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3 OU Students Receive Goldwater Honors

3 OU Students Receive Goldwater Honors

University of Oklahoma honors students Casey Cai, Jesse Coker and Patrick Vallely have been named 2016 Goldwater Scholars, placing OU in the top ranks of universities nationally with 51 Goldwater Scholars since the competition began in 1991.

The prestigious scholarships are awarded on the basis of potential and intent to pursue research careers in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering.

Cai, a National Merit Scholar sophomore pursuing dual degrees in biology and mathematics, is from Tulsa, Okla. She is working with Anthony Burgett, OU assistant of chemistry and biochemistry, to synthesize and modify natural products that may inhibit the growth of certain human cancer cell lines. Last summer Cai participated in the Cancer Prevention Research Training Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. There she used mathematical modeling to create optimized chemotherapy schedules for breast cancer treatment by targeting the cancer cells when they are most vulnerable to damage. In addition, she is listed as an author on an article based on the lab’s findings. For the summer of 2014, Cai conducted research at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation as a Fleming Scholar, and while still in high school participated in a pharmacology mentorship at the OU College of Pharmacy. Upon graduation from OU, she plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in mathematical biology and then conduct research in mathematical modeling of cancer growth and treatment while teaching at a research-intensive medical school.

Cai is a member of the OU Honors College, a tutor for the OU Student Learning Center, and is active in several organizations, including the Henderson Scholars, the Asian-American Student Association, and the OU Math Club. She also studies piano at OU and is a medical scribe in the OU Emergency Department. Cai’s honors and awards include an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program grant, the C. Eugene Spring Scholarship, the M. Blanche Adams and M. Frances Scholarship, and an NCI R25E Summer Research Experience Competitive Award. She is also an OU First-Year Research Experience participant and Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation Presidential Scholar. This summer she will continue to work with Professor Burgett.

Coker, a National Merit Scholar from Nolensville, Tenn., is a junior. He maintains a 4.0 grade-point average and is pursuing degrees in biochemistry and economics.  He has worked extensively with Adam Duerfeldt, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry on developing antibiotics capable of combating even the most resistant types of bacteria. He has presented results of his work at Graduate Student Recruitment Day, Undergraduate Research Day, and was featured in the summer 2015 edition of Sooner Magazine. Recently, a manuscript on which he is co-first author was accepted for publication in The Journal of Natural Products. Coker has spent the last two summers in the Fesik Laboratory, Vanderbilt University, a lab dedicated to discovering revolutionary anti-cancer therapies. This summer he will return to the Fesik Lab and continue his research there. He plans to obtain a Ph.D. in structural biology or chemical biology and conduct research in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry focusing on drug discovery for orphan diseases.

Among his awards and honors are the BP Emerging Leaders Scholarship, the Big Man on Campus Award, and membership in the PE-ET Honor Society. The co-chair of the College of Arts and Sciences Withrow Leadership Scholars Program, Coker also has served as a consultant and a team leader with The Oklahoma Group and as moderator for an Honors College Informed Citizens Discussion Group.

Vallely, a National Merit Scholar from Boulder City, Nev., is a junior majoring in astrophysics with a 4.0 grade-point average. Since 2014, he has worked on several projects with Dr. Edward Baron, George Lynn Cross Research Professor of physics and astronomy, most recently examining a small group of unusual supernovae. His earlier work with Baron resulted in co-authorship on one paper and first authorship on another that has been submitted to Monthly Notifications of the Royal Astronomical Society. Last year he received a Research Experience for Undergraduates grant and worked with Dr. Ian Sellers, OU assistant professor of physics and astronomy, on the group’s spectrometry system. In addition, he developed a solar cell computer model which resulted in co-authorship on a paper that has been published in Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells. Vallely has received a second Research Experience for Undergraduates grant for this summer and will conduct research in astrophysics. After obtaining a Ph.D. in astrophysics, he plans to focus his research on Type Ia supernovae and teach at the university level.

Vallely participates in the OU Wesley Foundation, the Honors Student Association, and the Society of Physics Students. He is an Oklahoma Academic Scholar, and has received both the J. Clarence Karcher Scholarship and the Dodge Prize for the Outstanding Sophomore in the Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy at OU.

The national scholarship competition is conducted by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program. This year, 1,150 college sophomores and juniors across the country competed for the 252 scholarships. The one- and two-year scholarships will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.