Three WSU women in STEM win Goldwater Scholarships

Goldwater Scholars Brown, left, Brutman and Matz.

By Beverly Makhani, Undergraduate Education

PULLMAN, Wash. – Three Washington State University juniors have won nationally competitive $7,500 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships for 2017-18.

Amelia Brown, from Lake Forest Park, Wash., Julianna Brutman, from Bothell, Wash., and Keesha Matz, from Chehalis, Wash., are all WSU Regents scholars and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) majors planning to graduate in 2018, earn doctoral degrees and enter research careers to improve human health.

“They advance knowledge in their fields by delivering presentations on their work and contributing to journal publications,” said Mary Sánchez Lanier, assistant vice provost. “In their future careers, they will all make a difference in Washington, the nation and the world.”

They are among 240 Goldwater Scholars selected nationwide and five who are citizens of Washington state – the other two attend Cornell University and Dartmouth College. This is the fourth year in a row that three Cougars have won Goldwaters; they bring WSU’s total to 37 awards.

Keesha Matz is a microbiology major in the STARS (Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies) program in the School of Molecular Biosciences (SMB) in the College of Veterinary Medicine. STARS provides a fast track from undergraduate to doctoral studies and hands-on mentored research.

She plans to study viruses and infectious diseases and develop drugs and treatments at an international biomedical research institution, such as the World Health Organization.

She studied the notorious Nipah virus, which has no vaccine or cure and targets the respiratory and nervous systems, especially the brain. It’s particularly prevalent in developing countries. She also researched antigenic variation in the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes persistent Lyme disease infections.

In summer 2015, she studied environmental ethics and Spanish in Costa Rica: “The experience definitely influenced the direction of my career,” she said. “I realized that through biomedical research, I want to help people throughout the world.”

This summer, she will participate in an undergraduate research fellowship at the Mayo Clinic studying a protein of the Ebola virus that evades the antiviral response at the cellular level – somewhat similar to her Nipah work at WSU.

Julianna Brutman is a neuroscience major in the STARS (Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies) program in the School of Molecular Biosciences (SMB) in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

She intends to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience and obtain a faculty position at a university ranked as having “highest research activity” according to the Carnegie classification. She hopes to divide her time between researching the key epigenetic factors associated with obesity genesis and maintenance and teaching future generations of biomedical researchers.

“I aspire to dedicate my career to understanding gut-brain communication in the context of obesity, in particular its genesis and maintenance in the hypothalamus, also known as the brain’s appetite center,” she said.

She is fascinated by what leads to addictive behaviors and plans to discover novel treatment methods. At WSU, she assisted with, designed and conducted studies investigating psychopathological disorders such as binge eating disorder on a preclinical binge-like feeding rodent model.

In summer 2016, she wrote and was awarded a young investigator grant from Washington State ADARP (Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program) to investigate hypothalamic epigenetic changes in obese rodents exposed to a high-fat diet. This summer, she will use the grant to continue research projects, examining the epigenetic changes induced by high-fat diet exposure in female rodents.

Her data describing binge feeding in female rates was selected for a “hot topic” presentation at the international conference of The Obesity Society in November 2016.

Amelia Brown is a materials science and engineering major in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.

She plans to earn a Ph.D. studying materials for biosensors and nanotechnology, then teach and research nanotechnology for biomedical applications – such as ultrasensitive diagnostic devices – at a university.

Her research group focuses on the mathematics and physics of materials. One of her projects explored diffusion kinetics of porous catalysts, which has industrial and research applications.

Other work involved developing a mathematical model of encapsulated cellular systems to assist in biomedical applications; through the design of microcapsules, cells could be protected against immune system responses for diabetes and neurological treatments. One application would be to insert “islets” into the pancreas of a Type I diabetic that would stimulate the organ to produce its own insulin for periods of time.

A December 2015 study-abroad experience aboard a small ship inspired her to engage in research. The students explored microbiological life in Antarctic glacial waters and visited microbiologists at remote research centers.

“It was magical,” she said. “What made a lasting impression was the researchers’ vibrant community and sense of excitement about the topics they were studying.”


News media contacts:
April Seehafer, WSU distinguished scholarships, 509-335-8239,
Mary Sánchez Lanier, WSU assistant vice provost, 509-335-2320,
Beverly Makhani, WSU Undergraduate Education communications, 509-335-6679,