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National Fellowships and Scholar Programs

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Research opens doors to the Goldwater Scholarship

UofSC adds 2 more names to the list of prestigious national award winners

Two University of South Carolina students who have a love for music also share a passion for science — and the latter has brought them national recognition.

South Carolina Honors College juniors Ian Bain of Irmo, South Carolina, and Zoe Screwvala of Brooklyn, New York, have won prestigious Goldwater Scholarships, awarded annually to undergraduate STEM majors across the country. This marks the 28th year of UofSC scholarship winners since 1990. Both are students in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Bain studies chemistry and mathematics with a focus on analytical chemistry. He is a member of the Carolina Band, playing trumpet. Screwvala is a marine science major with an emphasis in physical oceanography. Like Bain, she is a musician and is working to obtain a violin performance certificate. 

Both students say being named a Goldwater Scholar opens doors to future research and graduate opportunities. 

“It has also connected me to a big community that is representing the next generation of scientists from all over the country ... with a broad range of scientific knowledge and experience,” Screwvala says.

Bain and Screwvala are part of the University’s Top Scholar community, an undergraduate scholarship program consisting of the five most prestigious merit awards. Bain is a Carolina Scholar (for South Carolina residents) and Screwvala is a McNair Scholar (for out-of-state students).

They join nearly 400 undergraduate students in the United States to receive Goldwater Scholarships for the 2019-20 academic year. Established by Congress in 1986 to honor the lifetime work of Sen. Barry Goldwater, the scholarship is awarded to sophomores and juniors pursuing careers in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering.

“My motivation for becoming a scientist came out of my desire to help people, and I enjoyed thinking creatively and outside of the box, which is a big part of science,” Screwvala says. “Dr. (Claudia) Benitez-Nelson was my professor for Marine Science 101, and she definitely inspired me to continue studying oceanography. Her class really put all the ocean processes that we were learning into context, and I was able to see how my work in the lab would apply to the real world.” 

At South Carolina, Screwvala conducts research in the marine geochemistry lab of Willard Moore and Claudia Benitez-Nelson, professors in the department of earth, ocean and environment. The research focuses on radium isotope analysis of seawater from all over the world, which has applications for understanding groundwater discharge in the ocean, coastal mixing processes and seawater-sediment interactions

Following a 2019 summer internship in Alaska where she worked on a computer model to predict future glacier change, this summer Screwvala will be performing research at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute as a recipient of a Summer Student Fellowship. She will be use satellite data to investigate fractures in both land-based and sea ice. She hopes her research in these areas will improve preparation for changes to the ice mass in the coming decades.

Bain, too, has significant research experiences at South Carolina that have resulted in an impressive collection of skills and abilities. His primary mentor, chemistry professor Parastoo Hashemi, initiated a second research program at Imperial College London in summer 2019, which required Bain to exhibit significant independence in conducting his work.

He will continue research with the Hashemi lab studying the relationship between histamine and the effectiveness of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, drugs used to treat depression.

“Our lab has found evidence that increased levels of histamine, a neurotransmitter heavily involved in the body’s inflammatory response, actually makes SSRIs less effective. This implicates decreasing histamine as a potential way to improve depression treatment,” he says. 

Beyond the classroom, Screwvala balances her research at the university and across the country by playing the violin for the UofSC Symphony Orchestra. She says playing music has been a passion for her most of her life, and she is grateful for the opportunities to study and perform while at the university. Bain is an events intern for the Sustainable Carolina Grants, treasurer of the Analytical Chemistry Journal Club, a skilled jazz trumpet player who participates in the marching and pep bands, and a member of Pi Mu Epsilon (a mathematics honor society). 

Following graduation, Screwvala plans to earn a doctorate in geosciences and conduct ice-ocean interaction research to inform action on climate change, while Bain plans to obtain a doctorate in chemistry and conduct analytical chemistry research and teach at the university level.

When asked for their advice to other students who are interested in applying for a competitive award, both Bain and Screwvala recommended contacting National Fellowships and Scholar Programs early in their undergraduate experience at the university. The office is available to help students find a good fit for their interests and qualifications and offer resources and guidance during the application process.

Other recommendations include seeking perspectives and editing from trusted sources and connecting with professors during office hours where students may learn about research opportunities that aren’t included in classroom discussion.

“Finally,” Screwvala says, “find something that is a good fit because if you're really energized by what you're doing, spending almost four months on an application will still be a challenge, but it will be one you'll be motivated to tackle.”

National Fellowships and Scholar Programs

These students were supported by National Fellowships and Scholar Programs, along with a committee of faculty chaired by Doug Meade (mathematics) and including Susan Alexander (Honors College), Dave Barbeau (earth and ocean sciences), Zhengqing Fu (biological sciences) and Melissa Moss (chemical engineering).  Additional advising of these winners included Scott Goode (chemistry) and Lori Ziolkowski (earth and ocean sciences), and additional advising for all nominees include Ralf Gothe (physics), Shayne Barlow (School of Medicine/animal research lab) and Yordanka Ilieva (physics).  

“Many students come to the University of South Carolina to engage in research. National Fellowships and Scholar Programs encourages students to apply for opportunities that would not only advance their academic and career paths, but also enhance them,” says Novella Beskid, assistant dean for National Fellowships and Scholar Programs. 

For more information, visit the National Fellowships and Scholar Programs website.

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