WSU undergraduates Justin Niedermeyer and Seth Schneider land national Goldwater scholarships; Angela Rocchi receives honorable mention

MEDIA: Sarah Ann Hones, Director of the Distinguished Scholarships Program, WSU Office of Undergraduate Education, 509-335-8239,

Mary Sánchez Lanier, WSU Assistant Vice Provost, 509-335-2320,

Read our 2015 Fulbright recipients on the Daily EvergreenRead about our 2015 Goldwater scholarship recipients on the Daily Evergreen

PULLMAN, Wash.—The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program has announced that two Washington State University science students have been awarded Goldwater scholarships for 2015, and one student received an honorable mention.

The Goldwater Scholarship winners and future research scientists are Justin F. Niedermeyer, 22, a junior from Milton, Wash., and Seth M. Schneider, 20, a sophomore from Rochester, Wash. Recipient of the Goldwater honorable mention is future physician and research scientist Angela R. Rocchi, 20, a sophomore from Elk, Wash. All three are in the WSU Honors College. Schneider is in the STARS program in the School of Molecular Biosciences. Niedermeyer and Schneider are WSU Regents Scholars and Rocchi is a Distinguished Regents Scholar.

Greater competition this year

“The competition for awards from the Goldwater Foundation was especially keen this year, so recognition by the organization is a great testament to the quality of the research and professional goals of our three winners,” said Mary F. Wack, WSU vice provost for undergraduate education.

Sarah Ann Hones, director of the Distinguished Scholarships Program in the WSU Office of Undergraduate Education, added, “In the tradition of previous Goldwater Scholars at WSU, we know that these three will make great contributions to their fields of study and inspire other students to seek prestigious national awards to support and enhance their education.”

The Goldwater Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor the five-term, Republican U.S. Senator from Arizona. These merit-based awards are awarded to college sophomores and juniors who are in science, engineering, and mathematics programs and intend to pursue a career in research. The scholarships are typically for $7,500 to support their studies in their home university.

According to Mary Sanchez Lanier, assistant vice provost and the Goldwater faculty representative, WSU has had 24 Goldwater awardees and 7 honorable mentions since 1990.

Niedermeyer: ultracold phenomena

Portrait Photo of Justin Niedermeyer

Niedermeyer said he feels “compelled to better humankind by making scientific discoveries.” He is pursuing bachelors’ degrees in physics (he has researched ultracold quantum gases at WSU and in Germany), music (he sings baritone with the WSU Madrigal Singers and did also with the Tacoma Opera), and “German for the professions.”

His future career will be as a principal investigator in a research group studying ultracold phenomena, such as Bose-Einstein and fermionic condensates to model and further the understanding of condensed systems as superconductivity. These tangible applications of ultracold phenomena could be used for such things as lossless electric transmission lines and advanced medical imaging. He dreams of also being on the international team of scientists who create the first quantum computer, indescribably more powerful than any other to date.

His undergraduate research at WSU and in Germany sets him on the right track. They were preceded by three research experiences in high school—two involving properties of silver-halides and a chemistry project to observe the physical effect of crystal formation under the removal of electrons through the photoelectric effect.

He took his first physics class ever at WSU, and in the lab of physicist Peter Engel, he spent his first semester in Pullman designing and constructing a grating spectrometer than analyzes diode lasers. In summer 2014, a German scholarship [a Research Internship in Science and Engineering (RISE) award from Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD)] took him to the physics institute at the University of Heidelberg. As part of a lab team there, he built electronics and wrote software for multidimensional laser intensity stabilization to produce a complex intensity pattern with high fidelity. Back at WSU, he displayed a poster on his work at the 2015 Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA).

