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Two APSU students earn prestigious Goldwater Scholarships

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Administrators at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were probably pretty excited last month when they learned one of their students had earned a highly competitive Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. To the south, officials at the University of Tennessee likely experienced a similar rush when they heard one of their students was also named a Goldwater Scholar. The award, named for the late Arizona senator and 1964 presidential candidate, is awarded each year to only 300 college students nationwide who are pursing a degree in science or mathematics.

But only a select few universities nationwide can claim to have two Goldwater scholars. That honor fell to Austin Peay State University recently when APSU physics student Chris Hayes and APSU mathematics student Kristen Knight were both named scholarship winners. For the second year in a row, APSU is the only university in Tennessee to have two Goldwater recipients. Last year, physics students Drew Kerr and Mason Yost both received the honor.

“It is amazing having two students named Goldwater scholars for the second year in a row; it speaks to the high quality of students in the College of Science and Mathematics at APSU and the opportunities they have," Dr. Jaime Taylor, dean of the APSU College of Science and Mathematics, said. "To put this in perspective, MIT and Georgia Tech both had one Goldwater Scholar this year. Vanderbilt and Tennessee Tech had none."

APSU physics student Samuel Cupp also applied for the scholarship and received a Goldwater Honorable Mention.

When awarding the scholarships, a selection committee looks through thousands of applications and singles out those individuals who are working to make a significant contribution to his or her field of study.

It can be an arduous application process, which takes into account all the work and research students have done during their college careers. At APSU, the process is a little more difficult than at other institutions. That’s because the academic climate has changed at the University in recent years, with a greater emphasis placed on students excelling beyond the classroom.

“We have been systematically trying to find opportunities and encouraging students to find opportunities,” Dr. Tristan Denley, APSU provost and vice president of academic affairs, said. “And we are committed to helping students who are contenders for national awards.”

 The University recently set up a committee to determine which four individuals could apply for the Goldwater Scholarship. APSU students must then endure a grueling application round with this committee in order to advance as an applicant.

“We applied to the committee with a statement of purpose much like what the actual Goldwater would require,” Hayes said. “After that, it was a series of revisions to that initial document, and that became my Goldwater application.”

“I had to seek out professors that could help with my application,” Knight said. “I also had to write an essay about the research I had done. It was a little stressful wondering if my essay was going to be good enough.”

Knight’s application touted her statistical work on developing a more diverse distribution of data sets, which could strengthen data collection and research in any field. Hayes submitted his computational research into the area of quantum chromodynamics.

The two students didn’t need to worry so much about their prospects. Both Knight and Hayes have already helped raise the University’s reputation with their achievements. Hayes was recently selected from among thousands of students nationwide to conduct particle physics research at the famed CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, this summer. In March, Knight received the Walt and Susan Patterson Prize at the 2013 annual meeting of the Southeastern Section of the Mathematical Association of America. The prize is given to the best student presentation at the meeting.

“Working with students like Chris Hayes and Kristen Knight is extremely rewarding,” Dr. Matthew Kenney, director of APSU’s President’s Emerging Leaders Program and the University’s Goldwater Scholarship representative, said. “To see students push themselves to grow personally and academically is every educator’s goal. To see such students be recognized for their efforts is every educator’s dream.”

In spite of their credentials, the news still came as a surprise to both students.

“I actually got an email from the provost that said, ‘congratulations,’” Knight said. “They had just posted the winners. I hadn’t seen it yet. And right after his email, I received an email from the (APSU Office of Undergraduate Research) director. I was very, very excited. It really shocked me.”

Hayes usually checked his cell phone every morning to see if the winners were posted. But one day, the Goldwater mobile site blocked his access.

“I couldn’t actually see who the scholars were,” he said. “I ran downstairs to my computer. I had to literary scroll all the way down to Tennessee.”

When he saw his name, he ran back upstairs, waking everyone in the house.

“I‘m a little bit humbled by the fact that I was selected, but I‘m excited for the opportunities this can open for me,” he said.

A video of the students discussing their research, edited by APSU student Jeffrey Horton, is available online at:

For more information on the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, contact Kenney at kenneym@apsu.edu.

- By Charles Booth, APSU