Three Vanderbilt students named Goldwater Scholars for 2022

Rising seniors Alexandra Duncan, Andrew Hanna and Ethan Nguyen have been named 2022 Barry A. Goldwater Scholars, joining 2021 scholar and fellow rising senior Joseph Sexton for a new Vanderbilt institutional record of four current Goldwater Scholars.

The Goldwater Scholarship is the nation’s most competitive scholarship for undergraduate STEM students who show exceptional promise for becoming the nation’s next generation of research leaders. In collaboration with the Department of Defense National Defense Education Program, and with additional support from Congress, Goldwater Scholars receive up to $7,500 per year toward educational expenses for the remainder of the student’s undergraduate career.

A total of 475 Goldwater Scholars were selected this year from a pool of 1,242 outstanding undergraduates nominated by 433 institutions. Since the inception of program in 1986, 9,870 undergraduates have been named Goldwater Scholars. Goldwater Scholars frequently go on to win other major fellowships, including the Rhodes Scholarship, Marshall Scholarship, Churchill Scholarship and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

Alexandra “Alex” Duncan

Duncan is a neuroscience (with honors) and medicine, health and society major from St. Louis, Missouri. Duncan serves as an undergraduate research assistant in the lab of Roger Colbran, who holds the Louise B. McGavock Chair and is professor of molecular physiology and biophysics, focusing on genetic regulatory mechanisms in cognition and memory. She intends to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in neuroscience with a focus on neurodevelopment disorders or neuro-inflammatory diseases and conduct basic research to understand the molecular basis of these diseases in hopes of contributing to the development of clinical solutions. Duncan notes that “this award is a validation of my love and passion for this field. I fell in love with academic research in the field of neuroscience as a 16-year-old, and five years later I can still go on for hours about neuroscience and my research. I am also incredibly grateful for my mentors and professors who continue to serve as incredible guides and inspiration. They push me every day to learn something new, think more critically and become a better scientist.”

Andrew Hanna

Hanna, a biochemistry major from Lutz, Florida, is a research assistant in the lab of Craig Duvall, Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair and professor of biomedical engineering, focusing on the development of sheer-thinning hyaluronic-acid hydrogels for diabetic wound healing. Hanna notes, “I really owe this award to all my mentors who have selflessly indulged my repetitive questions and nurtured my curiosity, and to my professors who have shared their hard-earned expertise and provided the groundwork for any research I carry out.” These mentors include Carlos Lee (Lyndra Therapeutics), Deblina Biswas (Lyndra Therapeutics), Mike Smith (Moderna) and Mike Collier (Moderna). Hanna intends to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry with a focus on platform development and molecular design.

Ethan Nguyen

Nguyen, a computer science and mathematics (honors) major from Centreville, Virginia, conducts research in machine learning and deep learning within the context of computer vision. A SyBBURE undergraduate researcher and Lera Stevens Scholar, Nguyen has conducted research under Yuankai Huo, assistant professor of computer science, Katrina Leaptrot, research assistant professor of chemistry, and Jonathan D. Ehrman in the SyBBURE Searle Lab, Vanderbilt Biophotonics Center and at Catholic University of America. He is currently studying at the American University of Paris. He intends to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science and conduct research into computer vision and medical image analysis techniques.

Joseph Sexton

Sexton is a psychology and medicine, health and society major, minoring in methods, mathematics and scientific computing from Cumming, Georgia. His mentors include Kirsty Clark, assistant professor of medicine, health and society, David Isaacs, assistant professor of neurology, and Angela Mabb (Georgia State). Sexton’s work applies evolutionary, cognitive and computational approaches to the study of suicidal thoughts and behaviors to advance theory and treatment. He is an inaugural Rising Leader for the Tourette Association of America, a Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholar, Atlanta Lanier Scholar and Vanderbilt Truman Scholar nominee. Sexton is interested in mental health reform, meta-science and the anthropology of psychiatry, and he heads the mental health policy working group within Active Minds at Vanderbilt. He intends to pursue a Ph.D. in quantitative psychology/psychometrics.

Applications for the 2023 Goldwater Scholarship will open in early fall 2022. Each institution is permitted to nominate up to four sophomore and junior students who are actively engaged in mentored research and who intend to pursue a Ph.D. in a STEM discipline.

Those interested in the Goldwater Scholarship or other competitive fellowships should contact Elizabeth Harrington Lambert, associate director of fellowships and scholarships.

About the Career Center

The Career Center supports all undergraduate students, graduate students (STEM, humanities and social science disciplines), postdoctoral fellows and recent Vanderbilt alumni up to two years after graduation.

About the Fellowships Team

The Fellowships Team supports all Vanderbilt students, postdoctoral fellows and alumni who are eligible to apply for the awards that the Career Center supports. More information on all supported fellowships can be found on the Career Center website.