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Three Furman students win Goldwater Scholarships

Lauren Jones '22.

Three Furman University juniors have received awards from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship program, which aims to identify and support U.S. college sophomores and juniors who show promise in becoming the nation’s next generation of research leaders in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics.

The awardees are:

  • Lauren Jones, a neuroscience major from Tucker, Georgia
  • Luke Kurfman, a chemistry major from Greenville, South Carolina, and
  • Brenna Outten, a neuroscience major from McDonough, Georgia.

Highly selective, the Goldwater honor is awarded to top-performing students who show research aptitude and who plan on a research career in selected science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Of the more than 5,000 applications submitted, only 410 were awarded scholarships this year. As juniors, each Furman student will receive up to $7,500 in scholarship funds and the status that comes with earning the coveted award.

“The Goldwater is the first possible mark of a research scientist you can see in tangible form,” said George Shields, professor of chemistry and mentor to all the winners. “When you see that on somebody’s resume, you’re like, ‘Wow.’”

Black woman outdoors, Brenna Outten
Brenna Outten ’22

Besides the award’s selective nature, it’s hard to achieve the Goldwater badge because students need to demonstrate research chops early on in their college careers.

Having outstanding performance in the classroom, Lauren Jones and Brenna Outten were approached by Shields to work with him the summer after their sophomore years. Their project is aimed at applying computational chemistry methods to predict safer, more effective molecules that will inhibit or activate the Mu Opioid Receptor (MOR) to help prevent overdose from the use of opioids to manage pain. It’s a project funded by a SC INBRE Student-Initiated Research Projects Program grant.

White man in purple shirt outdoors
Luke Kurfman ’22

Luke Kurfman learned on a Thursday that a paper on which he was first author was accepted by The Journal of Physical Chemistry A. The next day, he found out he was a Goldwater recipient – that’s a good week in anybody’s book.

His work in Shields’ lab involves research into atmospheric aerosols, specifically sulfuric acid aerosols, that impact the global climate model. “By studying various clusters of these aerosols, we hope to provide more accurate values for Gibbs free energy to enable climate scientists to more accurately predict the prevalence of these clusters in the atmosphere that affect Earth’s climate,” Kurfman said.

Shields says the Goldwater is a steppingstone to even more awards and opportunities once you get to graduate school.

“If you’ve already won a Goldwater, you’ve got a leg up, you’ve already figured out how to do applications and you’ve got a track record. The little successes build, and they lead to bigger successes,” said Shields, whose previous Goldwater awardees have gone on to accomplished careers in the sciences.

Scott Henderson, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Education and director of national and international scholarships, said, “I think the Goldwater awards epitomize the objectives of The Furman Advantage. The success of students’ applications hinges in large part on those student-faculty collaborations. Having students win Goldwater scholarships is a public affirmation that we prioritize these strong, meaningful student-faculty mentoring relationships.”

White man with glasses outdoors, George Shields
Professor of Chemistry George Shields

For his part, Shields, who has teamed with 12 Goldwater winners over the course of his career, said, “I get tremendous satisfaction out of seeing students be successful. When you watch them do well in the classroom, that’s one thing. When you watch them flourish as undergraduate researchers, that’s a whole other level. They’re learning how to apply the scientific method and actually helping to construct new knowledge that other people will be able to build on in the future.”

In the 35 years that the Goldwater Scholarships have existed, 27 Furman students have won awards. All three 2021 Furman Goldwater honorees will continue to work with Shields this summer.

“They are all very hard workers,” he said. “And doing science is a lot like anything else. You show up, you work hard, and good things happen.”

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