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3 Biology Majors Awarded 2021-22 Goldwater Scholarship

By Whitney Hale

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 19, 2021) — The University of Kentucky Office of Nationally Competitive Awards has announced that three Wildcats — biology students Kayli Bolton, Zoe Hert and Carly Karrick — have been awarded a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. The UK students are among 410 students nationwide selected to receive the 2021-22 Goldwater Scholarship.

This year's Goldwater Scholars were selected based on academic merit from a field of 1,256 math, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of 438 of the nation's colleges and universities.

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was authorized by Congress to honor the former U.S. senator who served the nation for 30 years. The program was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.

Since its first award in 1989, the foundation has bestowed 9,457 scholarships. This year marks the third year that scholarships have been presented in partnership with the Department of Defense National Defense Education Programs.

Kayli Bolton is the granddaughter of Linda Mays, of Corbin, and the fiancee of Phillip Brown, of London, Kentucky. She is a sophomore majoring in biology in the UK College of Arts and Sciences and is a member of the Lewis Honors College.

It was Bolton’s mother’s breast cancer diagnosis during her sophomore year of high school that would influence the scholar’s choice of future studies and an interest in biomedical sciences research.

“My mom got treatment, and in my next years of high school she was able to come see all of my dance and marching band competitions, be there for holidays, send me off to the five-week Governor's Scholars Program in the summer, and several other significant life experiences,” Bolton said. “My mom passed away at the beginning of my senior year of high school, and my father then took his own life. While this was the most difficult and tragic time in my life, it is also what drives me the most. I am immensely grateful for the scientists and doctors who were able to give my mom the extra few years that she most likely would not have had otherwise.”

Since her first semester at UK, Bolton has been active in undergraduate research working in Professor Matthew Gentry’s laboratory in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry in the UK College of Medicine. She has had the opportunity to participate in several metabolomics projects concerning glycogen storage diseases in Gentry’s Lab and describes her experience as a crucial launching point for her continued research in graduate school and her career.

Bolton credits Gentry and members of his lab, neuroscientist Ramon Sun and his lab and the faculty of the UK Department of Biology and Lewis Honors College as influences on her success. In addition, she praises postdoctoral fellow Jessica Macedo, doctoral candidates Lyndsay Young and Zoe Simmons, and Pat Whitlow, director of the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards, as important mentors during her time at UK. 

Upon completion of her bachelor’s degree, Bolton plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. with a focus in biochemistry. Her goal is to eventually conduct research in the biomedical sciences investigating diseases such as cancer in an industry or academic setting.

Zoe Hert is the daughter of Dan and Karen Hert, of Louisville, Kentucky. A Chellgren Fellow and member and peer mentor in Lewis Honors College, the junior is majoring in biology on the ecology and evolutionary biology track and minoring in anthropology.

From the application process to future opportunities, Hert is excited about all the Goldwater Scholarship entails. “The community gained after earning a nationally competitive award, like the Goldwater Scholarship, provides an opportunity to connect with scientists across the country. So far, I have been very inspired by the array of research being conducted by fellow undergraduates,” Hert explained. “In addition, the extensive application process greatly improved my understanding of my research and career aspirations, which is important for graduate school.”

Since coming to UK her freshman year, Hert has conducted ecology and evolutionary biology research with David Weisrock, an associate professor of evolutionary biology, Mariah Donohue and fellow Goldwater Scholar Carly Karrick. Broadly, she investigated the diversity of the wild lemur gut microbiome. Most recently, she has helped compare the host ecological and evolutionary factors driving the diversity of prokaryotic and microeukaryotic communities in the wild lemur gut microbiome. Through this work, Hert was awarded the Rising Explorers Grant from the Explorers Club and UK Biology’s Ribble Undergraduate Research Scholarship.

Upon completion of her bachelor’s degree, Hert plans to pursue a doctoral degree in ecology and evolutionary biology or a related field, investigating the disease ecology of wild non-human primates. She hopes her work will contribute to local conservation and public health initiatives in primate-range countries. Through both domestic and international collaborations, Hert aims to improve diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the field.

Carly Karrick is the daughter of Guy and Jeanne Karrick, of Cold Spring, Kentucky. The junior is majoring in both biology and Spanish in the College of Arts and Sciences and is a peer mentor and member of Lewis Honors College.

Since Karrick’s freshman year, she has also been an active part of the Weisrock Lab at UK, working with undergraduate and graduate students to study the lemur gut microbiome. Karrick, like Hert, is working on UK research investigating the effects of host ecology (i.e., diet and habitat) and evolutionary history on the microeukaryotic component of the wild lemur gut microbiome. She is also a recipient of the Ribble Undergraduate Research Scholarship and the Rising Explorers Grant from the Explorers Club.

Both Karrick and Hert credit Weisrock and Donohue as major influences on their growth as researchers. “Dr. David Weisrock and Mariah Donohue, a Ph.D. candidate in his lab, have provided constant support for me since I joined the lab," Karrick said. "I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that they have both given me, and I could not have been successful in applying for the Goldwater Scholarship without their support."

“The biology department at UK has many outstanding research faculty, and the research opportunities here are unparalleled,” she added.

Passionate about the ocean and marine conservation since high school when she volunteered at the Newport Aquarium, Karrick plans to pursue a doctoral degree in marine science or a related field while studying the coral microbiome after finishing her bachelor’s degree. Ultimately, she hopes to be a research professor at an R1 university in the future.

The Office of Nationally Competitive Awards is very grateful for the work of the campus Goldwater committee, Liz Debski, associate professor of biology; Chris Crawford, professor of physics; Jerzy Jaromczyk, associate professor of computer science; and Al Corso, associate professor of mathematics, who have given many hours of work reviewing applications and supporting Goldwater applicants.

Students interested in applying for the Goldwater Scholarship should contact Pat Whitlow, director of the UK Office of Nationally Competitive Awards, which assists current UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with the office, housed in the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence, well in advance of the scholarship deadline. Staff is available for appointments to discuss opportunities for the 2021-2022 academic year and beyond.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.