Opportunity Meets Initiative for UNCG’s Goldwater Scholar

Posted on April 10, 2024

Student in white lab coat works in a chemistry lab.
2024 Goldwater Scholar Marcos Tapia

UNC Greensboro is proud to announce that third-year chemistry student, Marcos Tapia, has been awarded the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship.

Tapia, a first-generation college student from Winston-Salem, was among only 438 students chosen nationwide for the Goldwater honor, which awards $7,500 a year, to cover up to two years of tuition expenses.

The scholarship is intended to support students with aspirations for research careers in natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering to ensure that the U.S. produces professionals in these critical fields. Many Goldwater Scholars have already published research findings in journals and presented at professional conferences, including Tapia.

Tapia’s Window of Opportunity

Tapia arrived at UNCG with a keen interest in energy storage. He was anxious to help scientists seek solutions for sustainable energy.

In his very first year at UNCG, he connected with an Assistant Professor Dr. Shabnam Hematian who was immediately impressed by his enthusiasm. Tapia joined her research team, which was studying electrochemical properties of substances found in nature to develop environmentally friendly technologies.

“We were working on science inspired by biological systems, like molecules derived from fungi that can be used in batteries,” Tapia explained. “It was fun to take something from nature and apply it to something totally different.”

Tapia refers to his connection with Hematian as a “window of opportunity.”

“UNCG is very unique because we have such a strong staff and excellent funding for research in our department,” he says. “Dr. Hematian had all these ideas and projects. It was the perfect time for me to be able to work with her.”

Student in a white lab coat reaches through a glove to handle samples behind a clear window. His teacher watches over his shoulder.
Tapia studies samples in the lab with Dr. Hematian.

Tapia’s Tenacious Drive for Answers

Faculty in UNCG’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry are known to encourage undergraduates in their labs, especially when those students display an aptitude for research work, and a commitment to the projects they are working on.

“Our lab is very collaborative and interdisciplinary, so we have a lot of projects going on at once and Marcos is a strong multitasker. His experience has broadened his perspective of chemistry,” says Hematian. “He has been able to present his research at conferences, connect with chemists, and receive important recognition. This honor is the culmination of his hard work, curiosity, and initiative.”

Student in lab coat works in a chemistry lab with a monitor screen showing graphs in the foreground.
Tapia juggles multiple research projects in UNCG’s chemistry labs.

In his second year at UNCG, Tapia was named a U-RISE Fellow by the National Institutes of Health. This fellowship, which prepares high-achieving science students from underrepresented groups for doctoral training, gave Tapia further opportunities to present his work and opened doors for his Goldwater Scholar appointment.

Like any good scientist, Tapia never wavers from asking questions that will enhance his understanding. “Last year, I attended a conference in Arizona,” Tapia recalls. “There, I met Dr. John Mateja, president of the Goldwater Scholarship Foundation, and was able to ask him specific questions about my application.”

Lee Phillips, director of UNCG’s Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creativity Office also praises Tapia’s initiative. “I have been incredibly impressed with Marcos since I met him in his first year at UNCG. He works hard to learn as much as he can about the things that will prepare him for a career as a research chemist. I couldn’t be more happy and proud of him becoming a Goldwater Scholar. “

Spartan Scientists on the Rise

Tapia joins two other Goldwater Scholars from UNCG who have been named in the past three years, illustrating the growing research opportunities and guidance that faculty provide students at UNCG.

This year, 438 scholars were chosen from 1,353 science, engineering and mathematics undergraduate students nominated by 446 institutions to compete for the award.

“Marcos Tapia’s selection as a Goldwater Scholar reflects how competitive and talented our Spartans are,” says Provost Debbie Storrs. “This highly competitive national scholarship will allow him to focus on his academic goals and engage in graduate-level research with support and mentorship from committed faculty and staff.  I am proud of what Marcos has and will accomplish.  He makes UNCG proud!”

Story by Becky Deakins, University Communications.
Photography by Bert Vanderveen.

Student and faculty member work in the lab with dry ice.

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