Wheaton College Junior Wins Goldwater Scholarship

April 15, 2016

Wheaton College junior Nathaniel Wright was recently awarded a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.

Wright, a biology major and chemistry minor, was one of 252 Goldwater Scholars selected for the upcoming academic year. The Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,150 mathematics, science, and engineering students who were nominated by the institutional representatives of 415 colleges and universities nationwide. The Goldwater Scholarship is considered the nation’s premier undergraduate award in the sciences, and comes with a $7500 award.

Wright was recognized for his research in the fields of genetics and biology.  After working with Associate Professor of Genetics Dr. Rodney Scott last year to master a technique for measuring genetic diversity in a population of toucans, Wright adapted that technique for use with Professor of Biology Dr. Kristen Page’s research on pathogens.

“This year, with Dr. Page, I’ve been developing a method to isolate DNA from soil in Ethiopia to test for the presence of hookworm,” Wright says. “The goal is to see how the prevalence of these pathogens changes with how the land is used. We are able to see if there are larger effects on the community based on environmental changes in Ethiopia. The goal is to advise on the best land use practices in order to prevent disease.”

Dr. A.J. Poelarends, who serves as Wheaton College’s Goldwater Scholarship Faculty Representative, describes Wright as a creative and talented researcher with great potential for future study.

“Nathaniel is an excellent student who has done outstanding research already,” Poelarends says. “It is exceptional that he was able to master a scientific technique using genetic markers and to transfer that technique to biology research.”

Wright plans to pursue both an M.D. and a Ph.D., and says he hopes to eventually teach epidemiology at the university level.

“One of the cool things about studying disease is that it is influenced by so many other factors: ecology, healthcare infrastructure, social systems,” he says. “There’s also a social justice aspect to studying disease. It’s a field where we can see beneficial human impacts from our research.”

The Goldwater Scholarship Program was established by Congress in 1986 in honor of United States Senator Barry Goldwater to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, science, and engineering. Goldwater scholars are selected on on the basis of academic merit, and many go on to receive prestigious post-graduate fellowships.

Recent Goldwater Scholars have earned 86 Rhodes Scholarships, 125 Marshall Awards, 134 Churchill Scholarships, and numerous other distinguished fellowships.