Pitt Neuroscience Student From Pennsylvania Awarded Goldwater Scholarship

Issue Date: 
April 4, 2011
Wen XuWen Xu

Wen Xu—a University of Pittsburgh Honors College junior majoring in neuroscience in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences—has been named a 2011 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship winner for her exceptional independent research. Xu, from McCandless Township, Allegheny County, Pa.,  plans to pursue an MD/PhD degree. Her career goals include conducting translational research related to neural plasticity and regeneration after injury. She is the 35th Pitt student to have won a Goldwater Scholarship since 1995.

David Wang—a junior from Mt. Lebanon, Pa., majoring in chemistry and applied mathematics with minors in physics and economics—received an Honorable Mention in the Goldwater Scholarship competition. He conducts computational biophysics research under the direction of Lillian Chong, an assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Chemistry. Among his research goals is the simulation of protein folding that will offer insight into engineering novel biomolecules with therapeutic applications.

“The University of Pittsburgh has an extraordinary record of providing an academic environment in which hard-working, high-achieving students can develop their talents, as is demonstrated by our enviable successes in prestigious national scholarship competitions that involve the very best students from the country’s finest universities,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg.  “We congratulate Wen Xu and David Wang for this exceptional achievement.”

“The intellectual rigor and commitment that Wen demonstrates in her research and coursework are extraordinary,” said Steven Husted, interim dean of Pitt’s Honors College and a professor of economics. “Her diverse leadership activities and her enthusiasm for learning extend beyond Pitt’s campus into the greater community. Her accomplishments and drive are emblematic of the qualities we have come to expect from our finest students.”

The Goldwater Scholarship, established in 1986 by the U.S. Congress in honor of then-Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona, is awarded in either a student’s sophomore or junior year. The award goes toward covering tuition, room and board, fees, and books for each student recipient’s remaining period of study. Institutions can nominate up to four students for the Goldwater Scholarship.

Since her freshman year, Xu has conducted research in Pitt’s Stem Cell Research Center under the guidance of Yong Li, an assistant professor in Pitt’s Departments of Orthopaedic Surgery, Pathology, and Bioengineering and the Pitt-UPMC McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. In particular, Xu participated in Li's laboratory research aimed at assisting functional skeletal muscle recovery after injury through the use of muscle-based stem cells.

Xu plans to complete a residency in neurology after medical school and earn a PhD in neuroscience. As a translational researcher, she hopes to find a viable treatment method for patients with peripheral nerve damage.

In 2010, Xu received the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship through the University Honors College and completed a second summer of full-time research funded by the Honors College Brackenridge Summer Research Fellowship. Both fellowships were under the supervision of Li, who is director of the Laboratory of Molecular Pathology in Pitt's Departments of Orthopaedic Surgery and Pathology in the School of Medicine. In 2009, Xu participated in the Summer Student Research Training Program at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC as a lab assistant to Li.

Xu presented her research as coauthor and second author on two posters at the 56th Annual Meeting of the Orthopaedic Research Society in New Orleans. She is at work on two papers pending publication this spring, the first a review titled “iPS Cells for Neural Regeneration” and the second a research paper with the working title “MMP-1 Induces Stem Cell Populations and Aids in Muscle Recovery Through Innervation.”

Xu not only excels in her research endeavors, but she also holds various leadership positions. She serves as an undergraduate teaching assistant in Organic Chemistry 2 and is coexecutive vice president for Pitt’s chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, secretary for Pitt’s Alpha Chapter of the Lambda Sigma honor society, and public relations cochair for Pitt’s French Club.

Xu’s scholarships include an Honors College full-tuition scholarship, a Swanson School of Engineering Honors Scholarship, a National Merit Corporation Scholarship, an American Chemical Society College Chemistry Scholarship, and a John Milliken Scholarship.

In addition to pursuing her scholarship and leadership roles, Xu volunteers at UPMC Montefiore and Presbyterian hospitals and is an assistant with Pitt’s gross pathology lab, Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute, and anesthesia workroom. In March 2010, she traveled to Peru with International Volunteer Headquarters to work as a medical assistant in health clinics, and in 2008, volunteered with Washington, D.C.’s, Habitat for Humanity.

Among Pitt’s 34 other Goldwater Scholarship honorees since 1995 are 2007 Rhodes Scholar Daniel Armanios, 2006 Rhodes Scholar Justin Chalker, and 2007 Marshall Scholar Anna Quider.