Goldwater Scholarships for 2017-18 Awarded to Three WSU Junior Women in STEM Majors

MEDIA: April Seehafer, Director of the Distinguished Scholarships Program, WSU Undergraduate Education, 509-335-8239,

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

Beverly Makhani, Director of Communications and Marketing, WSU Undergraduate Education, 509-335-6679,

View this article as published on the WSU News website

PULLMAN, Wash.—The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation has announced that Washington State University juniors Amelia Brown, Julianna Brutman, and Keesha Matz have each received $7,500 awards for the 2017-18 academic year. Goldwater’s are among the top, nationally competitive distinguished scholarships; they cover tuition, room and board, and fees.

The WSU winners are all WSU Regents Scholars and STEM majors planning to graduate in 2018, earn doctoral degrees, and enter research careers to improve human health. Matz, a microbiology major from Chehalis, and Brutman, a neuroscience major from Bothell, are in the STARS (Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies) program in the School of Molecular Biosciences (SMB) in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Brown, from Lake Forest Park, is a materials science and engineering major in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.

“Your institution should be immensely proud of the students and the faculty who worked with them to achieve this level of accomplishment,” wrote John Mateja, president of the Goldwater Foundation, in an announcement letter to Mary Sánchez Lanier, assistant vice provost and WSU’s faculty liaison to the national foundation.

“Our students, once again, make us proud by winning Goldwater’s, which are prestigious, nationally competitive distinguished scholarships,” said Sánchez Lanier. “They are outstanding researchers and they advance knowledge in their fields by delivering presentations on their work and contributing to journal publications. They are leaders on campus, supporting other students by serving as ambassadors, mentors, and club officers. And in their future careers, they will all make a difference in Washington, the nation, and the world.”

At WSU, Goldwater’s Come in Three’s

This year, the winning WSU students were among 1,286 sophomores and juniors from 470 institutions nominated by their colleges for a Goldwater scholarship. Selected based on academic merit, research experience, and progress towards a research career, 240 Goldwater Scholars with majors in natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering were selected to receive scholarships.

WSU’s new Goldwater Scholars represent three of the five awarded to Washington citizens. The other two students attend Ivy League schools—Cornell University and Dartmouth College.

April Seehafer, director of the Distinguished Scholarships Program, part of WSU Undergraduate Education, noted that 2017-18 will be the fourth year in a row that three Cougars won Goldwater’s.

“And, actually, Keesha Matz’s new award is her second Goldwater in a row. She also applied when she was a sophomore and received an honorable mention for 2016-17.

The Goldwater Foundation made its first awards in 1989, and WSU’s newest three bring to 37 the total number of Goldwater’s awarded to WSU students. We have established a tradition of excellence in undergraduate research and national recognition for those efforts.

Matz: Nipah and Lyme Diseases, Viruses, and the Mayo Clinic

Keesha Matz plans to become a leader in the study of viruses and infectious diseases at an international biomedical research institution, such as the World Health Organization. She wants to develop treatments and drugs with world-wide impact. Thanks to her many accomplishments at WSU, she is on the right track.

She caught the bug to pursue biomedical research while at W.F. West High School, where she conducted an independent molecular genetics research project and studied DNA methylation patterns under her award-winning teacher and WSU alumnus Henri L. Weeks (’87 Sciences). With his encouragement, she choose Washington State because of its research reputation and its STARS program, plus she received a Regents Scholarship and was admitted to the Honors College.

STARS provides a fast-track from undergraduate to doctoral studies and hands-on mentored research. With hundreds of hours of lab-based experiences, Matz has been invited to present at national conferences, won numerous awards and scholarships, and has been co-author on submitted journal publications in her field.

She studied the notorious Nipah virus, which has no vaccine or cure, and targets the respiratory and nervous systems, especially the brain. It’s particularly prevalent in developing countries.

In Associate Professor Hector Aguilar-Carreno lab’s in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, Matz investigated Nipah’s viral replication lifecycle to help design antiviral treatments. Now, with mentors Aguilar-Carreno and SMB Assistant Professor Alan Goodman, Matz is researching the roles of Nipah virus proteins on innate immune responses of infected host cells, leading to a greater understanding of the mechanisms of Nipah virus infectivity.

In the lab of Associate Professor Troy Bankhead, she researched antigenic variation in the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes persistent Lyme disease infections.

In summer 2015, she studied abroad for six weeks in Costa Rica. Living with a host family, she was immersed in Spanish language and culture. She studied environmental ethics and Spanish for 20 hours each week, and explored the region with classmates on weekends.

“The experience definitely influenced the direction of my career,” she said. “I realized that through biomedical research, I want to help people throughout the world.”

This summer, she will be in Rochester, Minn., participating in a summer undergraduate research fellowship at the Mayo Clinic for 10 weeks. Her assignment is to study a protein of the Ebola virus that evades the antiviral response at the cellular level—somewhat similar to her Nipah work at WSU.

“Being awarded the Goldwater Scholarship is the culmination of lots of hard work and I am grateful for the incredible support from my parents and mentors,” Matz said. In addition to her research, she has worked in the past year to boost her vita by getting involved with clubs and helping other students to succeed.

She is the daughter of Anne and Dale Matz, of Chehalis.

Brutman: Epigenetics and Obesity

Julianna Brutman intends to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience and obtain a faculty position at a university ranked as having “highest research activity” according to the Carnegie Classification. She hopes to divide her time between actively researching the key epigenetic factors associated with obesity genesis and maintenance as well as teach future generations of biomedical researchers. Her passion to be a helpful, knowledgeable resource to others began when she was young, and has grown more firm over the years.

