Being selected as a Goldwater Scholar does not only recognize exceptional undergraduate merit, as stated by the Goldwater Foundation. It also supports the ability of researchers to “become this country’s leading scientists, engineers and mathematicians.”
William & Mary’s Goldwater Scholars for 2023, Justin Berg ’24 and Robby Gourdie ’24, demonstrated their commitment to research by joining laboratories remotely before their freshman year even started. Berg and Gourdie are the latest of several W&M students who have been selected as Goldwater Scholars, highlighting the success of the university’s STEM programs and emphasis on undergraduate research. The two students, who are also 1693 Scholars, have been able to make important contributions at W&M despite spending their entire first semester online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Berg and Gourdie join 411 other undergraduate researchers from across the United States, selected from a pool of 1,267 applicants nominated by 427 academic institutions.
The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress to help the nation produce highly qualified professionals in the critical fields of natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Since its inception in 1989, the program has supported over 10,000 undergraduate researchers, many of which have gone on to complete doctoral degrees and have been awarded the most prestigious postgraduate fellowships.
The Goldwater Foundation supports researchers in the final two years of their bachelor’s degree program. Current William & Mary students interested in applying for a Goldwater Scholarship should contact the Office of Undergraduate Academic Affairs.
Justin Berg ’24
Berg plans to become a physician-scientist. As a scientist, he aims to design low-cost treatments and preventative tools; as a physician, he aspires to make them broadly available to help reduce health disparities.
After high school, Berg undertook an internship in the Jonas Lab, a neuroscience laboratory at the Yale School of Medicine, where he is currently studying a potential factor in bipolar disorder.
Arriving at William & Mary with a fascination for molecular biology, he soon discovered an interest in chemistry, which led him to pursue a self-designed major in biochemistry. He now works in the biochemistry laboratory of Douglas Young, Cornelia Brackenridge Talbot Term Distinguished Associate Professor at William & Mary. His project applies click chemistry, the focus of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, to allow for quick and efficient binding between proteins containing unnatural amino acids.
During his time as an undergraduate, Berg also performed gastric cancer research in the Bass Lab at Columbia University and participated in iGEM, an international student-driven synthetic biology competition, supporting the William & Mary team that won a Gold Medal and a nomination for Best Foundational Advance in 2021.
“Justin has such broad research experiences and a true passion for science. While his academic accomplishments are highly impressive, his dedication to research is outstanding,” commented Young. “Already so accomplished, it is exciting to think of his impressive career trajectory. Justin’s efforts are rightly recognized by the receipt of a Goldwater Scholarship.”
Robby Gourdie ’24
Even prior to his first semester beginning, Gourdie had already joined the Young Lab, and has been participating in its activities ever since.
His research focuses on developing new methods for bioconjugation reactions, which have applications in several fields including drug delivery. In this area, bioconjugation of small-molecule drugs to antibodies is used to target drugs to specific locations within the body – for example, to tumor cells.
Gourdie incorporates unnatural amino acids into proteins to create site-specific handles for bioconjugation reactions, which he then troubleshoots and optimizes to develop novel methods for producing protein bioconjugates.
A chemistry major, Gourdie is determined to pursue a Ph.D., with the aim of researching, teaching and mentoring others as a professor. As an undergraduate, Gourdie coaches and advises others already. He is a Tribe TutorZone tutor, organic chemistry mentor and confidential peer advocate.
While taking half of his courses during the pandemic, Gourdie was able to balance a rigorous courseload while demonstrating excellence.
“Robby is truly a gifted scientist, overflowing with excitement and promise,” said Young. “He always exceeds expectations, possessing a drive for research that is unprecedented. He is motivated by his intuitive desire to truly understand complex phenomena, rather than simply obtaining a grade. His future in the sciences is tremendously promising, and all of his efforts make him truly deserving of this recognition.”
Antonella Di Marzio, Senior Research Writer