Pitt Student Nicholas R. DeStefino Awarded Goldwater Scholarship

Issue Date: 
April 5, 2010
Nicholas R. DeStefinoNicholas R. DeStefino

Nicholas R. DeStefino—a University of Pittsburgh Honors College junior majoring in neuroscience and history in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences—has been named a 2010 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship winner for his exceptional independent research. DeStefino plans to pursue an MD/PhD degree and examine the neural bases of mental health diseases.

Edlyn Levine, a junior from Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood majoring in physics and science, and Heather Duschl, a junior from Issaquah, Wash., majoring in computer engineering and  Japanese, received Honorable Mentions in the Goldwater Scholarship competition.

“The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering and is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “Nick DeStefino’s selection for this high honor continues Pitt’s exemplary record of receiving Goldwater Scholarships; since 1990, Pitt undergraduates have won a total of 42 Goldwaters. We congratulate Nick for his laudable record of high achievement and for augmenting Pitt’s legacy of student success.”

“Nick DeStefino exemplifies the kind of student who should be chosen as a Goldwater Scholar,” said James V. Maher, Pitt provost and senior vice chancellor. “Nick’s academic accomplishments are extraordinary, and Dean Alec Stewart and the Honors College are to be commended for their continued success in fostering such high levels of student achievement.”

A University of Pittsburgh Chancellor’s Scholar from Scottsdale, Ariz., DeStefino is among an elite group of Pitt Goldwater honorees, some of whom have gone on to receive other prestigious postgraduate awards: Pitt’s 2007 Rhodes Scholar Daniel Armanios, 2006 Rhodes Scholar Justin Chalker, and 2007 Marshall Scholar Anna Quider were Goldwater winners.

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.

Since his freshman year, DeStefino has worked in Pitt professor Stephen Meriney’s laboratory in the Department of Neuroscience. Work in that lab includes extensive study of various aspects of calcium channel functioning and presynaptic mechanisms of transmitter release at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) and how structure-function relationships are disrupted by neuromuscular disease. DeStefino hopes to elucidate some of the fundamental mechanisms underlying neurotransmission at the NMJ to provide a fuller understanding of how the pathology of neuromuscular disease generates dysfunction.

DeStefino is coauthor of  “(R)-Roscovitine Prolongs the Mean Open Time of Unitary N-Type Calcium Channel Currents” in Neuroscience (in press, 2010).

DeStefino’s numerous fellowships include a spring 2010 Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship, a fall 2009 Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship, a 2008-09 National Institute of Mental Health Undergraduate Fellowship in Mental Health Research, a 2008 Center for Neuroscience Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, and a fall 2008 Arts and Sciences Teaching Fellowship.

Among DeStefino’s scholarships and awards are the Wilma Bender Zeder Scholarship for Academic Excellence from August 2009 to May 2010, two Arts and Sciences Travel Awards for fall 2008 and fall 2009, an Office of Experiential Learning Small Research Grant in 2008, and the Outstanding Freshman Biology Student Award in 2007. A National Merit Scholar, DeStefino was designated a University Scholar in 2008 and 2009 and has made Pitt’s dean’s list every term.

DeStefino is president of Alpha Epsilon Delta, a preprofessional health society, and the Neuroscience Club and is a member of the Panther Partners Mentorship Program, Omicron Delta Kappa, the C.F. Reynolds Medical Historical Society, and the Golden Key International Honors Society.

In addition to pursuing his academic endeavors, DeStefino volunteers at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital as a surgical family escort. He traveled to North Eastern Mexico in March on an International Service Learning trip and, in 2008, to Jaipur, India, to volunteer at Vatsalya, an Indian NGO that works with orphaned and abandoned children.