Science & Technology

Gold Standard: USU Undergrad Sophia Hessami Named 2024 Goldwater Scholar

Biological engineering major, honors student and undergraduate researcher is recognized in the nation's top national academic competition for STEM scholars.

By Mary-Ann Muffoletto |

Sophia Hessami, an honors student and biological engineering major, is a 2024 Goldwater Scholar. The honor is among the nation's top recognitions for undergraduate STEM scholars. (Photo Credit: USU/Levi Sim)

Utah State University honors student Sophia Hessami is a 2024 Goldwater Scholar, named in a prestigious national competition that recognizes outstanding achievements by undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The awards were announced March 29 by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which administers the program. Hessami is among 438 awardees selected this year from more than 1,353 nominees representing 466 institutions.

With this year’s award recipients, USU boasts 38 Goldwater Scholars and 15 honorable mention recipients since 1998; numbers that rival the nation’s top universities.

"We are thrilled to congratulate Sophia Hessami on this well-deserved recognition," says USU President Elizabeth Cantwell. "Goldwater Scholars are selected from among the nation's top STEM undergraduate scholars and, for more than 25 years, Aggies have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with scholars from our country's premier research universities. This honor is not only a testament to our outstanding students, but also to our outstanding faculty mentors and undergraduate research programs."

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 Hessami, were Jacey Hopkin, Kade Robison and Zachary Zito.

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

“Every student who drafted a Goldwater application this year is an outstanding undergraduate researcher, and USU’s four nominees have demonstrated exceptional scientific research potential,” says Professor Kristine Miller, Honors Program executive director. “USU’s strong culture of undergraduate research and faculty mentoring prepares our students very well for the Goldwater competition, and Professor Ryan Berke deserves special thanks for his work with students throughout the application process. We are proud of all these students and congratulate Sophia on being named one of this year’s Goldwater Scholars.”

"The Goldwater Scholarship is a prestigious national award that recognizes the next generation of leaders in STEM research," says Ryan Berke, USU's Goldwater Scholarship faculty mentor, who coaches candidates to prepare competitive applications that reflect their many achievements. "To be truly competitive, applicants must show academic excellence that extends beyond the classroom, and produce scholarly output that pushes the limits of human understanding. Winners of the scholarship are among the most promising researchers in their fields at a relatively early point in their research careers."

Sophia Hessami, Goldwater Scholar

Major in Biological Engineering, minor in Chemistry

A native of Spokane, Washington, Hessami says her most impactful experiences at Utah State have been in the tissue engineering lab of faculty mentor Elizabeth Vargis.

“The mentorship that Dr. Vargis and her graduate students have provided has been instrumental in my development as a researcher,” she says.

The honors student plans to pursue a master’s degree in biological engineering here at Utah State.

“I’m not 100 percent certain what my next steps beyond that will be, but I hope my career leads me to a space where I can mentor women and other minorities in STEM.”

Jacey Hopkin, Nominee

Majors in Psychology and Biology

A first-generation college student, Hopkin studies psychology with an emphasis in neuroscience research.

“I’m absolutely fascinated by the inner workings of the brain,” says the honors student, who is a West Haven, Utah native.

Hopkin is currently conducting research in two USU labs, in which she’s studying vasopressin in monogamous animals and Alzheimer’s disease models in rats.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing faculty mentors, including Dr. Sara Freeman, Dr. Mona Buhusi, Dr. Cataline Buhusi and Dr. Ryan Jackson,” she says. Their mentorship has made all the difference in my education.

The busy scholar, who plan to pursue graduate studies, is also a USU Writing Fellow and served as the 2023-24 Honors Study Advisory Board representative for the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services.

Kade Robison, Nominee

Major in Biological Engineering

Robison lists participating in research in USU’s Antivirals Lab as a highlight of his academic career at Utah State, and an experience that will prepare him well following his undergraduate studies.

“I plan to pursue a medical scientist training program, in which I’ll earn an M.D. and a Ph.D., says the honors student, who is from Highland, Utah. “My goals include completing a residency in cancer treatment and devoting my career to innovative cancer research and treatment.”

Beyond the lab and classroom, Robison likes socializing with friends and going to USU athletic events. He enjoys being involved in varied student clubs, community organizations and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Institute.

Zachary Matthew Zito, Nominee

Majors in Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy

Zito, a native of West Valley City and Magna, Utah, says he’s had “incredible” opportunities for learning and growth, along with invaluable mentorship from scholars and leaders at Utah State.

“I’ve received gracious hospitality at every level and, in particular, I am grateful for the chance to have spent two summers engaged in full-time research on the physics and metaphysics of time as a two-time recipient of Peak Summer Research Fellowships,” says the honors student.

Zito plans graduate study in mathematics, philosophy and science, followed by a research career in Complex Systems Theory.

“My aim is to find and utilize hidden structures within nonlinear and chaotic systems,” he says.

Previous USU Goldwater Honorees

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


Bruce Brewer, mathematics

Cristina Chirvasa, fisheries and aquatic sciences, wildlife ecology management

Wesley Mills, physics


Ethan Ancell, statistics and computational mathematics

Manuel Santana, computational mathematics


Matthew Hogan, physics

Andrew Kjar, biological engineering

Jenny R. Whiteley, physics


Bryce Frederickson, mathematics

Ethan Hammer, conservation and restoration ecology, ecology and wildlife


David Maughan, physics and mathematics (Honorable Mention)


Jake Christensen, physicsThomas Hill, mathematicsA.J. Walters, biological engineering, biochemistry and biology (Honorable Mention)


Benjamin Lovelady, physicsCaroline Bourgeois, biology and biochemistry (Honorable Mention)Alexander Cook, biological engineering (Honorable Mention)


Kathryn Sweet, biochemistry and physics

David Griffin, physics and computer science (Honorable Mention)


Rachel Nydegger Rozum, physics and mathematics

David Griffin, physics and computer science (Honorable Mention)


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 and computer science (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 and mathematics


Lara B. Anderson, physics and mathematics


Jeff Jacobs, mechanical engineering

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

USU nominees for the 2024 Goldwater Scholar competition included, from left, honors students Kade Robison, Jacey Hopkin and Zachary Zito. (Photo Credit: USU/Levi Sim)


Mary-Ann Muffoletto
Public Relations Specialist
College of Science


Kristine Miller
Executive Director, Professor
USU Honors Program


Awards 690stories STEM 156stories

Comments and questions regarding this article may be directed to the contact person listed on this page.

Next Story in Science & Technology

See Also