University of South Alabama student Kaila Mattson, a junior majoring in chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, is the recipient of the highly competitive Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, science, engineering and computer science.
Mattson, a native of Hartland, Wis., and that state’s 2007 Junior Miss, is one of 278 students in the United States selected to receive money to cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.
“I am extremely honored to receive this award,” Mattson said. “I extend my gratitude to the national Goldwater Scholarship Program selection committee and the USA selection committee.”
The U.S. Congress established the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program in 1986 in honor of former U.S. Senator and 1964 presidential candidate Barry M. Goldwater, a Republican from Arizona. Its goal is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue careers in these fields.
“The USA nominating committee strongly felt that Kaila submitted an outstanding Goldwater application,” said Dr. Michael Spector, professor of biomedical sciences and chair of the University’s Goldwater selection committee. “She was one of four very strong candidates who were nominated by USA. Kaila was also one of six students attending an Alabama university to be awarded a Goldwater Scholarship this year.”
Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from among 1,111 mathematics, science, and engineering students nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. This year’s Goldwater Scholars include 156 men and 122 women, and virtually all of them intend to obtain a Ph.D. Seventeen Scholars are mathematics majors, 199 are science and related majors, 53 are majoring in engineering, and nine are computer science majors. Many of the Scholars have dual majors in a variety of mathematics, science, engineering, and computer disciplines.
“We are very happy and proud that Kaila has received the Goldwater Scholarship,” said Dr. Andrzej Wierzbicki, College of Arts and Sciences dean. “She is a great ambassador for the department of chemistry, the College, and the University.”
Mattson, who is minoring in business and is an active member of the USA Honors Program, will benefit tremendously from her Goldwater Scholarship.
“Kaila has been a phenomenal student in the Honors Program at the University of South Alabama,” said Dr. Robert Coleman, director of the USA Honors Program. “She is creative, hard working and enthusiastic about learning everything, which explains her Goldwater success.”
Mattson feels at home in the chemistry lab. A student of chemistry professor Dr. James Davis, she is involved in the study of ionic liquids, which are basically salts that are liquid at room temperature. Primarily considered solvents, they are rapidly becoming a subject of great interest in both scientific and industrial worlds because of their unusual properties. Because of Davis’ support and mentorship, Mattson decided to major in chemistry.
“As an Honors Program student, I was matched with Dr. Davis to conduct research in his lab,” Mattson said. “Being an extroverted person, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the research aspect of science. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find that research was very gratifying. Dr. Davis is so charismatic and excited about chemistry. I love that his research has practical applications. I am very pragmatic, and I enjoy seeing the purpose of a project.”
Davis is confident that Mattson will be highly sought after by representatives of the best graduate chemistry programs in the world.
“She is a stand-out in many ways, including her skills as a synthetic research chemist,” he said. “Her work has already led to co-authorships in two highly regarded scientific journals, and there will certainly be more publications to come from research at USA. In addition, she has a set of skilled hands in the lab, and she contributes to the intellectual effort behind the research.”
Impressed with Mattson’s lab research, Davis worked to secure her an opportunity through his connections abroad, and she will be working this summer with two German professors who are world leaders in their field of science.
“Kaila is genuine, passionate, and has an undeniable thirst for knowledge,” said Dr. David C. Forbes, professor and interim chair of chemistry. “As a Goldwater Scholar, she has confirmation that she is among the best undergraduate students in the nation.”
Mattson aspires to share her love of science in a college classroom one day with other gifted and dedicated students by earning her doctorate in chemistry.
“Through research, I can be a ‘nerd rebel’ and find different methods of approaching a problem by incorporating creativity, practicality and fun. Given the right teacher or professor, science can always be fun and educational,” she said.
Mattson is a graduate of Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wis., and the daughter of Gary and Sharon Mattson. She is the second recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship at USA in two years. Carmen Zirlott, a resident of Grand Bay, Ala., was awarded the scholarship in 2009.