The future just got even brighter for Honors College students Blaine Billings and Katherine Duchinski. The prestigious Goldwater Foundation has named both of them as Goldwater Scholars for the 2018-19 academic year.
Endowed in 1986 in honor of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Goldwater Foundation is arguably the most prestigious nationally competitive undergraduate scholarship in STEM disciplines, which are those related to science, technology, engineering and math. It aims to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in fields associated with those studies. The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.
This year, the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina are the only two universities in South Carolina honored with Goldwater Scholars, with two students recognized at each school. Billings and Duchinski are among 211 undergraduates from across the country honored by the foundation. Students are chosen for their strong commitment to a research career in STEM fields; an effective display of intellectual intensity within those subjects; and the potential for a significant future contribution to research in his or her chosen field.
“The fact that no other school in South Carolina has had the honor of nurturing the talents of more Goldwater Scholars than the College of Charleston over the past two years is telling,” says Anton Vander Zee, director, Office of Nationally Competitive Awards at the College of Charleston. Last year, the College had three students recognized as Goldwater Scholars. “It is a strong indication that our faculty mentors not only eagerly encourage undergraduate participation in research, but that this participation, often resulting in publication, is an integral part of what they do at the College.”
Scholarship recipient Blaine Billings, a CofC sophomore, is a triple major in computer science, pure mathematics and Spanish. Billings’ faculty mentors include math professor Dinesh Sarvate and computer science professor Xenia Mountrouidou.
“It has been a delight to have Blaine working in my Cyber Security X Lab since Fall 2016,” said Mountrouidou. “His research on webcam modeling for security was awarded first place at the SIGCSE (Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education) undergraduate research competition, an international conference attended by 1,700 people. The future plans for this work were a key part of his Goldwater Research letter.”
Billings says his undergraduate studies have enhanced his understanding of the close relationship between the fields of mathematics, computer science and linguistics.
“I have always loved Number Theory, but am constantly looking for ways to tie together my three interests,” says Billings, who plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics with the ultimate goal of teaching and working on research. “The Goldwater scholarship will further enable me to pursue this goal, not only because it will help me be able to afford my last two years at CofC, but also because it will make me more competitive for graduate school admissions.”
Similarly, Goldwater Scholar Katherine Duchinski is combining her academic interests with a double major in biology and data science as she gears up to graduate in 2019. Duchinski’s faculty mentors include computer science professor Paul Anderson, and professors Dennis Watson, Stephen Ethier, Stephen Guest and Robert Wilson with the Medical University of South Carolina. Her objective is to pursue a Ph.D. in bioinformatics and later conduct research in that area pertaining to medical applications.
“Katherine Duchinski is in the top one percent of all the students I have seen in my seven years as a professor,” said Anderson, associate professor of computer science and director of the data science program. “What sets Katherine apart is her ability to deconstruct and solve difficult computational problems. She has a mind that easily thinks in terms of algorithms and data structures, but she also has the background and interest in molecular biology.”
Duchinksi says the endorsement of receiving the scholarship will help with her upcoming focus of completing graduate school applications. She even found that the process of applying for the scholarship was beneficial, helping her to hone all-important application skills to reach her next goal.
Beyond the immediate support the Goldwater Scholars gain, both students also recognize that the distinction is helping to pave the way for optimal success in their chosen careers.
“It’s gratifying to receive this scholarship because it says, ‘Yeah, we think you’ll contribute a lot to your field,’” Duchinski said.
Billings added, “I was overjoyed and I’m very excited to see where the other Goldwater Scholars and I are able to go from here.”