Science & Technology

Three USU Undergraduates are 2014 Goldwater Honorees

Utah State University undergraduate Rachel Nydegger is a 2014 Goldwater Scholar and students David Griffin and Austin Spence received honorable mentions in a prestigious national competition that recognizes outstanding achievements in science and mathematics.

The award is administered by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.  With this year’s honorees, USU boasts 23 Goldwater Scholars and 11 honorable mention recipients since 1998.

“This is well-deserved recognition for these students and a tremendous honor for Utah State University,” says 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.”

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 2014 honorees, who represent the university’s College of Science, are members of the USU Honors Program and are active in undergraduate research. These scholars also share their time and talent in science outreach.

“This year’s scholars are focused young scientists who demonstrate a commitment to academic excellence as well as service,” says Jim MacMahon, dean of USU’s College of Science. “We applaud their dedication and look forward to their continued achievements.”

Scholar Rachel Nydegger, physics and mathematics

For more than seven months last year, Rachel Nydegger was up and about campus each night as most of her classmates were sleeping. The physicist, who worked with faculty mentor Shane Larson, was collecting data on light pollution around USU’s Logan campus.

“It wasn’t easy getting out of bed and going outside when it was dark and 11 degrees below zero,” says the Logan, Utah, native. “But it was necessary to collect our data.”

For Nydegger, light pollution interferes with a favorite activity: stargazing. But she also recognizes its broader effects.

“Light pollution means energy is being wasted by outdoor light fixtures,” she says. “It also has an unfavorable impact on crime patterns and adversely affects nocturnal wildlife.

Nydegger graduated from Logan’s Fast Forward Charter High School in 2011 and was awarded an Aggie Scholar scholarship to USU. She’s also the recipient of Utah’s New Century Scholarship and an Energy Solutions Scholarship. The undergrad is an avid volunteer for Science Unwrapped, the College of Science’s public outreach program.

Following graduation from USU, Nydegger plans to pursue a doctorate in astrophysics, conduct research and teach at the university level.

Read more about Nydegger’s research, “Seeking the Darkest Hour.”

David Griffin, physics and computer science

Roy, Utah, native David Griffin put USU on his college list because of “great things” he’d heard about student research opportunities.

“I knew USU had an incredible undergraduate research program and I wanted to do research and learn things on my own,” he says. “I also heard great things about the professors here.”

While deciding on a college destination, Griffin met with Department of Physics advisor Karalee Ransom and plans began to fall into place.

“She was so helpful and really went out of her way to help me,” Griffin says. “It was clear she puts students first and I chose USU. I can’t imagine going anywhere else.”

With physics professor David Peak, Griffin is developing a computer model that can be used to predict plant leaves’ responses to the environment.

“Biologists have observed how a single stoma or ‘pore’ on a leaf responds to changes in the environment, but it’s not well understood how these pores or ‘stomata’ work together in response to environmental changes,” he says. “With our model, we’re trying to decode this biological phenomenon.”

Following graduation from USU, Griffin, who completed home schooling in preparation for college, plans to pursue a doctorate in physics and conduct research in computational physics and complexity.

Austin Spence, biology and German

A recent photo of Austin Spence garners a lot of double takes: the undergrad is grasping a handful of writhing snakes.

“I’m investigating the effects of habitat disturbance on the physiology of the wandering garter snake,” says Spence, who conducts research with Department of Biology faculty mentor Susannah French. “This involves collecting snakes in the field, as well as habitat data, and quantifying snake hormone concentrations and immune function.”

A Salt Lake City native and 2011 graduate of Highland High School, Spence received a Research Internship in Science and Engineering (RISE) scholarship from DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), which enabled him to complete a research internship in Germany on an endangered species of hamster.

Spence received the USU Department of Biology's John R. Simmons Scholarship and was named German Student of the Year by USU's College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Following graduation from USU, he plans to pursue a doctorate in physiological ecology and conduct research on the effects of urbanization on the environment.

Previous USU Goldwater Scholars


J. Tyler Gish, chemistry and physics

Jordan Rozum, physics and mathematics


Mitch Dabling, civil engineering

Sarah Mousley, mathematics

Jordan Rozum, physics and mathematics (Honorable Mention)

Rachel Ward, physics and mathematics (Honorable Mention)


Linsey Johnson, physics

Brooke Siler, biochemistry and economics

Brian Tracy, physics

Karen Nielsen, mechanical and aerospace engineering (Honorable Mention)


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: David Peak, 435- 797-2884,

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

USU Goldwater honorees Austin Spence, Rachel Nydegger, David Griffin

USU's 2014 Goldwater honorees. (l to r) Austin Spence (Honorable Mention) Rachel Nydegger (Goldwater Scholar) and David Griffin (Honorable Mention). The prestigious national competition recognizes outstanding achievements in science and mathematics.

USU 2014 Goldwater Scholar Rachel Nydegger

Rachel Nydegger

Goldwater Scholar Honorable Mention David Griffin

David Griffin

USU Goldwater Scholar Honorable Mention Austin Spence

Austin Spence


Student Success 176stories Undergraduate Research 108stories Biology 100stories Physics 73stories Mathematics 28stories Goldwater 20stories

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