National Goldwater honors go to WSU undergraduates

Rocchi,-left,-Summers-and-MatzPULLMAN, Wash. – Three Washington State University students have received national recognition from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program.

As a scholarship recipient, Ryan Matthew Summers, 21, from Stanwood, Wash., will receive up to $7,500 to support his studies at WSU in computer engineering. Honorable mentions went to Angela Rocchi, 21, a junior neuroscience major from Elk, Wash., and Keesha Matz, 19, a sophomore microbiology student from Chehalis, Wash.

“The prestigious Goldwater awards are intended to support and enhance the education experience for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students involved in research,” said April Seehafer, director of distinguished scholarships at WSU.

“These young scientists have been hard at work conducting research with faculty mentors in addition to being stellar scholars,” said Mary F. Wack, WSU vice provost for WSU undergraduate education.

Tinkering with contraptions

Summers it interested in how parallel computing can help improve machine learning algorithms and make them more useful. He’s also interested in pervasive computing, or how computers can be implemented into many parts of our lives. He will do a summer internship at SpaceX, entrepreneur Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturer and space-transport services company.

For five years, he has tried to perfect an autonomous lawn mower with his software-engineer dad, Kevin (’80 electrical engineering).

“I love to tinker around and build robots and other contraptions,” said Summers, president of the Robosub Club of the Palouse, team lead in the WSU Robotics Club and an organizer of the WSU Hardware Hackathon.

Researching emerging viruses

Matz intends to become a lead research scientist studying emerging viruses. She has studied the Nipah virus with WSU professor Hector Aguilar-Carreno in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health and the Borrelia bacteria that cause Lyme disease with Troy Bankhead, associate professor in veterinary microbiology and pathology.

This summer she will present her work at an international gathering hosted by the American Society for Microbiology. She will also do research with Alan Goodman, assistant professor in the WSU School of Molecular Biosciences, studying innate immune responses – “another side of viral infections,” she said.

Targeting brain disorders

Rocchi’s career goal is to become a medical doctor and researcher of cognitive disorders. Her main focus has been on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. She will spend the summer at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Brain Science on a project for its “End Alzheimer’s” initiative.

“Our limited understanding of the brain results in even more limited treatment options for patients,” she said. “Surgical procedures are risky while pharmaceuticals, if available, offer only symptomatic relief. Because of this, many who suffer neurological diseases leave the clinic with little more than a predicted life span and no conclusive explanation for their disorder. I believe this needs to change.”

Learn more about these students at


April Seehafer, WSU distinguished scholarships, 509-335-8239,
Mary Sanchez Lanier, WSU assistant vice provost, 509-335-7767,