Niedermeyer has many interests and accomplishments beyond science. He says he learned to be responsible and to value mathematics because he has had Type I diabetes since the age of four. He composes music and has acted in amateur and professional theater productions since fifth grade. Following a family tradition of leadership at WSU, he choose to live in historic Waller Hall as did his grandfather Darold (’62 Pharmacy), uncle Dennis (’84 Business Administration/Management), and brother Brenden (’12 Business Administration/MIS) before him. He was elected the residence hall’s 79th Duke of Windsor; Brenden had that honor in 2010-11.

Niedermeyer is the eighth College of Arts and Sciences major to win a Goldwater award.

Schneider: bioterrorism defense

Portrait Photo of Seth Schneider

Schneider’s future profession will be in national defense, researching at a government laboratory to develop methods to analyze biological threats.

He is a genetics and cell biology major who plans to earn a Ph.D. in molecular biosciences at WSU through the STARS (Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies) program. It fast tracks students’ undergraduate plus graduate studies down to seven years and involves undergraduate research rotations and early thesis work. Schneider is the sixth STARS student to be recognized by the Goldwater Foundation. As a freshman and early sophomore, Schneider researched in microbiologist Cynthia Haseltine’s lab, studying homologous recombination in the model archaeal organism Sulfolobus solfataricus. Currently, he is working with genomicist Kelly Brayton studying tick-borne pathogens/bacteria that infect animals.

He credits his interest in research to his mentor and teacher Henri Weeks and his advanced molecular genetics class research project at W.F. West High School in Chehalis. At WSU, Schneider sought similar hands-on research and joined the freshman-level Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Alliance (HHMI-SEA) biology lab in the School of Molecular Biosciences. There, he successfully isolated and characterized a novel mycobacteriophage, and helped sequence and annotate the genome of two additional phages. He presented a poster and delivered an oral presentation at an HHMI-SEA Symposium.

Schneider hopes to be a future leader in scientific research by being a great communicator and teacher. He is studying Chinese at WSU and hopes to get another distinguished scholarship to study in China soon. He is a member of WSU’s Washington State Opportunity Scholarship program for STEM and pre-health majors. Beyond WSU, he is active in his church’s youth group and is always ready for a game of molly ball.

Schneider and Rocchi bring the total number of College of Veterinary Medicine majors recognized by the Goldwater Foundation to 17.

Rocchi: treatments for neurodegenerative diseases

Portrait Photo of Angela Rocchi

Angela Rocchi is a future physician and research scientist who is majoring in neuroscience. Her career goal is to create a deeper understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, and to create treatment options that go beyond symptomatic relief.

She calls herself a “nomad” because her father’s career took the family across the U.S and she attended 12 schools in eight different school districts. While at Tahoma Senior High School, she joined a Microsoft Research team to work on a TouchDevelop mobile app.

She is included in four in-progress manuscripts relating to her undergraduate research. Two are related to work in summer 2014 under Sarah Lummis, a fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry, where she is clarifying important differences in the roles of proline residues in different ligand-gated ion channels. She will return to the Lummis lab in summer 2015, with support from her second International Research Experience for Honors Students award from the Honors College.

Two other papers tie to what she has researched in biochemist Joseph Harding’s lab on uses of Dihexa, a drug used to treat neurodegenerative diseases and some cancers. One of the manuscripts involves its Parkinson’s applications, and the other its amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) applications.

Rocchi is proud of her family heritage. She is a third-generation Italian American and the third sister to attend WSU, following Beth (’13 Education) and Danielle (’13 Nursing).

Each year, the Office of Distinguished Scholarships informs and assists WSU students who seek awards to further their academic pursuits. A wall in the Compton Union Building (CUB)—the WSU Distinguished Scholars Gallery—celebrates the many students who have received the top national, federally funded awards including the Rhodes, Fulbright, Goldwater, Boren, and Gilman. The names of Niedermeyer, Schneider, and Rocchi will be added to the Goldwater listing. A new framed plaque for the WSU’s first Udall Scholarship recipient will be added with the name of Rachel Ellenwood, who also received word this spring of her award.