(From left) Bridget Luckie, Caitlyn Seluzicki and Jessica Zielinski were honored by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

Bridget Luckie (left), Caitlin Seluzicki and Jessica Zielinski were honored by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.
Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University

CLEMSON, South Carolina — To win one of the nation’s most prestigious undergraduate awards, students must be intelligent, productive and tireless.

But there’s one more element that can’t be missing in their resumes: a passion for their work.

Clemson University’s winners of the 2017 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship — Caitlin Seluzicki and Jessica Zielinski, both of the College of Science — ranked passion above everything else.

“I think we are driven by the passion to want to accomplish something that is going to help people,” said Seluzicki, a junior majoring in microbiology. “Science is hard work, but the desire to get up every morning and stay up late every night in order to discover something and help others is what motivates us to never give up.”

“As a scientist, you get out what you put in,” added Zielinski, a junior majoring in biochemistry. “It’s an investment that grows with time and effort, and the more invested you become in the process, the more you treasure your accomplishments and appreciate the broader scope of your research.”

The Goldwater Scholarship is the premiere undergraduate award in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. This year, Clemson University nominated four students. Of those nominees, Seluzicki and Zielinski were winners; and a third, Bridget Luckie, received honorable mention.

Seluzicki and Zielinski will receive one-year scholarships that will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500. Though Luckie will not receive any funds, she will share equally in the prestige. Goldwater scholars and honorable mentions often go on to win numerous other distinguished awards during their collegiate careers.

“My mentors in the academic setting have told me that you don’t become a scientist for wealth or glory,” said Luckie, a junior majoring in both genetics and biochemistry. “It takes passion to stick it out and establish yourself. Without passion — and also curiosity — you can become disheartened by a lot of the extraneous hurdles that surround science, whether it’s bureaucracy or simply failed experiments.”

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation awarded 240 scholarships for the 2017-18 academic year to undergraduate sophomores and juniors from the United States. An additional 307 nominees received honorable mentions. The scholars were selected from a field of 1,286 students nominated by campus representatives from among 2,000 colleges and universities nationwide, according to a Goldwater Foundation media release.

Caitlin Seluzicki is a junior majoring in microbiology. “I think we are driven by the passion to want to accomplish something that is going to help people,” she says.

Caitlin Seluzicki is a junior majoring in microbiology. “I think we are driven by the passion to want to accomplish something that is going to help people,” she says.
Image Credit: Caitlin Seluzicki

“I was very honored — and very shocked — to open the email that told me I had been awarded the Goldwater Scholarship,” said Seluzicki, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. or degree in medicine and doctorate in developmental neuroscience. “I really appreciate all the opportunities I’ve received here at Clemson. My mentors have had a lot of faith in me and it feels great to show them that their faith was well-placed.”

“It’s definitely very validating to see the accumulation of my research turn into something official like this award,” added Zielinski, who will pursue a Ph.D or MD-Ph.D in cancer cell differentiation or drug resistance. “It makes me want to continue onward with renewed energy and an even greater sense of purpose.”

David Feliciano, assistant professor and researcher in the College of Science’s department of biological sciences, has worked with Seluzicki since her freshman year.

“During her time at Clemson, Caitlin has devoted more than 1,200 hours of work in my laboratory,” said Feliciano, who received a $442,000 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant in 2016 to study the molecular causes of autism and epilepsy. “Caitlin is a brilliant student with an unrelenting work ethic. She has an outstanding trajectory that is forged by her passion for knowledge. She is a calm and steady force whose work ethic, intelligence and kindness are an inspiration to everyone around her. It’s the combination of these characteristics and her contributions to the field of neuroscience that make her an ideal Goldwater Scholar and future scientist.”

Jessica Zielinski is a junior majoring in biochemistry. “As a scientist, you get out what you put in,” she says.

Jessica Zielinski is a junior majoring in biochemistry. “As a scientist, you get out what you put in,” she says.
Image Credit: Jessica Zielinski

Lukasz , assistant professor and researcher in the College of Science’s department of genetics and biochemistry, has worked with Zielinski since Spring 2016.

“I am very fortunate that Jessica decided to join my laboratory. Jessica is a born leader. She is a fast learner and fearlessly navigates new experiments and techniques. She is a natural scientist,” said Kozubowski, who conducts NIH-funded research aimed at elucidating mechanisms of virulence of human fungal pathogens.

“Jessica strives for perfection and is relentless in her pursuit to understand the cause of an unexpected result. Her innate curiosity and genuine passion for science make her an ideal candidate for this prestigious award, and I have no doubts that Jessica will go on to make significant contributions to science in her future.”

Kerry Smith, professor in the College of Science’s department of genetics and biochemistry, said that Luckie is a student who has already matured well beyond her years.

“When discussing science with Bridget, it is very easy to forget that she is a junior and not a second- or third-year Ph.D. student,” said Smith, who is director of Clemson’s Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center. “It is stunning how well-read she is, especially in terms of the scientific literature. She has all of the tools — intelligence, desire and curiosity — necessary to make significant scientific contributions in her career and eventually lead her own research lab.”

Bridget Luckie is a junior majoring in both genetics and biochemistry. "My generation will represent the future, and I’m very excited to see what we come up with,” she says.

Bridget Luckie is a junior majoring in both genetics and biochemistry. “My generation will represent the future, and I’m very excited to see what we come up with,” she says.
Image Credit: Bridget Luckie

During a recent get-together, Clemson’s three young scientists made it clear that they are not deterred by a growing concern that science is taking a back seat to political machinations. Instead, they refuse to back down to this or any challenge.

“I think it’s really valuable to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the general public,” said Seluzicki, whose hometown is Baltimore. “Scientists need to demonstrate the value of our pursuits and the implications of what we’re pursuing and the implications if we stop pursuing.”

“We, as future scientists, can take an active role in the policy that influences the research community,” said Zielinski, who was born and raised in Clemson “Even now as students, I think advocacy and public outreach are ways we can help the field grow.”

“Scientists have the ability to recognize what’s wrong and then fix it,” said Luckie, whose hometown is Fort Mill. “This is what ignites the fire in me. My generation will represent the future, and I’m very excited to see what we come up with.”

END