Science major wins prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

Posted by Centre News in Academics, Fellowships and Honors, News 07 Apr 2011

Winning prestigious national and international scholarships is what Centre College students do best, and the most recent student to make good on this claim is Louesa Akin ’12 of Paducah, Ky., who has just been named a 2011 recipient of a Goldwater Scholarship.

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship is the most highly regarded award in the math, science and engineering undergraduate community. Offered to outstanding college sophomores and juniors, it provides up to $7,500 per year for educational expenses to sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering. The Goldwater Foundation seeks students in mathematics or the sciences who display intellectual curiosity and intensity and possess potential for significant future contributions in their chosen field. Sophomores awarded the scholarship receive two years of support; juniors receive one year of support.

The biochemistry and molecular biology major believes the personal education she has received at the College played a significant role in her receiving the award.

“Honestly, Centre provides the best education and preparation for applying for awards and scholarships. My freshman year, I asked nearly every teacher in the science department if I could do research with them. Although most of the professors I talked to weren’t able to offer me a research position then, they all pointed me in the direction of another professor who might be able to use my help for the summer.”

Akin adds that “having a background in research is an essential part of this scholarship. I got my start doing research at Centre after my freshman year with Dr. Jennifer Muzyka, who is working to find a novel inhibitor of the MurA enzyme by using virtual screening. I continued this research the spring of my sophomore year after studying abroad in China; the following summer, I did research with Dr. Jens Meiler at Vanderbilt University, where my project focused on writing scoring functions for a protein folding application.”

Akin also says that one of the best suggestions she ever received was biology professor Dr. Steve Asmus’ advice to take a computer science course. “That one course led to so many opportunities that it’s unbelievable,” she says. “Dr. Joseph Oldham, who taught that course, wrote the recommendation that got me into the lab at Vanderbilt.”

Participating in Centre’s annual Research, Internships and Creative Endeavors (RICE) academic symposium also helped prepare Akin for her future. “It allowed me to practice presentation skills,” she says.

Practicing these skills enabled Akin to take first place at the November 2010 Kentucky Academy of Science (KAS) Annual Meeting. There, she received top honors in the cellular and molecular biology category for her presentation on the research she had conducted at Vanderbilt.

After graduating from Centre in May 2012, Akin plans to attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in structural biology or chemistry, and she believes Centre has helped pave the way for this future.

“Centre has given me so much, and I hate to not thank it first and foremost for helping me to achieve this award.”

By Leigh Cocanougher

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