Kent State Undergraduates Named Prestigious 2019 Goldwater Scholars for Science Research

Two Kent State University undergraduate students have been awarded prestigious 2019 Goldwater Scholarships from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. The foundation awards the scholarships annually to students studying mathematics, natural science or engineering.

Kent State’s recipients are:

  • Gracen Gerbig, a senior on the Kent Campus from Dover, Ohio, who is studying cellular and molecular biology. She hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in microbiology, conduct research in infectious disease and eventually teach at the university level.
  • Hayley Shasteen, a junior on the Kent Campus from Berlin Center, Ohio, who is pursuing a dual degree in molecular and cellular biology and psychology. She hopes to eventually obtain a doctoral degree in cognitive neuropsychology and conduct research regarding cognitive impairment in patients with autoimmune diseases with emphasis on systemic lupus erythematosus.

“I think that shows very well that our students can excel and compete with the very best because they are actually encouraged and supported by the very best here at Kent State,” Kent State President Beverly J. Warren said of the winners.

Both students recently were recognized by President Warren at the Kent State Board of Trustees meeting on May 9.

About Gracen Gerbig

Currently, Ms. Gerbig is working in the Emerging Infections Laboratory of Tara Smith, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in Kent State’s College of Public Health. In the summer of 2018, Ms. Gerbig’s research focused on various strains of Staphylococcus aureus from animal populations, specifically rats collected in the Boston communities of Chinatown and Dorchester. 

Kent State was a partner in the study along with Tufts University and others. Ms. Gerbig said the findings showed that while some strains of staph were resistant to common antibiotics, only one animal contained MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) or the antibiotic-resistant strain. The study was intended to monitor trends and help track the progression of new strains of staph infection as they develop and spread.

Working in a laboratory setting has taught Ms. Gerbig independence and self-discipline for completing her work.

“I was able to find what I was passionate about: hands-on, microbiology lab research,” she said.

Ms. Gerbig is spending part of her summer break in Geneva, Switzerland, attending the 72nd World Health Assembly as part of a global health immersion class she is taking. The experience, she said, also has opened her eyes to the possibility of international research in the future. She also hopes one day to teach at the university level.

Her Goldwater prize is for up to $7,500, which she will use to defray the expenses of her senior year. 

“It was a real honor to win it,” she said, noting the help she has received from Dr. Smith and others. “Kent State has really been super supportive.”

About Hayley Shasteen

Ms. Shasteen said her scholarship is for up to $7,500 each year for her junior and senior years or potentially $15,000. Her primary research focus is cognitive impairments in people with systemic lupus, as she and her mother both have the disease.

Ms. Shasteen began her college career at Kent State University at Salem and transferred to the Kent Campus in the fall of 2018. She first learned of research opportunities through the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program, in which she participated in the summer of 2018. 

The application process for the award, Ms. Shasteen said, included writing several personal essays that forced her to think about why she is so dedicated to research.

She is currently working with her faculty advisor to compose a manuscript of the research she conducted last summer and its results, which she hopes to submit for publication.
Ms. Shasteen worked with Frank Congin, director of academic programs in the Honors College, who helped her to navigate the application process. Her advice to interested students is to get involved in research early in their college careers and to pursue multiple opportunities so that they can figure out and articulate what projects interest them most. 
The Goldwater prize will eliminate much of the financial pressure of attending college. It will allow her to focus more on her research and less on work – she has three part-time jobs. She hopes that having won the prestigious award will help when it comes to applying to graduate school in the future.

About the Goldwater Scholarship Awards

More than 5,000 college sophomores and juniors from 443 academic institutions were nominated for this year’s awards.

As the result of a new partnership with the Department of Defense National Defense Education Programs (NDEP), the Goldwater Foundation awarded 496 scholarships this year, a record number. The scholarships are for as much as $7,500 per year. 

“As it is vitally important that the nation ensures that it has the scientific talent it needs to maintain its global competitiveness and security, we saw partnering with the Goldwater Foundation as a way to help ensure the U.S. is developing this talent,” said Jagadeesh Pamulapati, Ph.D., director of the NDEP program, explaining the new partnership in a Goldwater Foundation news release. 

The 2019 awards bring the number of scholarships awarded since 1989 by the Goldwater Foundation to 8,628 and a scholarship total of more than $68 million.

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to honor the lifetime work of Sen. Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years in the U.S. Senate.

The scholarship program is designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

Accredited two- and four-year academic institutions that have identified a Goldwater Campus Representative with the foundation may nominate up to four students annually.

Other Ohio colleges and universities with students named as Goldwater Scholars for 2019 include: Case Western Reserve University, Denison University, Miami University, Oberlin College, Ohio University and the University of Cincinnati, each with two scholars; Ohio Northern University and the College of Wooster, each with one scholar; and Ohio State University, with four scholars.

For more information about the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, visit

POSTED: Wednesday, May 22, 2019 12:27 PM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 07:40 AM
Lisa Abraham