Goldwater Scholars

Goldwater Scholars 2023

Four College of Science students awarded a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for 2023-24

As the result of an ongoing partnership with the Department of Defense's National Defense Education Programs (NDEP), Dr. John Yopp, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, announced that the Trustees of the Goldwater Board has again been able to increase the number of Goldwater scholarships it is awarding for the 2023-2024 academic year to 413 college students from across the U.S.

“The Department of Defense’s continued partnership with the Goldwater Foundation ensures we are supporting the development of scientific talent essential to maintaining our Nation’s competitive advantage,” said Dr. Jagadeesh Pamulapati, Acting Deputy Director of Research, Technology and Laboratories, who oversees the NDEP program, as he explained the partnership.

With the 2023 awards, this brings the number of scholarships awarded since 1989 by the Goldwater Foundation to 10,283.

Eliza Diggins
Physics & Astronomy
Applied Mathematics

A sophomore, Eliza Diggins participated as a freshman in the Science Research Initiative (SRI) program, sponsored by the College of Science. The SRI puts students in a lab to do research as soon as they arrive on campus. After Eliza was admitted to the program, she began working with Fred Adler, professor of mathematics and of biology in the Department of Mathematics and in the School of Biological Sciences. "Math and physics have both had a special place in my heart for most of my life. Even back in elementary school, math and science always held my attention more than other subjects. I began to actively study physics in middle school and never looked back."

Following graduation she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in theoretical astrophysics to use innovative computational and analytical techniques to better understand the dynamical processes at play on all scales of the cosmos.You can read an interview of Eliza here.


Audrey Glende
Physics & Astronomy
Philosophy of Science

An honors student with a triple major, Audrey Glende is currently researching a crystal and mapping its electrical and magnetic properties at extreme conditions, such as pressures similar to that of the earth's core temperatures just above absolute zero. The crystal (EuCd2P2) has been labeled as a superconductive candidate among other characteristics. As with electronic parts or materials used in fuel/battery cells, "many of the materials with complex properties," she says, referring to her work with the crystal, "are discovered through both theory and experimentation within condensed matter physics." It is this area of inquiry in which her ambition lies, and she is hoping to complete a Ph.D. in physics  and eventually share her knowledge through teaching at the college level.

Among many influential family members in her life,  she says, "I probably see myself most in my dad and know that it is very much so because of him that I have been comfortably hand-held into my passion for STEM in a way many people aren’t." Her father encouraged her to participate in science fairs as a youth and she was eventually recognized by Business Insider as having conducted one of the 30 most impressive science fair projects in the U.S. in 2015. Glende's faculty mentor is Professor Shanti Deemyad.


Daniel Koizumi

After graduation, "I hope to pursue a Ph.D. in Mathematics [and] conduct research in pure mathematics and teach at university," says Daniel Koizumi. His faculty mentors include Professor Karim Adiprasito, a German mathematician working at the University of Copenhagen and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who works in combinatorics; Professor Sean Howe, who works in arithmetic and algebraic geometry, representation theory, and number theory; and Professor Jon Chaika, whose research in the field of dynamical systems seeks to understand a space and a map by following individual points.

Recipient of the departmental Undergraduate Award for Excellence in Graduate Courses, Koizumi's  ambition is to continue doing research at the intersection of combinatorial topology and commutative algebra. He spent three months in 2022 as a research fellow at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "On a lazy Saturday," he says, "I ... enjoy hiking, cooking, or running."


Nichols Crawford Taylor
Applied MathematicsComputer Engineering
Computer Science

"I love robotics, autonomous systems, and all the math and engineering surrounding them," says Nichols Crawford Taylor. "I'm excited for the future they'll create!" Taylor, a triple major, plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in robotics and then transferring to industry to teach and present his research.

"Right now," he says, "I’m working on skill sequencing for autonomous manipulation using partial views of objects. We don’t expect robots to have all encompassing knowledge, so we’re using human-like views of objects with color and depth. From there, my research is about how to put together different skills the robot has to achieve a goal, like re-arranging books on a shelf."

A presidential intern during the 2021-2022 academic year and, currently, the Residence Hall Association President at the U, Taylor has been on the Dean's List and is a member of Pi Mu Epsilon. He is also a member of the Jiu Jitsu club. His faculty mentors include Dr. Daniel Drew, Dr. Alan Kuntz and Dr. Tucker Hermans, the latter of whom he considers his hero. "His breadth of knowledge and experience is astounding," says the Orem native. "He knows so much about and surrounding the field, and has incredible insights on problems take a good bit of time to wrap my head around."


