Three undergrads named Goldwater Scholars

University of Oregon undergraduate students Amy Atwater, Opher Kornfeld and Brianna McHorse have been named Goldwater scholars for the 2012–2013 academic year, winning the nation’s premier undergraduate scholarship award for the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.

<--break->The students are among 282 scholarship winners selected for academic merit from a field of 1,123 students nominated by colleges and universities nationwide.

The scholarship program honoring Senator Barry M. Goldwater encourages outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per year.

All three are majoring in science departments within the College of Arts and Sciences: McHorse, a senior who intends to continue study for a fifth year, is majoring in biology; Atwater, a junior, is pursuing a double-major in geology and biology; and Kornfeld, a junior, is majoring in biochemistry.  The three students are also members of the Robert D. Clark Honors College, a highly competitive program within the larger research university, whose students interact closely with faculty in small class settings.

“For us, as scientists, it shows we can communicate our research in a way that’s exciting for other people,” said McHorse, a graduate of Sheldon High School in Eugene whose work focuses on the relationship between performance and physical shape in horses that compete in equestrian trials.

Kornfeld, whose research on cancer focuses on an enzyme called RNA polymerase and its role in abnormal cell growth, credited the university for creating an environment in which talented faculty help ambitious undergraduate students with their research.

“Being able, as a freshman, to go to faculty and say, ‘your work sounds fascinating,’ and for faculty to be so responsive to you, is a great opportunity,” said Kornfeld, who graduated from Oregon Episcopal School in Portland.

Atwater, a graduate of Churchill High School in Eugene who studies fossil records to gain insight into modern-day conservation efforts, said the Goldwater scholarship moves her closer to her goal of becoming an outreach-oriented scientist.

“It’s my goal as a scientist to make science fun and get others excited about it as well,” Atwater said. “(The Goldwater scholarship) opens a lot of doors with possibilities for careers and graduate schools.”

The awards to Kornfeld, Atwater and McHorse keep the university on pace with leading institutions nationwide including Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Michigan and University of California-Berkeley, each of which had two students recognized this year. The scholarships also raised to 19 the number of UO students who have received Goldwater awards since the program began in 1989.

Matt Cooper