Junior Benjamin Siu awarded Goldwater Scholarship

Posted on April 7, 2017 by Bob Lowry
Bob Lowry

Junior Benjamin Siu awarded Goldwater Scholarship data-lightbox='featured'
"Ben is a very impressive researcher who does an excellent job of managing his time between classes, research, student leadership and tutoring," says Dr. Kevin West, associate professor of chemical engineering, here with chemical engineering junior and Goldwater Scholar Benjamin Siu.

Benjamin Siu will be the first to tell you that he has modest expectations of himself.

“I typically think I’ll never amount to anything significant in my life, honestly,” said Siu, a junior chemical engineering major from Ocean Springs, Miss. While he may think that, his latest accomplishment betrays his humility. 

Siu recently received a Goldwater Scholarship, awarded annually to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. He’s one of only 240 students nationwide to be chosen, and the only one from the University of South Alabama.

“I didn't expect it at all,” Siu added. “I honestly just see myself as just a normal student and enjoying being part of my professor's lab work. I never expected when I started college that I'd be receiving the Goldwater.”

He says he was attracted to South for a variety of reasons; USA awarded him credits for his International Baccalaureate diploma from Ocean Springs High School, and his strong ACT score earned him a scholarship that helped pay for tuition and books.

“The most influential factor, though, was that I heard South's engineering program was very good since it had smaller class sizes, and the chemical engineering department's professors were extremely helpful and caring,” Siu said.

Dr. Kevin West, associate professor of chemical engineering at South, is singled out by Siu as being “personable, yet brilliant.” Siu added, “Dr. West has been both an inspirational and integral part of my undergraduate education, especially by being an amazing teacher.  To encourage me to be excellent, he often tells me ‘Stop what you're doing and be awesome.’"

West says that Siu has a great deal of initiative and drive, and something more.

“Ben has developed a mature sense of the science that we're working on,” West said. “Typically, when an undergraduate research student produces interesting results, they are excited and will ask their mentor ‘What do we do next?’ Ben has matured to the point of not just analyzing the results, but then proposing what the next steps should be.”

Right now, those steps seem to be taking Siu to a potential career centered on efficiency; especially, environmental efficiency.

“I want to pursue research and development careers in chemical engineering that focus on environmental/sustainability projects like renewable energy or creating new products to makes things more efficient for the world,” he said. “My desire just comes from wanting to see more perfection and good things in the world that can be applied to help humanity.”

The Goldwater scholarship, awarded for the 2017-2018 academic year, will help Siu fulfill his career goal by covering the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500. Dr. Michael Doran, program director of South’s Honors Program – of which Siu is a member – says there are also benefits that go beyond the finances.

“The Goldwater is a really prestigious award that targets students who are well on their way to a successful research career,” Doran said. “Besides the prestige, it gives these students a great networking opportunity as they seek additional awards and funding. They are certainly in a very select group of scholars.”

Siu, like virtually all Goldwater scholars, plans to go on to graduate school and earn his Ph.D. And he has a message for any South student who thinks, like he once thought, that he or she doesn’t have what it takes to get a Goldwater.

“I would tell any students who are striving for the Goldwater to just strive for perfection and not settle for easy solutions in life. I remember many times while just doing my coursework, research and extracurriculars that it was incredibly stressful, but I understood early on that doing the hard things in life is worth it. To me, success is paved with a masochistic enjoyment of stress and pain because in the end you'll look back and say, ‘Wow, I did good.’"

Two other South students were also recognized in their quest for a Goldwater scholarship.  Alex Coley, a junior majoring in biomedical sciences, and Phiwat Klomkaew, a junior majoring in chemical engineering, received Honorable Mention selections from the Goldwater Foundation. The three students are the most from South ever recognized in the annual Goldwater competition.

“Each university can nominate only four students, so for South to have three of our four students recognized is quite an honor,” Doran said. “Together, these three are probably among the top 500 undergraduate researchers in the country.”

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