Luke Reuschel

Luke Reuschel

Luke Reuschel

Learning at Mach 1.8.

Waiting for the signal to take off was adrenaline-inducing; the anticipation of the flight ahead was exciting all by itself. But nothing compares to when the pilot puts the jet into full throttle and you’re slammed to the back of your seat as the pilot shoots the jet out of the gate. It’s something I’ll never forget.

This flight was the culmination of my experiential learning component for my major in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences (ATMOS), where I decided to do a career-focused internship at Naval Air Station Lemoore, in California. It took a week of intensive training to prepare my fellow midshipmen and I to ride “rear-seat” in an F/A-18F Super Hornet.

Getting Ready to Fly
Before we could get a chance to fly, however, we had to do safety training, specifically designed for the type of jet we were going to be in. The first thing we learned was the configuration of the backseat, such as the ejection seat which has seven individual straps to keep you firmly secured to the seat in case you eject from the jet. Simply riding in the Super Hornet has hazards, such as G-LOC, which stands for “G-Force Induced Loss of Consciousness.” As the name suggests, this causes passengers to lose consciousness due to the force of gravity outweighing your body’s ability to pump blood to the brain. We learned the Anti-G Straining Maneuver (AGSM) to combat this.

Ejection Seat Training

We then had to learn post-ejection safety and maneuvering techniques, such as how to untangle our parachutes and how to inflate our life vest in the event of an ejection over water. Lastly, we had to be medically cleared for flight activity. Now, we were ready to fly.

Flying With The Squadron
I was assigned to the Strike Fighter Squadron 122, the primary training squadron on base. The two-seat squadrons are designed to instruct Naval Flight Officers whose primary job is to ride full-time in the backseat of a two-seat plane, like Goose in the movie Top Gun. Because instructors would sometimes fly solo, the other Midshipmen and I had the opportunity to hop in the back. I was lucky and managed to get multiple flights in the F-18 jet, my first occurring only three days after I completed my initial training.

After takeoff, the jets do a “G-warmup,” where you pull seven G’s for a few seconds in order to familiarize your body to the rigors of naval aviation. Once the pilots have finished their training for the day, they are allowed to show off their flying skills. The pilots call this “raging,” and during this time we did some barrel rolls, quick turns, and low-level flying.

SAR Training

The Naval Search and Rescue Team
After my F-18 flights, I was able to do additional training with the Naval Search and Rescue team, SAR for short. I did two helicopter rides with them. During the first ride, I was assigned to be the “victim” of a car accident, where I was deposited into a hard-to-reach ravine for the SAR team to pull me out of. I was hoisted out of the ravine by helicopter, and to speed up the evacuation process, the helicopter began to travel forward before I was fully secured in the cabin. This meant I was flying through a valley, dangling from a helicopter, at high speed.

The second helicopter ride was much less thrilling. We flew to another base in Salinas, California. The Search and Rescue team were required to be stationed there while the F-18s were doing training events over the ocean, because the Salinas base is closer to the ocean and allows for a faster response time in the case of an accident. Once the F-18 training was over, we were allowed to return to the Lemoore base.

Cleared for Flight

Flight Simulator and METOC
The naval aviators in training use a flight simulator several times a week because they need the practice, but don’t get to fly actual jets every day. I was allowed to go into the flight simulator and experience what it was like to not just ride in the F-18, but to pilot it as well.

Ultimately, while the life of a fighter pilot or flight officer is very enticing, I am still comfortable with my decision to be a Meteorologist and Oceanographer (METOC) for the Navy. I’m commissioning as an officer this spring, and my time at Naval Air Station Lemoore has helped me grow more confident in my decision to join the navy, and the career path I have in front of me.

Editor’s note: The Experiential Learning component is required for all ATMOS majors. You can help fund thrilling and educational experiences like Luke Reuschel’s by making a donation to ATMOS undergraduate education.

by Luke Reuschel, first published @

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Anna Tang

Anna Tang

The Key in our Collective Hand.

"Mathematics,” says Anna Tang, “is a key in our hands that is able to change shape to fit almost any lock in the world.” A senior in math at the U, Tang not only uses that key to model how breast cancer tumors continue to grow despite estrogen controls in current therapies, but to apply for a Fulbright fellowship. In April, she was confirmed as a finalist and will be heading to Germany this fall.

