Three Pitt Students Receive Goldwater Scholarships

Issue Date: 
April 2, 2012

The winners bring Pitt’s total number of Goldwater Scholars since 1995 to 38

Matthew A.B. SchaffMatthew A.B. Schaff
Paras S. MinhasParas S. Minhas
Naomi LatorracaNaomi Latorraca

University of Pittsburgh students Naomi Latorraca, a junior majoring in molecular biology and history with a minor in chemistry; Paras S. Minhas, a junior majoring in microbiology with minors in mathematics and chemistry; and Matthew A. B. Schaff, a junior majoring in neuroscience and economics, have been named 2012 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship winners for their exceptional independent research in the natural sciences. All three of Pitt’s 2012 Goldwater Scholars are enrolled in the University’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and were nominated for the scholarships through the auspices of Pitt’s University Honors College.

“Attracting and educating some of the most talented students in the world have become defining characteristics of the University of Pittsburgh and its Honors College,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “Our enviable record of student scholarships since 1995—including four Rhodes, six Marshalls, five Trumans, six Udalls, a Gates Cambridge and a Churchill, and, now, 38 Goldwaters—reflects both the talent and hard work of the individual student scholars and Pitt’s commitment to excellence in undergraduate education. We are extremely proud of Matthew, Naomi, and Paras and congratulate each of them for extending Pitt’s legacy of student success.”

“The excitement that these three students have for their research is apparent and contagious,” said Edward M. Stricker, dean of the University Honors College, Distinguished University Professor of Neuroscience, and Bernice L. and Morton S. Lerner Chair at Pitt. “Moreover, their intellectual scope includes an admirable combination of multidisciplinary academic achievement and generosity of spirit. The fostering of excellence by the Goldwater program befits these students ideally. We’re very proud of them.”

The Goldwater Scholarship, established in 1986 by the U.S. Congress in honor of then-Senator Barry M. Goldwater (1909-98)of Arizona to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering, 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.

Latorraca, a Pitt Chancellor’s Scholar from Madison, Wis., is conducting research under the direction of Michael Grabe, a professor in Pitt’s Department of Biological Sciences and Department of Computational and Systems Biology. Previous research training includes an internship at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany; participation in First Experiences in Research in Pitt’s School of Medicine; and work in Pitt’s Molecular Biology Workshop.

Among Latorraca’s honors are a 2011-12 Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Academic Year Undergraduate Fellowship, a German Academic Exchange Service–Research Internships in Science and Engineering (DAAD-RISE) Fellowship, a Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship, an HHMI Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, and an Ella P. Stewart Award from Pitt’s biological sciences department, presented to a first-year student for exceptional performance in introductory courses.

Latorraca plans to pursue a PhD in biochemistry or biophysics that interfaces with the areas of computational and experimental biology. Ultimately, she would like to extend her research from the basic science of macromolecular structure and function to an investigation of how minute changes on the molecular level lead to clinically relevant pathologies. She hopes to work in a university setting and to engage precollege students in experimental science.

Minhas, a Pitt Honors Scholar from Bridgewater, N.J., has an extensive background in undergraduate research, including service as a research fellow in the Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.; conducting a pilot study under the supervision of Arundhati Ghosh, an assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Biology; pursuing research in the Neurosciences Critical Care Unit at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.; and working in Pitt’s Department of Chemistry and Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases.

In addition to winning the Goldwater Scholarship, Minhas has been selected as an Amgen Scholar, one of 20 individuals across the United States selected for an all-expense-paid research study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this summer. Other awards include a 2011 Mayo Clinic Summer Research Fellowship and 2011 Pitt Honors Research and Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowships—one of only a few Pitt undergraduates in the University’s history to receive both awards. A member of Pitt’s William Pitt Debating Union, Minhas earned the College Examination Debate Association Summa Cum Laude Debate Scholar award in 2011.

Minhas plans to obtain an MD/PhD in microbiology and become a primary investigator of the etiologies of mental disorders in an effort to find cures for them. He hopes to one day lead his own laboratory and teach in biomedical sciences at the university level.

Schaff, a Pitt Honors Scholar from Strafford, Pa., is an undergraduate researcher in Pitt’s Neuropsychopharmacology of Nicotine Addiction Laboratory. He studies the reinforcement-enhancing effects of nicotine on rats through operant conditioning techniques under the direction of Alan Sved, a professor and chair in Pitt’s Department of Neuroscience, and Eric Donny, a professor in Pitt’s Department of Psychology. Schaff also spent two summers conducting research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Neuropsychiatry Laboratory.

An intern/contractor at The Foundation for Biomedical Research in Washington, D.C., Schaff inaugurated the “Research Outreach Initiative,” which encourages scientists to perform K-12 outreach. He is a service volunteer in the Pitt Department of Biological Sciences and Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Mobile Science Lab Program. Schaff’s honors include the Center for Neuroscience Summer Undergraduate Fellowship and the University Honors College Fall Research Fellowship. He serves as president of the Pitt Neuroscience Club.

Schaff plans to earn a PhD in neuroscience and to conduct research on the causes of drug abuse, directing the focus of his future research toward understanding the way the brain processes and responds to rewarding stimuli, particularly commonly abused stimulants such as nicotine and cocaine. He hopes to teach at the university level.

Among Pitt’s 35 other Goldwater Scholarship honorees since 1995 are 2007 Rhodes Scholar Daniel Armanios, 2006 Rhodes Scholar Justin Chalker, and 2007 Marshall Scholar Anna Quider.