Science & Technology

A Utah State University Best: Four Aggies are 2011 Goldwater Honorees

Three Utah State University students are 2011 Goldwater Scholars and one Aggie received honorable mention in a prestigious national competition that recognizes outstanding undergraduate achievements in science and mathematics. USU leads the state in the number of 2011 awardees and this year’s competition marks the most Utah State students to receive the honor in one year.

Linsey Johnson, Brooke Siler and Brian Tracy are recipients of the award, which is administered by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, and Karen Nielson received honorable mention. With this year’s honorees, USU boasts 18 Goldwater Scholars and seven honorable mention recipients since 1998.

“This is a tremendous honor for these students and a tremendous honor for Utah State University,” said USU President Stan Albrecht. “This award is a testament to the exceptional achievements of these individuals in academics, research and service, as well as the outstanding mentorship by our faculty members.”

“The Goldwater Scholarship rewards students who have a strong record of undergraduate research,” said Christie Fox, director of USU’s Honors Program. “Our students’ fantastic showing in this year’s competition demonstrates the commitment of our faculty to give students exceptional opportunities to get involved in hands-on research very early in their academic careers.”

Each year, USU may submit up to four nominations for the award; a process coordinated by the USU Honors program that begins in November. Scholarship award recipients receive up to $7,500 toward annual tuition and expenses.

USU’s 2011 honorees, who represent the university’s College of Science and College of Engineering, are members of the USU Honors Program and actively involved in undergraduate research. All also volunteer their time to community outreach in science education.

Linsey Johnson, physics

While still in high school, Johnson organized a series of hands-on science activities for more than 200 fifth grade students at four schools in Utah’s Nebo School District. During summer, she organized week-long science camps in her parents’ backyard, with rosters that quickly swelled with enthusiastic participants.

“We rolled up our sleeves and dived into activities that taught kids the scientific method in a fun way,” said Johnson, who, in 2009, was named the first valedictorian of Utah County’s recently established Salem Hills High School.

Johnson brought her enthusiasm for science outreach to USU’s Science Unwrapped program, where she serves as student representative to the steering committee and founder of the Science Unwrapped Student Corps. With faculty mentor Shane Larson, Johnson develops educational kits that can be repeatedly deployed by student corps members to provide hands-on activities for Science Unwrapped’s monthly public presentations and other community outreach events. An active member of USU’s Society of Physics student chapter, Johnson estimates that community outreach activities she’s organized at USU have reached more than 4,000 people of all ages.

“My family lived in Hungary for five years when I was growing up and I attended public school though I didn’t know the language,” said Johnson, a University Undergraduate Research Fellow who’s earned multiple honors from USU’s Department of Physics. “But language didn’t matter in math class, where I could excel on my own.”

Johnson mastered Hungarian and says she developed a “deep love for diverse cultures” as a result of the experience.

“My parents are unconventional thinkers and, similarly unconventional, I wish to pursue doctoral studies in physics and then use my knowledge to promote public scientific awareness,” she said.

Brooke Siler, biochemistry and economics

While a child, Brooke Siler spied an article about renowned neurologist Ben Carson in Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine publication and read the entire magazine from cover to cover.

“I was intrigued by this person who overcame all odds to become one of the world’s leading neurosurgeons and a Presidential Medal Freedom recipient,” said the Cache Valley, Utah, native. “I also loved the articles about medical research and, for years, I read that magazine as soon as it arrived at our mailbox.”

A 2009 graduate of Sky View High School, Siler entered USU as a Presidential Scholar, a Sterling Scholar and a Huntsman Scholar, as well as a recipient of other academic scholarships.

With faculty mentor Joanie Hevel, she pursues research in chemical and molecular signaling processes that take place at the neurological level.

“I want to understand and analyze interactions that are critical to human health,” Siler said. “My goal is to pursue doctoral research in neuroscience and gain knowledge to identify patterns common in neurological disorders.”

Beyond the chem lab, Siler studies economics and participated in USU’s Go Global Study Abroad to Asia program. An active participant in campus service activities, Siler is a member of Rotaract, the Science Unwrapped Student Corps, the Society for International Business and Economic Development and USU’s Women in Science and Medicine organization.