A member of the Fred Adler lab known for its broad range of mathematical modeling work—from rhinoviruses to ant colonies and from sea ice to urban ecosystems–Tang is clearly enamored with math-biology models, which have grown exponentially, especially as they relate to healthcare applications. That interest not only stems from working on differential equations as a precocious youth–and now at the U. There was support from her parents: her mother, a research faculty member at U Health who was quick to instill in her daughter that failure is just one step toward success; and her father, a computer scientist. That her parents are both immigrants from post-communist China, and “not fluent in the language of elementary writing assignments,” they focused with their daughter on the universal language of math.

It turns out that another Chinese immigrant whom Tang refers to as “Auntie” propelled Tang even further into the language of math and its potential applications to healthcare. While working on her PhD at the U, says Tang, “Auntie took care of me when my mother [working as a post-doctoral researcher] and father were attending conferences.” Already an MD, Anna’s surrogate mom often told stories of working in emergency rooms in China. Then, in 2008, eight-year-old Tang traveled to Jiangxi Province to visit her Auntie who had earlier returned to China where she eventually learned she had contracted stomach cancer.

“She had always been so full of life,” recalls Tang, “helping others as a doctor and researcher … .” But now, the woman who with her mother was “pushing the boundaries of our knowledge … was decimated by the cancer that had affected her.”

While the experience with Auntie in China was fourteen years ago, Tang vividly remembers how bleak the woman’s hospital room was “except for one single, solitary sunflower in the vase next to her bed.” While looking at that flower and its seeds the third grader suddenly remembered, of all things, the Fibonacci Sequence–the series of numbers in which the next number is found by adding up the two numbers before it–and how it is found in nature.

That experience was “the root of the wish to apply math to life,” she says. There with her Auntie, Tang remembers wishing she could cure cancer “like you could solve a math problem. … Cancer is a strange land. It whisks its patients away to another world of fear and uncertainty.”

Unfortunately, the intrepid model to Tang of what it means to seek scientific understanding did not return from that land.

An honors student with a minor in chemistry, Tang will work with Anna Marciniak, a mathematical oncologist at Heidelberg University in Germany. In that lab Tang will be working to quantify the mutational landscape of another kind of cancer: acute myeloid leukemia. Using integro-differential equations she and her team will be asking what the mutations of cancer cell populations look like and how they present themselves phenotypically.

Meanwhile, Tang, who works as a TA in the Department of Chemistry, is readying for graduation later this year. She says that Adler, who is also Director of the School of Biological Sciences, “is the most eccentric professor I’ve ever worked with. In a good way,” she quips, then laughs: “He has in his office a list of ‘trigger’ things that he doesn’t want to see in a math model.” The Adler lab is a very collaborative environment, she continues, “always a blast! The projects are so diverse you get to see so many applications of math. It’s inspiring.” In the lab Tang works closely with post doc Linh Huynh, designing models, running simulations, collecting data and talking over fixed point stability and long-term behavior.

It's not every third grader who resonates with the Fibonacci Sequence. In fact, Tang finds doing mathematics, in a way, meditative. “I really love it because you’re just thinking. It feels a little like I can take myself away from technology just working with a piece of paper.” Reflexively, however, Anna Tang recalls her Auntie in that hospital room, and the Fulbright aspirant knows she wants to move through that heady, calming space, into simulations and eventually applications to healthcare.

“If there is anything that can prolong the life of a cancer patient,” she says, “it will be math,” the shape-shifting key in our collective hand that can fit most any lock.

by David Pace, first published @

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Jessica Venegas

Humans of the U: Jessica Venegas

Jessica Venegas

I’ve always wanted to go to the U because that’s where I was born.

“I was born prematurely at the University of Utah Hospital. My parents would tell me stories about how the doctors had to save my life. Growing up and carrying that really inspired me to be a doctor.

I’ve always wanted to go to the U because that’s where I was born and ever since I was young, my dad would make such a big deal about the Utes. When I got accepted and I had the opportunity to get the For Utah scholarship, it honestly changed my life.

My parents are immigrants, so I would have had to go into a lot of student debt to get my undergraduate degree and struggle with keeping multiple jobs and helping my family as well. So getting the opportunity to have this scholarship really changed my life. It also gave me the chance my first year at the U to be on the University of Utah spirit team. I had the opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl and go to the games and really get that college life I always imagined. I feel like that wouldn’t have been possible without the scholarship.

