Pomona students Zoë Batterman ’24 and Alexandra Turvey ’24 have been named 2023 Goldwater Scholars. The scholarship recognizes students who “show exceptional promise of becoming this nation’s next generation of research leaders” in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics.
One of the most prestigious awards of its type, the Goldwater Scholarship was awarded this year to 413 students across the country, selected from a pool of over 5,000 college sophomores and juniors.
The Goldwater Foundation partners with the Department of Defense to support the development of scientific talent in the United States. Goldwater Scholars often go on to win competitive postgraduate fellowships, including the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, Rhodes Scholarship, Marshall Scholarship and Churchill Scholarship.
When Batterman came to Pomona College from New Orleans, her interests lay in environmental analysis and philosophy. But taking linear algebra her first year with Shahriar Shahriari, William Polk Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, shifted her trajectory.
“That class revolutionized what I thought about math,” Batterman says. “I really loved how creative it could be. It felt like a very powerful edifice where one can see how other people think.”
The camaraderie of the mathematics community also drew her in. Even online during the COVID-19 pandemic, Batterman met a group of people who were “very close friends,” and that community helped propel her into the mathematics major.
Soon after deciding on the major, she began seeking research opportunities. Her sophomore year, Batterman worked on C*-algebras with Konrad Aguilar, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics. “Without Zoë’s awesome ideas, we wouldn't have found the solution to our research problem which involved various areas of mathematics,” says Aguilar. “Her excitement about working on mathematics made the experience even better.”
Batterman then learned about the work of Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Edray Goins, which is motivated by the longstanding Inverse Galois problem. She was accepted into Goins’ Pomona Research in Mathematics Experience (PRiME) program for the summer after her sophomore year. “Zoë was instrumental in completely solving the research problem I gave her,” says Goins. “She really is a remarkable student.”
Batterman says Aguilar and Goins have been “the guiding forces” in her math career so far. Goins helped her apply for the Goldwater Scholarship, and she appreciates the “massive experience and repertoire” he brings.
This summer Batterman will join an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) at Williams College researching number theory in connection with random matrices. After she graduates, she hopes to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics, which will ideally allow her to become a university professor.
Turvey came to Pomona from Vancouver, Canada, because she wanted to study at a liberal arts college and to swim at a Division III school. “I really wanted to prioritize my academics, and Pomona offers an incredible balance between academics, research and swimming,” she says.
Cavalcanti encouraged Turvey to take the upper-level course Genomics and Bioinformatics of SARS-Cov-2 with him the spring semester of her first year. “He was super supportive,” Turvey says. “He said, ‘You definitely can do this.’”
Taking that course led Turvey down the path of computational biology and into Cavalcanti’s lab once she arrived at Pomona in person her sophomore year after remote learning during the pandemic. She has conducted research with Cavalcanti during both her sophomore and junior years as well as in the summer, working on applying genomic tools to several ecological and medical problems.
“I’m really grateful to be able to have Professor Cavalcanti’s mentorship during my whole Pomona journey,” says Turvey. “The fact that Pomona has these research opportunities and faculty who take the time to get to know you individually has been a huge reason why I’ve been able to be successful with research.”
This summer, she will take the MCAT and apply to M.D./Ph.D. programs. Long term, she looks forward to using her research to enhance her patient care.
In the meantime, Turvey is preparing to begin her own research project studying aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases with the goal of better understanding the origins and significance of the human disease-causing variants. “I hope that my small piece in this puzzle could help us gain a better understanding of how these enzymes function, and hopefully that can help us identify treatments for patients who are suffering from these diseases,” Turvey says.