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Chemical engineering major earns prestigious Goldwater Scholarship Award

Emily Cheng poses for a photo in Overholser Atrium.

Emily Cheng, a chemical engineering major, earned a Goldwater Scholarship Award in March, and with it, up to $7,500 to cover tuition, fees, books and room and board.

All told, a total of 1,206 engineering, math and science undergraduates applied for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program in 2015. The program selected 260 of them to receive scholarships. Two were University of Missouri students. And one of those two was an engineer.

Emily Cheng, a chemical engineering major, earned a Goldwater Scholarship Award in March, and with it, up to $7,500 to cover tuition, fees, books and room and board.

The awards have been given annually since 1989 in honor of former U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater and are “designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.”

Cheng was one of 68 engineering majors among those selected, and she said the award went a long way toward convincing her to continue her education beyond earning her bachelor’s degree, which she’s on track to receive in May 2016. Her goal is an eventual doctorate in materials science, with a focus on tissue regeneration.

“It kind of told me it was a good idea to go to graduate school,” she said. “I had professors before that recommended I go to graduate school, but I was always sort of on the fence about it.”

The nomination process for the 2015 Goldwater Scholarship Awards began last fall, when the online application opened. Cheng had to fill out an application and write an essay on her career aspirations and send in her transcript. A nomination from MU also was required. The University is allowed to nominate only four students.

She also had to submit three letters of recommendation. Cheng said the letters from Chemical Engineering Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies Paul Chan, Chemical Engineering Assistant Professor Bret Ulery and Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Gregory Triplett were key in her earning the award. Cheng currently works in Ulery’s lab and previously worked with Triplett.

It took roughly two months for Cheng to learn the fate of her application.

“I had school and research to get on with, so I kind of pushed that to the side a little bit. When it came up, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s nice,’” Cheng said with a laugh. “It wasn’t April Fools’ Day. Had it been April Fools’ Day, I wouldn’t have believed my adviser at that point. I was really surprised to get it.”

An internship the last two summers centered her focus on materials engineering.

“I worked at Honeywell Federal Manufacturing in materials research and development. After optimizing a materials synthesis reaction last summer, I became passionate about materials,” Cheng said. “From that, I had a natural fit in Dr. Ulery’s lab.”

Cheng’s engineering experience before college was with robotics, which helped land her in Triplett’s lab, where she worked for two years removing tricky oxide layers that form naturally atop semiconductors. Her love of biology led her to chemical engineering with a biochemical emphasis and Ulery’s lab, where she works on projects related to biomaterials and regenerative engineering.