Utes Spirit Team

Growing up, I lived with my grandma for a long time and one day she bought this pop-out coloring book and it was about the human body. I remember looking at this and being really fascinated by this. My grandma was the one who taught me how to draw. We would go over the anatomy book together and we would draw. For me, it was really eye-opening. It was like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing! I want to learn more about this.’ That’s when it really clicked for me.

That passion and that love for science came back when I was in seventh grade and I had the opportunity to take Introduction to Biology. My biology teacher that year when I was in middle school was really impactful for me.

I chose biology as my major because I’ve always loved biology and I feel this connection with it. The same with anatomy. I want to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. I’ve always been obsessed with the heart. As I was getting older and taking more advanced classes, my sophomore or junior year of high school I took a certified nurse assistant course and I really fell in love with that. But then I got into a really competitive medical assisting course my senior year of high school and that’s where they taught me how to do EKGs and draw blood and give shots and all of that. When I had the chance to work at a clinic alongside doctors, I worked alongside someone who specialized in the heart. That’s something I’ve always been really fascinated with. Working alongside him made me realize that it could potentially be a path that I would want to take.

Over the summer, I got an internship through the PathMakers Scholars and I am currently doing cancer research at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. I also had the opportunity to write a book with M.D.-Ph.D. students. In that book, I wrote about how growing up doing art and connecting that with medicine and the human body was impactful for me. For me, medicine is art.”

by Jessica Venegas, first published @ theU.

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Melissa Hardy

Postdoctoral Fellow

"I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah, committed to combining the study of organic chemistry and data science to lead to new solutions for public health. I began my chemistry career in 2012 during my undergraduate studies at Grinnell College in Grinnell, IA (Chemistry and French). In this time, I was a Goldwater Scholar and completed multiple research experiences focusing on the synthesis of medicinally relevant compounds. Following these studies, I moved to the University of California, Berkeley for doctoral studies in Organic Chemistry. I worked with Prof. Richmond Sarpong as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and Chancellor’s Fellow.

My thesis focused on the synthesis of natural products of the pupukeanane family, a family of topologically complex sesquiterpenes which are of interest as new anti-malarial compounds. In my career, I hope to develop state-of-the-art solutions to accelerate the synthesis of biologically active molecules with the hope of bringing new medicines to market."

  • What motivates and inspires you?
    I think the most inspiring part about scientific research is working with scientists in other fields (and other subfields of chemistry) to bridge the gaps in our knowledge. Collaborative work can be the most transformative and I’m always inspired by interdisciplinary applications.
  • What interests you most about your research?
    I love that data science can be used to bring new insights to chemical reactions. Finding trends and patterns in available data is such an interesting way to make new discoveries that takes advantage of previously untapped information.
  • What do you wish you had known when you first came to Utah?
    Invest in a good winter coat.
  • Your favorite University of Utah thing or experience?
    I love the easy access to the mountains and all the hikes available on campus. The university is full of awesome people ready for outdoor adventures.
  • What do you do for fun outside the lab? How do you handle stress?
    I think having a healthy work-life balance is key to handling stress. I love to cook and sharing my new creations with my friends.
  • What advice do you have for prospective postdocs?
    Come to your new group ready to share what you know and open to learning more about your new research topics.
  • What is the biggest difference between life as a grad student and life as a postdoc researcher?
    For me the type of research is very different! I switched from doing mostly synthetic work to mostly computational chemistry, so the daily work is extremely different and there is so much to learn at any given time. Another great thing about being a postdoc and switching laboratories is that your expertise and the expertise of the group you’re working can be much more orthogonal which makes for great experiences as a mentor and a mentee!
  • What do you plan to do after your postdoc?
    I’m planning to continue work in computational chemistry and data science for the optimization and mechanistic understanding of organic reactions. I haven’t quite figured out what setting I’ll do this in, but I’m excited to see all the new research opportunities developing.


first published @


Amir Hosseini

Postdoctoral Fellow

Seyyed Amir Hosseini received his PhD in Chemistry from Indiana University, where he trained with one of the world’s premier organic electrochemists (Dr. Dennis Peters). He then joined the University of Utah in December 2020, as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the NSF Center of Organic Synthetic Electrochemistry (CSOE) where he is working in Prof. Henry White’s laboratory.

Amir’s research project is focused on the discovering novel electroorganic transformations and using variety of electroanalytical tools to explore the mechanism of the reaction at the molecular level. Recently, he developed a new synthetic strategy for electrooxidation of alcohols that is refer to as electroreductive oxidation. The general idea is to electrochemically generate highly oxidizing radicals by reduction of a sacrificial reagent, i.e., reduction is used to initiate a desired oxidation reaction. Amir has demonstrated that this process is effective for selective oxidation of alcohols to aldehydes and acids.

