Baylor Undergraduates Named Goldwater Scholars
- Baylor University students Andrew J. Munoz, a senior biology major and transfer student from Seattle, Washington, and Emily Schultz, a junior biology major from Plano, Texas, have been awarded Goldwater Scholarships, a prestigious undergraduate scholarship for STEM students.
- Andrew J. Munoz, a senior biology major and transfer student from Seattle, Washington, is one of two Baylor University students who have been awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholar.
- Emily Schultz, a junior biology major from Plano, Texas, is one of two Baylor University students who have been awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholar.
This year marks the second in a row that two Baylor students have received the prestigious undergraduate award for future STEM researchers
WACO, Texas (April 9, 2020) – Baylor University students Andrew J. Munoz, a senior biology major and transfer student from Seattle, Washington, and Emily Schultz, a junior biology major from Plano, Texas, have been awarded Goldwater Scholarships from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program.
This is the second year in a row that two Baylor students have received the Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious undergraduate scholarships given in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics that encourages outstanding students to pursue careers in STEM fields. The scholarship honors the lifetime work of Sen. Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years in the U.S. Senate.
“We put forward top to bottom the strongest and most competitive students this year that we have ever fielded, including our first transfer student. Supporting transfer students, who can sometimes get lost moving from one institution to another, was a point of emphasis for Goldwater this year,” said Jeffrey S. Olafsen, Ph.D., associate professor of physics and the Baylor Goldwater faculty representative.
“Andrew’s letters of recommendation universally speak of his clear vision for his career path and strong motivations to excel that brought him to Baylor to pursue the research necessary to form a strong foundation for his career. In her letters of reference, Emily’s abilities as well as her strong ethics were lauded – something that I find common in the most successful Baylor students,” Olafsen said.
Munoz transferred to Baylor from George Fox University and spent summers working in the labs of biologists Vincent Hilser, Ph.D., and James Wrabl, Ph.D., at Johns Hopkins University; and Juan Fuxman Bass, Ph.D., at Boston University. As a Baylor student, Munoz began research with Elisabeth G. Vichaya, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience and principal investigator with the Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) Laboratory, which explores the relationship between the brain and the immune system.
“The Goldwater Scholarship will always support my pursuit to become a physician-scientist, and even afterwards when I am a principal investigator within an academic hospital,” Munoz said. “No matter where I am in life, I will look back on this scholarship and be reminded of where I started as a researcher and the time when I was placed on the map with other students across the nation. It’s wonderful to see the culmination of my undergraduate research career be appreciated and rewarded in this very moment.”
Researching cancer-related fatigue, pathological impacts of viruses
Munoz focuses his research on cancer-related fatigue to better understand the molecular, neurological and psychological mechanisms which may play a critical role in these symptoms. He hopes to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. program or an NIH-funded Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) with a research focus on immunology and become a physician-scientist at an academic hospital, leading his own research group as a principal investigator.
“With my medical training, I plan to use my abilities to interact and treat patients to translate this towards my research in cancer immunotherapy, specifically by using the bedside-to-bench method,” he said. “During my time as a physician-scientist, I seek the opportunity to mentor students from all backgrounds to be inspired by research like myself when I was in college.”
During her freshman year, Schultz was involved in a biology research course at Baylor called SEAPHAGES under Tamarah Adair, Ph.D., senior lecturer of biology and director of URSA (Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Achievement), which sparked her interest in virology research and the problems societies face as infectious viruses impact all aspects of life. Today, she conducts research on the pathological impacts of viruses such as Zika, Chikungunya, Dengue and others under Kelli L. Barr, Ph.D., assistant professor of tropical disease and global health biology.
“The Goldwater opens a door to a community of scientists that I can further ask for advice and guidance as I move forward with my goals to attend graduate school for a Ph.D.,” Schultz said. “It also gives me the ability to further stand out as I apply for graduate school and will help propel me towards my goal of conducting research on emerging viral diseases.”
Schultz hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in infectious diseases and viruses, which she could use to work at a university as a professor, at the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Wherever I end up, I want to be in a place that allows me to continue to positively impact the lives of people within but also beyond my own community,” Schultz said. “Working with infectious diseases in a context of global health and One Health will allow me to do this. I want to help people live better lives.”