Her interest in neuroscience was sparked when she was just nine years old, doing barn chores in support of RideAbility of Minnesota, a therapeutic horse-riding program for people with mental and physical disabilities. Her responsibilities increased and by the time she was 16, she could identify and name her interest in human cognitive functions.

This experience, coupled with the premature death of a peer due to brain cancer, sparked her interest in understanding the biological basis for neurological diseases and disorders. She read about autism, and pored through primary research journals to learn about epigenetics, which is the field of study that investigates the impact of environmental influences on genetic expression in organisms. In high school, she prepared a poster on the topic and won first place at the 2014 Northwest Association for Biomedical Research’s annual Student BioExpo.

She applied to WSU because of its outstanding faculty researchers in genetics and cell biology, plus the STARS program. She is a Regents Scholar and in the STARS program; through it, she will earn her doctoral degree in addition to her bachelor’s degree at WSU.

“I aspire to dedicate my career to understanding gut-brain communication in the context of obesity, in particular its genesis and maintenance in the hypothalamus, also known as the brain’s appetite center,” Brutman said.

She is fascinated by what leads to addictive behaviors and plans to discover novel treatment methods. Her first STARS rotation was with Dept. of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience (IPN) Assistant Professor Jon Davis, where she assisted with, designed, and conducted studies investigating psychopathological disorders such as binge eating disorder on a pre-clinical binge-like feeding rodent model. In summer 2016, she wrote and was awarded a young investigator grant from Washington State ADARP (Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program) to investigate hypothalamic epigenetic changes in obese rodents exposed to a high-fat diet.

In her research, she applies “a multidisciplinary approach that combines measurement of gastrointestinal peptide release and assessment of neurobiological changes in the central nervous system during the acquisition and expression of obesity in rodents.” Her data describing binge feeding in female rates was selected for a “hot topic” presentation at the international conference of The Obesity Society in November 2016.

Outside the lab, she is involved in several student clubs. She is an Honors College mentor, secretary of the Neuroscience Club, secretary of the Honors Student Advisory Council, and vice president of the Molecular Biosciences Club. She also serves as a CVM promotor and helps prospective and incoming WSU students understand what neuroscience is all about.

“Most of my activities and outreach are consistent with my major, because that’s what I’m most passionate about,” said Brutman.

“When I learned I was receiving a Goldwater Scholarship for next year, I was in shock for about 20 minutes with excitement,” she said. “I am thankful to be selected as a Goldwater. I’m even more thankful for the people who helped me reach this point in my career—my parents, Dr. Jon Davis, and other faculty in IPN and SMB. I’m fortunate to have a supportive group around me so I can extend myself both as a researcher and as a person.”

This summer, she will use her newly awarded ADARP grant to continue her research projects, which entail examining the epigenetic changes induced by high-fat diet exposure in female rodents

She’s also looking forward to the fall arrival on campus of her sister, Krista, an incoming freshman who received a WSU Distinguished Regents Scholarship. They, along with siblings Audrey and Bradley, are the children of Michael and Lynne Brutman, of Bothell.

Brown: Nanotechnology, Math, and Diabetes

Amelia Brown has strong feelings about specific things: math, “because it gets to the basis of why things work;” sustainability and “living life in a sustainable fashion,” after witnessing piles of bones from whales slaughtered for meat on Antarctic beaches; and becoming an engineer, “which must be in my genes.”

Her mother, Christy, is a chemical engineer; her father, Derek, is a computer scientist and software engineer; and her brother and WSU alumnus, Arthur (’16 Computer Engineering), works in that field.

Through connections at Shorecrest High School, Amelia connected with a University of Washington astronomy professor and became a research volunteer. She helped collect data on star brightness for a paper on oscillation frequency, and updated the computer code of a UW telescope at Manastash Ridge Observatory in Ellensburg so that a new spectrograph could be installed.

Impressed with WSU’s publicized undergraduate research opportunities and the “welcoming, collaborative community” atmosphere, she came to WSU with a Regents Scholarship. She intended to study physics, but a materials science course intrigued her more and led her to a major in materials science and engineering.

Then, a December 2015 study-abroad experience inspired her to further engage in research at college. Living aboard a small ship for two weeks, the students explored microbiological life in Antarctic glacial waters and visited microbiologists at remote research centers.

“It was magical,” Brown said. “What made a lasting impression was the researchers’ vibrant community and sense of excitement about the topics they were studying.”

She does research for fun and to learn with peers and faculty at WSU.

“To get involved in the greater learning community and broaden my understanding of both the technical and collaborative aspects of engineering,” she joined the Materials Advantage chapter and the Aerospace Club, participating in the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition. She co-led the WSU team’s parachute system and recovery team, engineering and fabricating the large parachutes. She’s also part of the CougSat/Cougs in Space engineering team just endorsed by NASA to include on a rocket launch a solar-paneled, satellite-mounted camera to take and relay images back to Earth.

In summer 2016, she joined Associate Professor Scott Beckman’s research group that focuses on the mathematics and physics of materials. One of her projects there focuses on diffusion kinetics of porous catalysts, which has industrial and research applications. Another involved developing a mathematical model of encapsulated cellular systems to assist in biomedical applications; through the design of microcapsules, cells could be protected against immune system response for diabetes and neurological treatments. One application would be to insert “islets” into the pancreas of a Type I diabetic that would live to stimulate the organ to produce its own insulin for periods of time.

Brown plans to each a Ph.D. studying materials for biosensors and nanotechnology, then teach and research nanotechnology for biomedical applications—such as ultrasensitive diagnostic devices—at a university. This type of highly interdisciplinary research is common in the field of materials science.

Her Goldwater, she said, “goes beyond my GPA; it recognizes my hard work in research, which I do because I love it. That distinction is very important to me. I am very grateful for the scholarship.”