  • What motivates and inspires you?
    My biggest inspiration is understanding how nature behaves and using fundamental science to solve real-world problems. As a mentor and teacher, seeing students’ progress and growth motivates the most and gives me an extra reason to follow my career in academia.
  • What interests you most about your research?
    My research is mainly focused on making organic molecules using electrical current and understanding the mechanism of organic reactions using analytical and electroanalytical tools. I am fascinated by how molecules behave under reaction conditions and how we can solve the puzzle of reaction mechanisms using advanced analytical tools.
  • What do you wish you had known when you first came to Utah?
    I wish I knew that Utah is a great state and there are ample opportunities for enjoying nature while doing good research.
  • What research topics being explored in the world interest you the most?
    I am very intrigued by the use of electrochemistry in sustainable chemistry and decarbonization.
  • What do you do for fun outside the lab? How do you handle stress?
    For fun, I like working out, hiking, and cooking. I employ several methods to handle stress. First and foremost, I compartmentalize issues and tackle tasks based on their priority. Also, I spend time with my friends and use this opportunity to vent my stress and regain calmness. Finally, long walks help clear my thoughts and decrease my stress.
  • What advice do you have for prospective postdocs?
    Keep your curiosity, remain positive in the face of scientific failures, build a support group from other postdocs and members of your research group, ferment a positive and constructive relationship with your supervisor, and plan for the next step as early as possible.
  • What is the biggest difference between life as a grad student and life as a postdoc researcher?
    The most significant difference is the level of expectations and responsibilities: postdocs are expected to be very self-sufficient and be able to mentor grad students while conducting their research, whereas for graduate students learning research ideas and the relevant techniques are the top priorities. The second difference is that postdoc life is much busier than a grad student. The postdoctoral period is short, and usually, the postdoc researcher must conduct several research projects simultaneously, whereas graduate students generally handle one project at a time.
  • What do you plan to do after your postdoc?
    I want to pursue my career in academia as the principal investigator, where I will mentor the next generation of scientists and help them to enter the world of science.

Equity and inclusion in academic setting is a very important matter for Amir. He is currently serving as the post-doc representative on the DEI committee of the Department of Chemistry. However, his outreach activities are not limited to academia. He volunteers to help new Iranian and Afghan families settling in Salt Lake City. In this role, he assists families who need a translator for taking care of paperwork, enrolling their children in school, and communicating with federal and state officials regarding their urgent needs.

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Ty Mellor

Ty Mellor

Ty Mellor

Slightly more than 2,000 people currently live in Salina, Utah—just west of a 217,000-acre geological feature called the San Raphael Swell.

It’s a gateway to some of the most remote (and still yet-to-be-permanently settled) land in the Beehive State. But for Carl “Ty” Mellor, it’s been an ideal launching pad for a career in, of all things, microbial engineering. The double-major in chemical engineering and cellular & molecular biology places Mellor on the edge of a different frontier than that of the magnificent badlands of brightly colored and wildly eroded sandstone formations, populated by wild horses and etched drawings from the ancestors of today’s Native Americans.

Frontiers, after all, can be both big … and small. The deep canyons and giant plates of stone tilted upright in his hometown’s backyard are metaphors for the scientific reveals that await the young scientist who, inversely, investigates the micro universe rather than the macro one of massive geologic upheavals where he spent time as a youth camping and hiking with friends.

“In physics,” says Mellor of his time at the University of Utah, “we were going over things that happen at the micro scale which got me interested. It’s all so complex and there’s so much left to discover on how things work at that scale, and there is so much potential for solutions to real world issues.”

Considered a “non-traditional” student, the twenty-eight-year-old U senior graduated more than a decade ago from North Sevier High School in a class of 46. During that time he worked as a dishwasher, then at Little Caesar’s pizzeria with one winter at Brian Head Ski Resort, followed in his final year at an oil change/tire repair shop. Today, he is the recipient of no fewer than seven university scholarships and awards, including the Joseph T. Crockett and the Neil R. Mitchell Endowed Scholarships.

