Teaching & Learning

Gold Rush: Three USU Undergrad Researchers are 2022 Goldwater Scholars

Bruce Brewer, Cristina Chirvasa and Wesley Mills are recipients of nation's top recognition for undergraduate STEM scholars.

By Mary-Ann Muffoletto |

From left, USU students Bruce Brewer, Cristina Chirvasa and Wesley Mills are 2022 Goldwater Scholars. The honor is among the nation's top recognitions for undergraduate STEM scholars.

Utah State University students Bruce Brewer, Cristina Chirvasa and Wesley Mills are 2022 Goldwater Scholars, named in a prestigious national competition that recognizes outstanding achievements by undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The awards were announced March 25 by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which administers the program. The Aggies are among 475 awardees selected this year from more than 1,242 nominees representing 433 institutions.

With this year’s award recipients, USU boasts 37 Goldwater Scholars and 15 honorable mention recipients since 1998; numbers that rival the nation’s top universities.

"Goldwater Scholars are selected from among the nation’s top STEM undergraduate scholars,” says USU President Noelle Cockett. “This well-deserved recognition is a testament to the exceptional achievements of our students 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. Nominated this year, in addition to the award recipients, was physics major Heather Allen.

Award recipients receive one- or two-year scholarships of up to $7,500 per year toward annual tuition and expenses.

“All of the students who participated in this year’s Goldwater application process are outstanding undergraduate researchers, and our four nominees have demonstrated exceptional scientific research potential,” says Professor Kristine Miller, Honors Program executive director. “USU’s consistent success in the Goldwater competition results from a strong culture of undergraduate research and faculty mentoring, and the individual commitment of Physics Professor David Peak, who guides students through the application process. We are proud of all these students, and very pleased three have joined the ranks of Goldwater Scholars.”

Bruce Brewer, major in Mathematics, minors in Computer Science and Statistics

A native of American Fork, Utah, Brewer is studying partial differential equations and nonlinear waves with faculty mentor Nghiem Nguyen in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

“My current project is studying the interaction of long and short waves in dispersive media,” he says.

Brewer is on his way, this week, to present his research at the 12th annual Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science (IMACS) International Conference on Nonlinear Evolution Equations and Wave Phenomena: Computation and Theory at the University of Georgia in Athens.

Brewer’s demanding academic schedule and research keep him busy, but he finds time to relax with the Aggie Game Night Club.

“I made some lasting friends in the club pre-pandemic, and I’ve been enjoying meeting new people now that it’s started back up again in person post-pandemic,” he says.

Brewer, who graduated from the Utah County Academy of Sciences in 2019, plans to pursue graduate studies in mathematics.

“My goal is to become a professor of mathematics,” he says.

Cristina Chirvasa, majors in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences and Wildlife Ecology Management

Growing up in Romania, the closest Chirvasa usually found herself to actual wilderness was by watching Animal Planet. Notwithstanding the electronic distance, she became entranced by wild animals and felt drawn to ecosystems of all kinds. When she moved, at age 10, to the Salt Lake area with her mom, who was seeking social and educational opportunities, it was with the family dog on her lap.

As an outsider, and a student learning English for the first time, Chirvasa felt pressure to prove she could make positive contributions to her new community. Her spirited strategy was to move beyond the 'above and beyond' standards for kids her age; committing herself not only to academics, but to volunteer opportunities, work, internships and extracurricular activities.

The Undergraduate Research Fellow’s academic superpowers are her fearlessness and networking prowess. During a high school internship at the Bureau of Land Management, she probed her mentor for access to hands-on experiences in fisheries, and pounced when they surfaced. She later teamed with Tim Walsworth, from the Department of Watershed Sciences in the Quantitative Fisheries and Aquatic Ecology Lab, exploring how zooplankton affect algae blooms in Utah Lake to help maintain cleaner water. Confirming a relationship between carp and algae blooms would make it easier to support carp removal efforts, she said, which requires significant money and manpower to perform. She is also working with Andrew Kulmatiski from the Department of Wildland Resources looking at how plants in the western U.S. will be impacted by climate-change-caused shifts in precipitation.

