Published April 18, 2017
A physics major studying nature at the smallest scales possible and a student hoping to use robotics to create “revolutionary prosthetics” are UB’s latest Barry Goldwater Scholarship winners, recipients of the most prestigious and competitive research scholarship offered for undergraduate STEM students.
Anne Fortman, a junior majoring in physics, was described by one of her nominating professors as “easily the best student I have ever encountered in my career, from any institution.”
“She isn’t an ‘A’ student. She is a ‘100’ student,” wrote Salvatore Rappoccio, assistant professor of physics. “Many students miss questions here and there, and still get an ‘A.’ Anne is not really in that category. She has yet to receive a single point off on any physics class she has ever taken after two years at UB. To my knowledge, that has never happened before in the history of the department.
“This should give you an idea of the sheer talent of this bright young scientist. I have never seen her combination of skill and determination in any other student I have ever encountered.”
UB’s other 2017 Goldwater winner, Walker Gosrich, is a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, who interned for 10 weeks last summer in the lab of Yigit Mengüç, assistant professor of robotics and mechanical engineering at Oregon State University. Mengüç says Gosrich showed he is “easily at the level of a PhD student already.”
“Walker Gosrich is a fantastic nominee for the Goldwater Scholarship,” Mengüç wrote in his nomination of Gosrich. “To prove my belief in Walker, when he completes his undergraduate degree, I will be strongly recruiting him as a PhD student to my lab.”
Andrew Stewart, a UB junior interested in discovering novel psychotherapeutics to treat addiction, received an honorable mention from the Goldwater selection committee. He wrote in his application that he was motivated to deepen his understanding of addiction rather than pursue a career in medicine because of the “public health nightmare that is our (nation’s) current addiction epidemic” and his experiences as the brother of a heroin addict.
Fortman and Gosrich are among 240 students chosen nationwide from among 1,286 students nominated for the Goldwater scholarship from 470 institutions of higher education. Established by Congress in 1986 to honor the work and memory of Sen. Barry Goldwater, the scholarship is awarded to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.
Both Fortman and Gosrich will receive a $7,500 Goldwater scholarship for tuition during their senior year at UB. But the academic prestige, networking possibilities and entry into the highest echelon of their respective research circles are more valuable than the scholarship award itself, according to Elizabeth Colucci, director of UB’s Office of Fellowships and Scholarships.
This year UB had the strongest pool of candidates competing for its four nomination spots for the Goldwater scholarship, she says.
“Our four nominees had especially strong academic credentials and research experience. Having two winners and one student receive an honorable mention is a wonderful testament to these students’ hard work and dedication to research,” Colucci says.
Fortman says she first heard of the Goldwater scholarship through UB’s SPARK program, an overview of national scholarships and fellowships offered by Colucci’s office.
“Since then, the Goldwater scholarship was in the back of my mind when I sought out research opportunities,” she says. “And my faculty mentor also encouraged me to apply.”
Fortman’s research opportunities have taken her to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. She will travel this summer to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research near Geneva, Switzerland.
In applying for the scholarship, Fortman talked about the encouragement she received at UB after realizing she was one of the very few females in her department.
“After changing my major to physics at the start of my sophomore year, I found myself in a special relativity class intended for physics majors,” she wrote. “There were about 40 of us in the class, but only three female students. This was intimidating, as I felt that my work would have to withstand a higher level of scrutiny to earn my place within the major.
“Of the near-40 faculty members in the department, only three are women. However, I am very lucky in that two of those women are very involved in the Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) program.”
She says winning the Goldwater scholarship has been “an opportunity to appreciate the support network that is available to students here at UB.”
Gosrich says his academic work at UB has given him the basic knowledge needed to “realize a product from inception and design to materials and manufacture,” along with a computer science background that “explored the other side of machines and learn what makes them tick.”
“We live in the age of robotics,” Gosrich wrote in his Goldwater application. “In my lifetime, I have seen robots transform from a science fiction concept into one of the most useful tools in industry, and I will see so much more: from the integration of machines and the human body to the development of a truly humanoid robot. This great leap in technology brings countless unprecedented opportunities to improve the lives of people around the world.
“My greatest aspiration is to seize one of these opportunities and contribute to this coming golden age of robotics,” he wrote. “I aim to use a combination of rigid and soft robotics to create revolutionary prosthetics.”