Montell Seely and daughter Fawn examine Swasey’s Leap. Photo: Lee Swasey

From Salina to the bench at one of America’s top research institutions might seem like a leap as far and precipitous as relatively nearby “Swasey’s Leap.” Local legend has it that Sid Swasey bet his brother Charlie that he could jump his horse over the 14-foot wide, 60-foot deep gap which Charlie proceeded to do. But for Mellor, his was a leap clearly worth making. Now embedded in the Kelly Hughes Lab at the School of Biological Sciences, he is busy co-opting the type 3 secretion system used to build flagella in salmonella to secrete proteins of interest and simplify bacterial protein synthesis.

A leap from North Sevier High School, indeed.

When asked to explain something most people don’t known about salmonella, he explains that the pathogenic bacteria is named after Daniel Salmon, the first person in the U.S. to receive a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine. But, despite his adoration of a pet chihuahua named “Ace,” Mellor won’t be going to veterinary school.

“I think there is a ton of potential [for research] in aging and disease,” he says. “There is so much that we don’t understand yet about the human body. There is also potential in carbon sequestration, either by manufacturing long-term products using carbon or developing microbial carbon sinks that can sink to the bottom of the ocean, for example — possibly being able to manufacture stronger and lighter materials by mimicking the way certain enzymes have incredibly low error rates.”

The last few years have not been easy for Mellor due to the pandemic. But, perhaps surprisingly, he will tell you that he didn’t mind online classes that much. “I was working grave shifts at the time [at the U's Guest House] and was able to watch all of my lectures during downtime at work. Transitioning back to normal life has been much more difficult.”

Difficult or not, in October Mellor jumped right in to share his research poster titled “One Step Protein Purification via the Type 3 Secretion System” at the annual School of Biological Sciences' Science Retreat. His explanations to the curious as well as potentially the friendly combatant-questioner (admittedly rare), was clear, commanding and informed. Poster presentations of this kind are a sort of pay day for an undergraduate: it’s that rare moment when all the hours “at the bench,” under the ‘scope, and under the care of a principal investigator and mentor converge, and one’s scientific findings are distilled into appealing, bite-sized pieces.

As Mellor approaches graduation and graduate studies, he has some advice for his undergraduate cohort: “Keep in touch with old friends and put an effort into connecting to new groups (especially for tough classes). Get lots of fresh air and sunshine, spend some time learning time management, and remember the online skills you had to learn since[,] they’ll always be useful.”

Getting ready for yet another leap, this time out of an airplane, skydiving with brother Casey.

He and his older brother Casey, whom Mellor refers to as his “hero,” still hang out together. “Scientifically, he’s the only one among my family and close friends that I can talk to about research or science in general. Everyone else’s eyes tend to glaze over almost immediately, while he’ll actively argue, ask questions, and come up with his own solutions. We share reading recommendations and talk about any new stuff that pops up in the news … . He’s always been there for me.”

You can take the boy out of Salina but you can’t take the Salina out of the man. And Ty Mellor wouldn’t have it any other way.

by David Pace, first published @

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Sage Blackburn

Meet Sage Blackburn

Academic advisor, Sage Blackburn, recently joined the Department of Mathematics.

What was your previous job before you came to the Math Dept.?
I joined the U in 2018 during my freshman year as a peer advisor for the Academic Advising Center (AAC). It was there that I began to enjoy being part of the process that supported the learning efforts and experiences of undergraduate students. As I got closer to graduation, I began to consider a career in academic advising. With research and helpful advice from advisors from the AAC, I applied for a handful of positions and decided that the Math Department was a great fit for me!

Sage Blackburn

What are your duties in your current position?
I advise all math majors in their academic planning. I oversee the student groups USAC (Undergraduate Student Advisory Committee) and Pi Mu Epsilon, the national mathematics honor society. I also serve on the Undergraduate Awards and Scholarships Committees and the Awards Program Committee.

What do you enjoy about working with students?
I believe in the advisor’s purpose and enjoy helping students develop meaningful educational goals that are consistent with their personal interests, values, and abilities. I believe that as an advisor I am an extension of a student’s learning , so I strive to educate them outside of the classroom as they navigate college. I feel that advising is meant to give students an equal opportunity to success, allowing them to view their education holistically and incorporate it into their life.

Hours and/or days when you can meet with students? Where are you located?
I meet with students Monday through Friday virtually and in person. My hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and I’m located in the Advising Hive in the Crocker Science Center, room 240. Math advisors also have their updated drop-in hours on the Math Department website.

To get the most from an advising session, how should students prepare for a meeting with you?
I suggest compiling a list of your questions so that you won’t forget to ask something! We will discuss your degree audit in your appointment so it’s a good idea to generate and review your degree audit beforehand.

