/stories/2019/07/two-undergraduate-students-awarded-prestigious-goldwater-scholarship

Two undergraduate students awarded prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

Shwetha Mudalegundi (left) and Danielle Goldwert (right) were awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship to continue their research at the University of Miami. 
By Ashley A. Williams

Shwetha Mudalegundi (left) and Danielle Goldwert (right) were awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship to continue their research at the University of Miami. 

Two undergraduate students awarded prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

By Ashley A. Williams
Shwetha Mudalegundi and Danielle Goldwert were selected from more than 5,000 applicants to receive nationally funded support for their research projects at the University of Miami.

Two University of Miami students have received the prestigious research-focused Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation award for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Offered by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, the award was established by Congress in 1986 to distinguish students pursuing higher education in the fields of natural science, engineering, and mathematics.

Rising senior Shwetha Mudalegundi and rising junior Danielle Goldwert were nominated by a committee within the Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships to represent UM. Each will receive $7,500 per year to complete their undergraduate education.

Swetha Mudalegundi

Growing up, Mudalegundi became captivated with inquiry-based research when she was forced to participate in her seventh grade science fair. She quickly realized that she enjoyed proposing her own questions and then devising the methodology to answer those very questions.

By high school, Mudalegundi began canvassing local universities and laboratories in her hometown of Atlanta to gain hands on experience. By the time she enrolled at UM, she had conducted research at two different institutions.

Last year, she applied for the Goldwater Scholarship and received honorable mention. She felt it was necessary to try her hand once more, as this recognition meant a lot to her and her parents.

“This scholarship is well-known among undergrads in the research community,” said Mudalegundi, who has enjoyed designing her own academic curriculum as a member of the Foote Fellow Honors Program. “This was something that I really wanted because I knew that they provided funds to help with college expenses, but I also wanted to be recognized for my research. This recognition will stay with me forever.”

Today, she is a double major in neuroscience and public health and is conducting research on multiple sclerosis under the leadership of associate professor Roberta Brambilla at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. In the lab, Mudalegundi studies receptors in mice to identify a therapeutic target that works directly in the MS pathway.

“I cold emailed Dr. Brambilla my freshman year and since she has been the most supportive mentor who has put so much trust in me,” said Mudalegundi. “She has allowed me to do my own project. She truly took me in the world of neuroscience and has shown me unwavering support.”

This summer, Mudalegundi participated in research to study neurodegenerative diseases and their effect on the brain and nervous system at the University of Iowa Neuroscience Institute.

Danielle Goldwert

When Goldwert, a New Jersey native, applied to the Goldwater Scholarship she was fully prepared to receive an honorable mention and go through the application process all over again next year.

“I had no confidence that I would win, based on what I read about, the prestige, and how many people apply versus the amount that actually wins,” said Goldwert, who’s one of the 496 college students from across the United States to receive the 2019-2020 award. “I did not expect to win at all. I am so excited.”

Goldwert considers winning this award one of her biggest accomplishments to date.

“I remember when I was in the airport and I got the email stating that I had won--I had to read it a few times to even believe what I was seeing,” said Goldwert, a Foote Fellow who double majors in psychology and studio art and quadruple minors in philosophy, ecosystem science and policy, English literature, and management.

When Goldwert was young she said she had a disdain for science and considered herself an artist.

“I’ve always loved the humanities but after changing my major, I fell in love with psychology,” said Goldwert, who is currently conducting research in two labs at UM. She is the research assistant for Kiara Timpano, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Program for Anxiety, Stress, and OCD (PASO), and also the lab manager of associate professor Debra Lieberman’s evolution and human behavior lab. In the lab, Goldwert studies how evolution has shaped the social mind and used this study to submit as her proposal for the Goldwater Scholarship. She credits the lab’s graduate research assistant, Joseph Billingsley, as being instrumental in her receiving the award.  

Throughout her time at UM, Goldwert learned to follow her instincts, work hard, and take the initiative – “especially in the lab environment,” and said she enjoys the problem-solving aspect of conducting research most.

“I was very indecisive before coming to college, and by trying out a few things I know that what I ended up with is what I really care about,” said Goldwert. “Everything has played out better than I ever could have hoped for. I’m now studying something that I love.”

This summer, Goldwert participated in public interest research at the University of Cambridge with support from the Academic Enhancement Research Fellowship. Her proposal to explore decision-making and prosocial behavior in relation to global climate change was selected from a pool of 30 applicants for the internship.

For more information on prestigious awards at UM, visit the office’s website or email the Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships at prestigiousawards@miami.edu.