, their career goals, their pathways, and it sometimes helps to narrow that focus. You learn about yourself, and you realize what you’ve already done, and all our applicants had outstanding research experiments already.”
Award-Winning MavericksBrandon Villanueva-Sanchez
In his application, Villanueva-Sanchez, an honors student and Johns Hopkins fellow majoring in neuroscience, detailed a study he is engaged in about the differences between male and female rats in dependency on opioids when exposed to early life stressors such as social isolation. He is the first in his family to pursue a four-year degree and plans to pursue an M.D. or Ph.D. program in the future.
“Brandon is the one leading the charge and he is doing a lot on his own. He is very insightful and he’s always thinking about how methodologies or particular technologies fit into the broader scheme of things, and I think that’s a very rare trait, especially for students at Brandon’s level,” his mentor, Ryan Wong, Ph. D., associate professor of biology, said.
A transfer student from American University who is majoring in bioinformatics, Bennett is an INBRE scholar, is an undergraduate research assistant, and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences. Her application focused on her research on combination immunotherapies that help natural killer (NK) cells kill B cell lymphoma and leukemia cells more effectively, which was done in the Denton Immunobiology Lab.
“Bennett is very much a go-getter, very driven, focused on achieving her career goals, and has a strong work ethic,” her mentor, Paul Denton, Ph. D., assistant professor of biology, said. “I’d describe Bennett as a pioneer in this lab.”
A Better Future
Moving forward, the scholarship will help both recipients in their studies.
“The financial aspect is what’s going to put me through college. Now, I don’t have to see my parents work overtime just to be able to afford the extra costs of me attending university,” Villanueva-Sanchez said. “It’s a big help in every way. Going forward, Goldwater, as a renowned scholarship, can help push me to that next level of the type of researcher that I want to be.”
“The scholarship not only brings prestige to my current work and the Denton Immunobiology Lab as a whole but will support me in applying to various Ph.D. programs over the next year,” Bennett said.
About the Barry Goldwater Scholarship Fund
The Barry Goldwater Scholarship Fund was launched in 1986 and has awarded nearly 9,870 scholarships to students across the country, including 417 in the 2022 competition. The program honors the late Senator Barry Goldwater as a way to encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics.
How to Apply for This Scholarship or Other National Scholarships
Students interested in applying for the Goldwater Scholarship or similar national scholarship opportunities should contact the UNO Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships at UNOonsf@unomaha.edu.
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.