What was your undergraduate degree? Where did you receive it?
I received my undergraduate degree in political science with an emphasis in public policy here at the U in 2022. I am currently considering applying to graduate school, so wish me luck!

How did your parents decide upon your unusual first name?
My parents lived and worked in Lake Powell before I was born. Sagebrush is one of the most common and abundant plants that grows in the area, and my mom loved the smell of sagebrush, especially after it rains. She also liked the double-meaning of profound wisdom (thanks Mom!).

Anything else you want to add that we've haven't asked?
I love hiking, especially in Southern Utah. I know of some beautiful areas of the desert. If you ever need suggestions for hiking, just ask! Since I’m a recent graduate from the U, I know how difficult college can be to navigate. I would love to meet with you and assist in your college journey!


by Michele Swaner, first published at


Research Scholar

2022 Undergraduate Research Scholar

Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

“My hero is my brother,” says Tiffany Do of her brother Anthony. “He’s the first in my family to graduate from the University of Utah. I look up to him because he’s gone through the trials in being a first-generation student and has helped me overcome some of those obstacles.”

Those obstacles can be daunting. Students who are first-generation college students talk about not knowing what even the right questions are to ask. Others talk about experiencing “imposter syndrome”—chronically feeling as though they are, any moment, about to be found out as someone who doesn’t belong in college.

So it makes sense that Do, who is a senior majoring in biology, would see her brother as a welcome guide to what can seem like an intimidating if not an impossible mountain to climb. But there were others who helped prepare this Taylorsville, Utah native to succeed at the college level, including her AP biology teacher Paige Ehler and her chemistry and biotechnology teacher Kristin Lillywhite who encouraged her to study the life sciences. And too, once Do arrived on campus, the ACCESS Scholars program also aided her in finding a home in STEM. The program, based in the College of Science, provided a scholarship as well as a network and experience with presenting her research at a symposium. As a senior she now works as an ACCESS mentor for others.

The results have been gratifying. Earlier this year Do had the experience of publishing her first paper in Intersect, an international Science, Technology, and Society research journal run by undergraduate students at Stanford University and supported by the Program in STS at Stanford. The journal welcomes undergraduate, graduate, and PhD submissions at the intersection of history, culture, sociology, art, literature, business, law, health, and design with science and technology, and its submissions are not exclusive to Stanford affiliates and generally span several continents.

Her article, co-authored with eight others, is titled Barriers to Accessibility of Algal Biofuels, a “companion piece to algal biofuel research with the goal of synthesizing relevant, contemporary considerations about how to expand algal biofuel to a modern society.”

That she is now published is perhaps a testament to the rich experience she’s had at the U in more than one research lab, including Dr. Catherine Loc-Carrillo’s Micro-Phage Epi Lab, Dr. James Van Etten Chlorovirus Lab and, currently, in the mycology lab under the direction of SBS’s Dr. Bryn Dentinger at Utah Museum of Natural History.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to research at first,” she concedes when she was first accepted at the U. “I was given a list of labs I could be a part of for my honors thesis and I reached out to the Dentinger Lab.” She simply found it fascinating that it was a lab that studied fungi.

“I have been gaining skills in culturing fungi, extracting nucleic acids, and quantifying the abundance and integrity of extractions,” she explains while currently conducting “a culture growth experiment grown under varying conditions that mimic ecological stressors, to induce a stress response in ectomycorrhizal fungi,” a form of symbiotic relationship that occurs between a fungal symbiont, or mycobiont, and the roots of various plant species.


Tiffany Do

“My hero is my brother,” says Tiffany Do of her brother Anthony. “He’s the first in my family to graduate from the University of Utah. I look up to him because he’s gone through the trials in being a first-generation student and has helped me overcome some of those obstacles.”


When asked to explain something interesting that most people don’t know about fungi, she explains how ectomycorrhizal fungi “form mutualistic relationships with trees. They play a key role in the nutrient cycle and there is still a lot to learn in understanding these organisms”

That said, she continues, “I’m still exploring what I really want to do once I graduate at the U.”

Meanwhile, Do is “paying it forward,” as she is “passionate about helping students especially first-gen in finding their place on campus.”

In addition to her ACCESS Scholarship she has seen nine other awards come her way, including most recently, a Research Scholars Award funded by the Mountaineer Endowment at the School of Biological Sciences. The award will help her this summer and fall semester complete her honors thesis.

