Deep in the Amazon rainforest, Lillian Fornof ’20 finally got word of her Goldwater Scholarship, but not peace of mind: The email conveyed “Congratulations!” in the subject heading, then took 30 minutes to load.
“I was in shock,” says the honors biology and cognitive science special major from Canonsburg, Pa. “I kept convincing myself I got honorary mention or there had been some kind of mistake.”
Also seeing “Congratulations” pop up on her phone was Kelly Finke ’21, in a neurobiology class at Swarthmore. She planned to discover her Goldwater fate after class, but forgot about push notifications.
“I texted my mom right away and was just smiling for the rest of class,” says the bioinformatics special major from Goffstown, N.H.
“It was also incredible how many friends and professors heard the news and congratulated me throughout the day,” Finke adds. “I felt so supported by the entire community.”
Fornof and Finke join this year’s class of 496 Goldwater Scholars from around the U.S., chosen from a pool of roughly 5,000 applicants. The Goldwater Foundation provides funding to college sophomores and juniors interested in research careers in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics.
The Goldwater has been the preeminent award of its kind in these fields for three decades, and the foundation recently partnered with the Department of Defense National Defense Education Programs to help ensure the U.S. “develops the scientific talent it needs to maintain its global competitiveness and security.”
Fornof wants to study the behavioral ecology of primates. She sees two paths for that: pursuing a Ph.D. in ecology, evolution, and behavior, focused on primates as a study organism, or one in anthropology centered on evolutionary biology and behavior.
This summer, she will intern at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Then her focus will shift to her honors theses at Swarthmore.
“I look forward to graduating Swarthmore and getting my Ph.D.,” Fornof says, “something I feel highly prepared for with the experience I’ve gotten in the Formica and Baugh labs and outside of Swarthmore with the funding and support of the biology department.”
Finke explores research at the intersection of biology and computer science, but also dabbles in robotics and machine learning. She is excited to study abroad in Singapore in the fall before returning to research projects on which she is collaborating with Associate Professor and Chair of Biology Nick Kaplinsky and Visiting Assistant Professor of Computer Science Sara Mathieson.
“I am grateful for the level of independence I have in these projects,” Finke says, “and I know these experiences will be a huge asset when I begin my Ph.D.”
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