CLEMSON, South Carolina — A junior chemistry major has won a Goldwater Scholarship, helping propel Clemson University’s 10-year tally beyond several highly respected institutions, including the California Institute of Technology, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley.

Becca Pontius, who is from Glenelg, Maryland, said that since beginning college she has been pushing herself to achieve goals not easily attained.

Goldwater Scholar Becca Pontius prepares an experiment, while research assistant professor Modi Wetzler supervises.

Goldwater Scholar Becca Pontius prepares an experiment, while research assistant professor Modi Wetzler supervises.

“This is to date the thing that I’m most proud of — achieving this Goldwater Scholarship,” she said. “ I put my whole self into it. This was a long process and a lot of work. It feels great. It was all worth it.”

Pontius was among 252 Goldwater Scholars selected on the basis of academic merit. They were chosen from a field of 1,150 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by representatives of 415 colleges and universities nationwide.

Clemson has had 28 Goldwater Scholars since 2007, just three short of the tally at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Cal Tech had 24, while Georgia Tech and UC Berkeley each had 19.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science, offered his congratulations to Pontius.

“Winning a Goldwater Scholarship is a prestigious honor,” he said. “The scholarships help provide the nation with a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers who plan to pursue research careers. The numbers show Clemson has excelled in providing top-notch research experiences to undergraduates and fostering a culture that encourages excellence.”

The scholarship goes to students who will be juniors or seniors the following school year. Each scholarship helps cover tuition, fees, books and room and board, up to a maximum of $7,500 annually.

Pontius plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry after graduating with a Bachelor of Science. She is leaning toward a specialty in organic synthesis.

“I’m very interested in being creative in chemistry and to see all the different things that you can do,” she said. “There’s still so much that needs to be done. I’d love to see something that I’ve done have an application in the medicinal field or renewable energy field.”

Pontius said that Modi Wetzler, a research assistant professor, has been the most influential person in her Clemson experience. He has opened doors for her in chemistry and has helped instill her with self-confidence, she said.

“He has always been my No. 1 fan,” Pontius said. “He is always pushing me to try stuff. He wants me to lead my own research project next semester.”

Pontius, a 2013 graduate of Glenelg High School, is the daughter of Jim and Marianne Pontius.

She remembered starting her college search by looking for a school strong in chemistry. Pontius also wanted to find a place where she would be happy.

“The thing that just stood out to me about Clemson was the community that we have here,” she said. “People work really, really hard. I’m always impressed by the faculty and staff, their commitment to the students. I feel like that’s not something you see anywhere else except for Clemson.”

A turning point for Pontius came when she saw how all her classes were linked together.

“I feel like I really transitioned from goal-oriented learning to learning because I wanted to know,” she said. “That moment when I put together the things I was learning in class and things I could actually feel, it was almost religious. It was like an epiphany.”

Karl Dieter, the chair of the chemistry department, said the Goldwater Scholarship is a highly sought award that goes to some of the nation’s top students.

“Congratulations to Becca,” he said. “This is an impressive accomplishment. Goldwater Scholars have very impressive academic records that have captured the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs. She has a bright future.”

The scholarships come from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, a federally endowed agency named for the late Arizona senator.

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