Biochemistry student earns prestigious Goldwater Award to continue research that will demystify sensory disfunction
Samantha Oviedo, a UTSA junior majoring in biochemistry, has been named a Barry Goldwater Scholar. The award is the most prestigious national scholarship bestowed on undergraduate students engaging in undergraduate research in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics.
At UTSA, Oviedo participates in the National Institute of General Medical Science-funded RISE Program. During her freshman and sophomore years, she was also a scholar in the first cohort of the Enhancing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Educational Diversity (ESTEEMED) program.
The National Institutes of Health-funded program, which is directed by Gail Taylor, trains first and second-year students seeking to develop as scholars and pursue a Ph.D. in STEM fields.
“Samantha is energized by the scientific process and will undoubtedly make great contributions to whichever field she chooses to pursue.”
These programs have paved the way for Oviedo to conduct neurobiology and protein biochemistry research in Lindsey J. Macpherson’s laboratory. Working in her lab for over two years, Oviedo has developed interests to investigate protein-protein interactions linked to disease including sensory disfunction.
As a biochemistry student in the UTSA Department of Chemistry, Oviedo also took classes with Hector Aguilar, who served as one of her mentors in the ESTEEMED Program. Aguilar writes that in the past two years, Oviedo “quickly earned the reputation of being the strongest biochemistry major in our department.”
“Receiving this award would have not been possible without the guidance and support of faculty here at UTSA,” Oviedo said. “I am truly grateful to have mentors, such as Dr. Macpherson, Dr. Taylor and Dr. Aguilar, who believe in me and have guided me toward my goal of becoming a biomedical research scientist. By winning this award and furthering my career, I hope to become a great mentor like them and guide underrepresented students like myself.”
As an undergraduate, Oviedo is already participating in research programs outside of UTSA. During the summer of 2021, she participated in a research program at Vanderbilt University and this summer will be a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.
At Vanderbilt, Oviedo worked in the lab of Vsevolod Gurevich, where she furthered her interests in sensory systems from new disciplines.
Next year, Oviedo plans to apply to Ph.D. programs in biochemistry, where she will conduct research investigating protein interactions linked to disease that will aid in the development of therapeutics. Oviedo’s research mentor, Macpherson, knows that she has the tenacity to succeed at the next level.
“Samantha sets high expectations for herself and relishes the challenges,” Macpherson said. “She is energized by the scientific process and will undoubtedly make great contributions to whichever field she chooses to pursue.”
Oviedo hopes to conduct this research as a principal investigator at a research university. Seeing the impact that the ESTEEMED program had on her, Oviedo plans to give back to future generations of scientists from underrepresented backgrounds.
“Along with becoming a PI, I want to partake in STEM initiatives to aid in making science accessible to underserved, underrepresented communities,” Oviedo said. “One of my greatest objectives in academia is to create a more diverse research workforce.”
Oviedo is one of four ESTEEMED students to win this award, joining fellow students Mariah Antopia, Joshua Chaj Ulloa and Tristan Pepper, who won the award as sophomores in 2021. For the ESTEEMED program, this means that four of nine students in the cohort have been named Goldwater Scholars, an impressive feat considering that institutions can only nominate five students each year for the national competition.
Each fall, Goldwater Scholars are nominated by faculty across UTSA. Students are also provided with the opportunity to self-nominate. Students must be in their second or third year and U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Almost all Goldwater applicants plan to pursue a Ph.D. and enter a research career.