Getting the good news…while at home
Both Munoz and Schultz received the good news about the Goldwater as recipients would normally – by email or checking the web portal. The only difference this year is that neither was on the Baylor campus but at home, taking Baylor classes that are now online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this fact did not dampen their excitement.
“I was on my laptop in my room completing an assignment for one of my classes when I received an email notification at 11 a.m. on the dot,” Schultz said. “All I read was that it was from Barry Goldwater Scholarship Foundation and that the first word in the email was ‘Congratulations!’ I screamed and ran downstairs as fast as I could to tell my parents, who proceeded to dance and scream in excitement with me. Some of my friends had set reminders on their phones to check the Goldwater website for the released names on Friday, so they were FaceTiming me before I even had the chance to tell them.”
Munoz was sitting at his kitchen table, waiting to hear if he would receive the scholarship. He logged on to the Goldwater portal just in time to see “congratulations” on the screen.
“I immediately screamed, disturbing my dad in his conference call. When he realized why I was being so loud, we both started celebrating, too,” Munoz said.
Baylor research opportunities
Schultz chose Baylor because of the sense of community she experienced when visiting campus, as well as the University’s exceptional science/biology program, smaller classes, direct interaction with professors and the opportunity to work in a research lab, especially as Baylor pursues Tier 1/Research 1 recognition as a top Christian research university. She said her faculty mentor “is unlike any professor or mentor I have ever had.
“From the get-go, Dr. Barr treated me as if I was a graduate student. Never once did she underestimate me, my abilities, or say I couldn’t do something because I am an undergraduate,” Schultz said. “She pushes me to be a better scientist every day, and to be a better human every day. She is constantly teaching me new techniques in the lab and finding opportunities to help me reach my goals. It is because of her that as a junior I have presented at an international research conference and have a first-author publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Without a doubt in my mind, I would not have been selected as a Goldwater Scholar if it were not for Dr. Barr’s mentorship.”
As a transfer student, Munoz chose Baylor because of the University’s size, academic opportunities and the variety of research groups available. His family also recently moved to Houston from Seattle, which influenced his decision to pursue a university in Texas. He found that Baylor’s Christian mission and transfer program helped him feel at home.
“Not only were all my credits graciously accepted, but even though I was a new student so far into my undergraduate career, I still felt blessed by all the opportunities, whether academic or social, that I could participate in,” Munoz said. “Although it was very hard to leave my support system of professors at my old university and come to Baylor to start networking all over again, I am truly happy with the relationships I have made so far.”
Both Munoz and his faculty mentor were new to Baylor and spent most the academic year constructing the PNI lab and planning experiments. Not only was Munoz helping build the lab, but he was planning research projects that would last years.
“Dr. Vichaya introduced me to grant writing and the entire process of starting an experimental group, which is surely a valuable experience to me when I plan to begin my own research as a physician-scientist,” he said “She has also been extremely supportive in allowing me to study whatever interests me within her lab, and she values the interests of her undergraduate researchers immensely.”
Munoz also expressed gratitude to mentors Hilser and Wrabl at Johns Hopkins for showing him the possibilities as a future scientist, Fuxman Bass for introducing him to immunology and the faculties at Baylor for believing in him as a Goldwater Scholar as a transfer student and at George Fox University for pushing him to reach his potential.
Baylor students who seek a rich – even extraordinary – undergraduate education are supported by Baylor’s Office of Engaged Learning, which partners with students, in collaboration with faculty and staff throughout the university, to help them maximize their scholarship beyond the classroom. Students are supported as they apply and compete for prestigious scholarships, fellowships, internships and research experiences at the national and international level, including the Fulbright, Truman, Gates Cambridge, Boren and Rhodes, and for other notable awards, such as the Goldwater, Pickering, Critical Language Scholarship and National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU).
“Students like Andrew and Emily have frequently won major awards like the Goldwater Scholarship, which not only demonstrates the caliber of undergraduates attending Baylor, but their drive to pursue their intellectual curiosities, commitment to help others through their scholarship and the many outstanding research opportunities at Baylor,” said Daniel Benyousky, Ph.D., director of major fellowships and awards in the Office of Engaged Learning. “These awards therefore acknowledge Baylor students’ exceptional work as undergraduates and also prepare them to become leaders in their fields and to transform the world around them for the better. I am tremendously proud of Andrew and Emily.”
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 18,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.