Harvard University had a couple of students receive prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships this year. So did MIT and Princeton. Another school on that list to have an unprecedented two students receive scholarships was Austin Peay State University, with physics majors Drew Kerr and Mason Yost.
“The Goldwater Scholarship is for rising juniors and seniors, and it’s very competitive and prestigious,” Dr. Matthew Kenney, APSU political science associate professor and the University’s Goldwater Scholarship representative, said. “It carries with it a $7,500 scholarship.”
Last Wednesday, Kerr received a phone call from his friend and classmate Yost about the award. Both had applied for the scholarship named for the late Arizona senator and 1964 presidential candidate, which is awarded each year to only 300 college students nationwide who are pursing a degree in science or mathematics.
“I kept checking the website for our names,” Yost said. “I was hoping at least one of us would make it. When I saw our names, I called Drew.”
Kerr had a busy week, preparing a presentation for a conference he was going to attend, so he hadn’t had a chance to check the Goldwater Scholarship website.
“I got a call from Mason,” he said. “I hadn’t checked since Monday. I kept saying, ‘Mason, you’re joking with me.’”
But he wasn’t joking. Their names were on the list among the other recipients from institutions such as Yale and Duke University. Only five Goldwater Scholarships were awarded to students attending schools in Tennessee. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the University of Memphis and Middle Tennessee State University each had one student earn the scholarship.
“There aren’t that many schools that get two scholarships,” Dr. Alex King, chair of the APSU physics department, said. “For us to have two students both get it, that’s really cool. They both worked really hard to get it. And I’m particularly jazzed that they’re both physics majors.”
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. As APSU associate professor of physics Dr. Justin Oelgoetz said, students don’t simply decide one day to apply for the Goldwater Scholarship. It is something they must prepare for throughout their time at the University in order to have a shot at the award.
Kerr’s application included an analysis of particle decay research he conducted last summer and hopes to continue. Yost submitted a literature review he helped work on with APSU physics department faculty, analyzing quantum systems using acoustic networks.
Both students first came to APSU in the summer of 2008 as high school students attending the Governor’s School in Computational Physics. Yost was later accepted into Carnegie Mellon University and Kerr considered attending the University of Chicago. But King and Dr. Jaime Taylor, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, persuaded the two students to enroll at APSU.
“I told them when they applied here they would have more opportunities at Austin Peay than they would at those other schools,” Taylor, former chair of physics, said. “And that has proven to be true. I think these two individuals are examples of the caliber of students that are choosing APSU. They make me miss being in the physics department, interacting with these kinds of students on a daily basis.”