Outside of class and lab work, Do is active in the Asian American Student Association (AASA), a student-led organization at the U that celebrates and promotes awareness of Asian cultures. “My family [members were] … refugees from Vietnam. This organization is a great way for me to connect with others that have similar backgrounds while also expanding my knowledge of other cultures.” She also takes advantage of Utah’s outdoor recreation as she loves to rock climb. This activity has proven a release from the trials of the pandemic which has affected her—as it has all of us.

“It’s hard to connect and keep in contact [with other people] when everything was online.” Related to that, her advice to other undergraduates or those considering attending college is “to reach out for help. As someone who has a hard time reaching out and sharing my struggles, I learned the hard way that it was necessary in my own life. There are people willing to be there for you, you just have to be willing to put in that trust. There are advisors and friends that are willing to listen.”

And for Tiffany Do, there’s also been her “hero” brother who graduated this year in mathematics and quantitative analysis of markets & organizations before securing work. He continues to help show his sister the way.

by David Pace, first published @

Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa Society Scholar

Muskan Walia Named Phi Beta Kappa Society Scholar.

Muskan Walia, a second-year student at the University of Utah Honors College, studying math
and philosophy, has been named a Key into Public Service Scholar by the Phi Beta Kappa Society. The Society is the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society, and the Key into Public Service award highlights specific pathways for arts and sciences graduates to launch public sector careers.

Chosen from nearly 900 applicants attending Phi Beta Kappa chapter institutions across the nation, the Key into Public Service Scholars hail from 17 states. These are high-achieving college sophomores and juniors, who display notable breadth and depth in their academic interests.

“I am extremely grateful and honored to be receiving this award from Phi Beta Kappa,” said Walia. “My community here at the University of Utah has provided me with a prodigious liberal arts and sciences education and has nurtured my interest in exploring the dynamics between science, society, and the public sector. I am excited for the incredible opportunity to further explore this interest this summer.”

Walia is an ACCESS Scholar and undergraduate researcher, working with Dr. Fred Adler, Professor of Biology and of Mathematics. In her research, Walia adapted an epidemiological SIR model for spread of disease to model the number of cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 in order to predict when different types of tests will produce false positives or false negatives.

“My summer in the ACCESS Scholars program sparked an interest and motivation to pursue a career in public service,” she said. “Being taught by faculty across the University of Utah in diverse disciplines, I learned about the intersections of science, communication, and policy and how scientists can practice the art of advocacy.


Muskan Walia

"My community here at the University of Utah has provided me with a prodigious liberal arts and sciences education and has nurtured my interest in exploring the dynamics between science, society, and the public sector."


“Working under the mentorship of Dr. Fred Adler has been invaluable. I wanted to be engaged in mathematics research that centered on justice and informed public policy. There was truly no better pairing than with Dr. Adler. He has wholeheartedly supported and encouraged my curiosity and passion to utilize mathematics principles to tackle the most pressing social justice related questions of our time.”

In addition to her studies, Walia currently serves as the ASUU student government Senate Chair and works as a youth environmental organizer in the Salt Lake City area. She founded a campaign to commit her local school district to a 100% clean electricity transition by 2030, and has assisted with the expansion of local clean energy campaigns in Utah school districts. She is also a leader and mentor at Utah Youth Environmental Solutions Network (UYES), where she supports the development of a new youth-based climate justice curriculum. Her experiences have cultivated a passion and commitment to community building, climate education, and environmental justice.

Each Key into Public Service Scholar will receive a $5,000 undergraduate scholarship and take part in a conference in late June in Washington, D.C. to provide them with training, mentoring, and reflection on pathways into active citizenship.

Below are the names of the 2022 Key into Public Service Scholars and their chapter institutions:

Aylar AtadurdyyevaUniversity of Kansas
Miguel Coste, University of Notre Dame
Noelle Dana, University of Notre Dame
Grace Dowling, Clark University
Brandon Folson, Loyola University Chicago
Justin Fox, University of Maryland- College Park
Sora Heo, University of California - San Diego
Alec Hoffman, Clark University
Samiha Islam, State University of New York at Buffalo
Ruthie Kesri, Duke University
Katherine Marin, University of Florida
Sondos Moursy, University of Houston
Olivia Negro, Ursinus College
Emily Geigh Nichols, Stanford University
Paul Odu, University of Missouri
Vaidehi Persad, University of South Florida
Diba Seddighi, University of Tennessee
James Suleyman, Roanoke College
Jonah Tobin, Williams College
Muskan WaliaUniversity of Utah
For more information about the scholarship and links to individual biographies of the recipients, please visit


by Michele Swaner, first published at