Chirvasa is an Honors student, a Community-Engaged Scholar and a Quinney Scholar. Her next stop, she hopes, is Oxford. She has a goal to become a Rhodes Scholar and to work in conservation science, and hopes that her deep research experience and this award will help to make that more likely. Meanwhile, Chirvasa plans to embrace any opportunities that wander her way.

Wesley Mills, major in Physics, minor in Mathematics

A Clovis, California native, Mills graduated from Clovis High School in 2017. The USU Honors student is an Undergraduate Research Fellow and was selected as a Peak Summer Research Fellow.

“My research involves studying the way light interacts with extremely small structures – specifically carbon nanotubes,” says Mills, who pursues research with Physics Professor T.-C. Shen. “My goal is to design and fabricate a material with very low reflection across a wide range of light wavelengths.”

Such a material, he says, could help increase precision of optical instruments and improve energy conversion in solar panels.

Mills says he’s motivated by “a fascination with the world.”

“I cannot, in my lifetime, hope to understand everything, but physics gives me a tool for understanding some things,” he says. “And the more I explore, the more I find there is to learn.”

Following graduation from USU, Mills plans to work toward earning a Ph.D. in physics, continuing to focus on optics and photonics.

Previous USU Goldwater Honorees

(Note: The Goldwater Foundation discontinued awarding honorable mentions in 2020.)

2021
Ethan Ancell, statistics and computational mathematics
Manuel Santana, computational mathematics

2020
Matthew Hogan, physics
Andrew Kjar, biological engineering
Jenny R. Whiteley, physics

2019
Bryce Frederickson, mathematics
Ethan Hammer, conservation and restoration ecology, ecology and wildlife

2018
David Maughan, physics and mathematics (Honorable Mention)

2017
Jake Christensen, physics
Thomas Hill, mathematics
A.J. Walters, biological engineering, biochemistry and biology (Honorable Mention)

2016
Benjamin Lovelady, physics
Caroline Bourgeois, biology and biochemistry (Honorable Mention)
Alexander Cook, biological engineering (Honorable Mention)

2015
Kathryn Sweet, biochemistry and physics
David Griffin, physics and computer science (Honorable Mention)

2014
Rachel Nydegger Rozum, physics and mathematics
David Griffin, physics and computer science (Honorable Mention)

2013
J. Tyler Gish, chemistry and physics
Jordan Rozum, physics and mathematics

2012
Mitch Dabling, civil engineering
Sarah Mousley, mathematics
Jordan Rozum, physics and mathematics (Honorable Mention)
Rachel Ward, physics and mathematics (Honorable Mention)

2011
Linsey Johnson, physics
Brooke Siler, biochemistry and economics
Brian Tracy, physics
Karen Nielsen, mechanical and aerospace engineering (Honorable Mention)

2010
Daniel Fenn, physics
Justin Koeln, mechanical and aerospace engineering
Robert Call, physics (Honorable Mention)

2009
Taren McKenna, physics and mathematics
Cody Tramp, molecular biology and biochemistry
B.J. Myers, physics and computer science (Honorable Mention)

2008
Jodie Barker-Tvedtnes, physics
Tamara Jeppson, geology and physics
Sydney Chamberlin, physics and mathematics (Honorable Mention)
Cody Tramp, molecular biology and biochemistry (Honorable Mention)

2007
Jennifer Albretsen-Roth, physics
Arthur Mahoney, computer science and mathematics
Jodie Barker-Tvedtnes, physics (Honorable Mention)

2006
Logan McKenna, electrical engineering
Heidi Wheelwright, physics
Keith Warnick, physics (Honorable Mention)

2004
Stephanie Chambers, biology
David Hatch, physics

2002
Jamie B. Jorgensen, physics and mathematics

2001
Lara B. Anderson, physics and mathematics

1998
Jeff Jacobs, mechanical engineering

Lael Gilbert, public information officer for USU’s Quinney College of Natural Resources, contributed to this announcement.

WRITER

Mary-Ann Muffoletto
Public Relations Specialist
College of Science
435-797-3517
maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu

CONTACT

Kristine Miller
Director
USU Honors Program
435-797-3637
kristine.miller@usu.edu


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