Two University of Iowa students receive prestigious national scholarship

Nyah Davis and Jack Lynn won the Goldwater Scholarship, a nationwide scholarship for STEM undergraduates.


Samantha Murray, News Reporter

Two undergraduate students have received the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, a nationwide scholarship opportunity for students involved in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Nyah Davis and Jack Lynn are the two University of Iowa 2021 recipients.

UI Director of Scholar Development Kelly Thornburg, who is the Goldwater Scholar mentor, said she and people like her across the country help recruit students in their second and third years to help them develop their application.

According to Thornburg, the Goldwater is one of the earliest fellowships that undergraduates can apply for. To qualify, they must be STEM students who are already engaged in some form of extensive research or extra challenging independent work, with a GPA around 3.9.

She said her favorite part of the application process is to witness and help students when needed.

“It’s certainly not me doing the bulk of that work,” Thornburg said. “I help young people, not just adopt the reasons other people around them may have for the work that they’re doing.”

Lynn, a junior biomedical engineering student, is also a teaching assistant for electrical circuits and a researcher in biomedical engineering and biochemistry.

Lynn said he first was encouraged to apply for the scholarship by his lab’s Principal Investigator, a previous Goldwater recipient himself, before meeting with Thornburg.

“I met her [Thornburg] probably 10 or 15 times, and I went through probably 20 drafts,” Lynn said. “You constantly are just drafting and then Kelly tears it to shreds, and then you keep going. Well, she’s nicer than that, but she shows its flaws. You keep improving it over two or three months.”

Approximately 1,200 people apply for the Goldwater annually, with around 400 receiving the scholarship. Each year, the winners are revealed on the same Friday in March at 11 a.m. central time.

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Lynn, who was in class when he received the email notifying him of his acceptance, said he felt nervous leading up to the results, thinking about the 1 in 3 chance of getting the scholarship.

“I didn’t really focus,” he said. “I couldn’t really focus in class because I was so focused on that result.”

Davis is a junior studying mathematics and art. Since math majors lack a typical research position like other STEM fields, Davis said she has pursued graduate level courses, participated in math competitions in middle and high school, and currently is working on independent projects.

Justin Salem Meyer

When Davis met with Thornburg to talk about scholarship opportunities, Thornburg said Davis would be a good fit for the Goldwater Scholarship after looking at all of her independent and advanced course work.

Davis said the hardest part of the application was filling out some of the longer-form essay questions.

“Up until that point, it has been more like you graduate from high school and then you go to college, and then I’ll figure it out later, because I don’t really have a dream job or a dream career,” Davis said. “That took a lot of time and thought for me, but it was a really helpful process for me to go through.”

Davis said she felt validated when she received the acceptance email. She said she’s never received national recognition before, and felt that she did belong in the math department.

She said she is currently taking advanced graduate courses and going on to pursue a graduate degree in theoretical math.

For future Goldwater applicants, she said candidates should be the most authentic version of themselves and to not be intimidated to draw on the resources at their disposal.

“I would also say, as a young Black woman in a department that has no black female professors, for people applying to the Goldwater, it’s okay to pursue what you got and what excites you and what you’re passionate about,” Davis said. “Even if you don’t see people who look like you or share a similar background or identify with the communities that you do, that never needs to be something that should prevent you from following your dreams.”