Joining a highly distinguished group, Texas Lutheran University sophomore Linden Williamson is a 2022-23 Goldwater Scholar as selected by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. The Seguin native, and double major in Biochemistry (B.S.) and Integrated Science, is just one of 417 students across the U.S. chosen from a candidate pool of 5,000 college sophomores and juniors for this highly competitive scholarship. Less than 10,000 college students have received this honor since the program began in 1989. Nominees are among the strongest science students in the nation.
Goldwater Scholars have gone on to win an impressive array of prestigious post-graduate fellowships, among which are the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Rhodes Scholarship, Marshall Scholarship, Churchill Scholarship, Hertz Fellowship, DOE Computation Science Graduate Fellowship, and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. According to the foundation’s website, each Goldwater Scholar annually receives an amount equal to the cost of tuition, mandatory fees, books, and room and board minus the amount of support provided for by other sources, up to a maximum of $7,500 per full academic year until graduation.
Nominated by faculty mentors Dr. Kevin Tate (Biology), Dr. Toni Sauncy (Physics), Dr. Scott Bailey (Integrated Science & Psychology), and Goldwater Campus Representative Dr. Mark Gustafson (Biology), Williamson plans to pursue a career in medicine. Her goal is to eventually earn both her M.D. and Ph.D. so she can focus on researching regenerative medicine and practicing physiatry to treat patients with spinal cord injuries.
Physiatry, is a medical specialty that emphasizes the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of people disabled by disease, disorder, or injury. Growing up with chronic medical conditions and experience with the medical field from a young age is what inspires her to pursue this field of medicine.
“The medical professionals that I met across the country left a lasting impression on me and inspired my desire to give back,” she said. “I want to help patients as a physician-scientist just like I was helped. Volunteering at a rehabilitation hospital and physical therapy clinic during a gap year after high school only strengthened my resolve to aid people with spinal cord injuries.”
Williamson wants to focus her professional career on helping as many patients as she can.
“Spinal cord injuries are life-altering and often cause permanent paralysis,” she said. “Young adults are most affected by these serious injuries. There are currently few medical interventions that can decrease the severity of spinal cord injuries after the acute period has passed. I want to conduct research that can aid individuals with spinal cord injuries throughout their lives and decrease complications stemming from secondary injuries.”
During her first two years at TLU, Williamson has participated in several faculty-led research projects across several disciplines.
“TLU has excellent research opportunities for students at all levels, even to those who aren't sure what field they are interested in,” she said. “I began research during the spring of my freshman year on the Synesthesia Research Group at the invitation of Dr. Scott Bailey. Our group investigates synesthesia: a neurological trait in which senses are blended (e.g., the letter G evokes green in the mind's eye). Being a part of the group has granted me access to cutting edge neuroimaging devices and the ability to collaborate with professionals around the globe in designing projects.”
Last summer, she had the opportunity to conduct summer research through the TLU SURE (STEM Undergrads Reaching for Excellence) grant funded through the National Science Foundation. Developed by Physics Department Chair Dr. Toni Sauncy and co-authors Dr. Jennifer Mata (Communication Studies, English, and World Languages) and Dr. Tate, the $1.4-million grant was awarded in 2020 based upon the idea that research experience early in a student’s college career can help them develop their identity as a scientist, which leads to persistence in earning a degree in science.
“I worked with Dr. Tate investigating the effects of acclimation on the metabolic and cardiovascular responses of Texan air-breathing land snails,” she said. “I've been fortunate enough to present my findings at regional conferences—like the Texas Academy of Science—and continue my research. I'm currently working with Dr. Tate investigating the impact of developmental temperature on the parasympathetic nervous systems of embryonic chickens.”
Biology Professor Dr. Mark Gustafson says the purpose of the Goldwater Scholarship is to support students who want to become researchers, making Williamson an ideal candidate.
“Linden is interested in medical research, and this scholarship will signify to admissions committees that she n has been recognized by the TLU faculty and by the scholarship foundation as having exceptional promise for a career in research,” he said. “To be competitive for the Goldwater Scholarship, students need experience in research. Her summer research experience formed the basis for her application essay. Only by doing research can students demonstrate their abilities in research and her selection shows the importance of supporting research opportunities for our students.”
TLU President Dr. Debbie Cottrell says she is thrilled to see the national recognition bestowed on the university through Williamson’s selection.
“This is a huge honor for Linden, and also demonstrates the outstanding work that our faculty do with our students to prepare them at the highest level of academic achievement,” she said. “The Goldwater Scholar program is a longstanding, prestigious, and highly competitive program, and receiving this recognition puts Linden and TLU in very impressive company.”
The unique research experiences TLU offers students are directly related to the professors’ willingness to work one-on-one with undergraduates.
“I would like to thank all my faculty mentors who have guided me in more ways than one,” she said. “Dr. Gustafson, Dr. Lievens, Dr. Sauncy, Dr. Bailey, and Dr. Tate have my upmost respect and gratitude for their support. My advice to prospective students interested in research is to reach out to faculty. Professors are always looking for motivated students to collaborate and they would love to talk with you about their research, so don't be afraid to email a professor you may not know if their field are interesting.”
While Williamson acknowledges national awards are competitive and difficult to achieve for a reason, she encourages her peers to go for it.
“The effort that goes into a successful application goes beyond writing a persuasive essay, it starts with finding work that you're passionate about and relentlessly pursuing it,” she said. “Whether it is research or any other field, the prerequisite for recognition is putting in the work. Don't be afraid to pursue a goal that seems overwhelming or unrealistic—you can achieve more than you think through diligent effort.”
More About the Goldwater Foundation
The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law 99-661 on November 14, 1986. The Scholarship Program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics. The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent under-graduate award of its type in these fields.