Brian Tracy, physics

“My mom made me a scientist,” said Brian Tracy, a 2006 graduate of Utah’s Lone Peak High School.

“When I was young, I asked why it was snowing in the backyard as well as the front,” he said. “She laughed and told me to go find out. She cultivated my love of inquiry and taught me that surprising discoveries and understanding are the hallmarks of science.”

Tracy entered USU after earning a scholarship at USU’s 2006 Physics Day at Lagoon. With faculty mentor Bella Fejer, he’s studying the Earth’s equatorial ionosphere. The recipient of USU’s 2009 Distinguished Undergraduate Research Award in Physics, Tracy presented his research at the 2010 meeting of the American Geophysical Union and will also present at the 2011 National Science Foundation-funded annual meeting of the Coupling, Energetics and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions and Geospace Environment Modeling workshop – CEDAR-GEM – in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

An Undergraduate Teaching Fellow for Honors Calculus II, Tracy serves as vice president for outreach of USU’s Society of Physics Students chapter. The undergraduate has participated in more than 30 of the chapter’s community outreach activities.

The Highland, Utah, native plans to pursue doctoral study in theoretical materials physics and a teaching and research career as a university professor.

“I’m attracted to materials physics because it is both fundamental and has potential for practical uses,” Tracy said. “I’m interested in the properties of materials that affect magnetism and how we can use this knowledge to benefit people in such areas as transportation.”

Karen Nielson, mechanical and aerospace engineering

Las Vegas native Karen Nielson remembers wielding a 15-lb. sledgehammer, at age 10, to help her father build a 100-meter tall weather tower.

“It was one of my first hands-on research experiences,” she said. “Dad taught us binary code at the dinner table and these experiences sparked my desire to learn more about math and science.”

A 2009 graduate of Nevada’s Silverado High School, Nielson entered USU with multiple academic accolades, including the USU Presidential Scholarship, Nuclear Energy University Program Scholarship, AP Scholar with Distinction and Corbett Engineering Scholarship.

The University Undergraduate Research Fellow is currently conducting research with faculty mentor Heng Ban in his thermal-fluids laboratory and is working on a joint research project with faculty mentors Brent Stucker and Soonjo Kwon involving tissue engineering.

“My long-term goal is to earn a doctorate in mechanical engineering and pursue cutting-edge research in thermal sciences,” Nielson said. “I want to explore one dilemma in particular: how heat is transferred between the grain boundaries of crystalline solids.”

Nielson served as team lead for an Engineers Without Borders summer trip to Mexico in 2010 and serves on the outreach committee of USU’s Society of Physics Students chapter and the service committee of the Student Alumni Association. Between study and service, she finds time to play on USU’s women’s rugby team.

“I’m grateful that I had strong support from my family and teachers to become an engineer,” she said. “I hope that, in my career, I can encourage other young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields.”

Previous USU Goldwater Scholars


Daniel Fenn, physics

Justin Koeln, mechanical and aerospace engineering

Robert Call, physics (Honorable Mention)


Taren McKenna, physics and mathematics

Cody Tramp, molecular biology and biochemistry

B.J. Myers, physics (Honorable Mention)


Jodie Barker-Tvedtnes, physics

Tamara Jeppson, geology and physics

Sydney Chamberlin, physics and mathematics (Honorable Mention)

Cody Tramp, molecular biology and biochemistry (Honorable Mention)


Jennifer Albretsen-Roth, physics

Arthur Mahoney, computer science and mathematics

Jodie Barker-Tvedtnes, physics (Honorable Mention)


Logan McKenna, electrical engineering

Heidi Wheelwright, physics

Keith Warnick, physics (Honorable Mention)


Stephanie Chambers, biology

David Hatch, physics


Jamie B. Jorgensen, physics


Lara B. Anderson, physics and mathematics


Jeff Jacobs, mechanical engineering

Related links:

Contact: Christie Fox, 435-797-2715,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

USU's 2011 Goldwater Scholars honorees

Utah State University's 2011 Goldwater honorees: from left, Karen Nielson, honorable mention, and scholars Brooke Siler, Brian Tracy and Linsey Johnson.


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