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Three Engineering Students Nominated for Goldwater Scholarships

Monday, March 14, 2011

Three University of Kansas juniors from the School of Engineering, all involved in undergraduate research, are competing for national Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, regarded as the premier undergraduate award to encourage excellence in science, engineering and mathematics.

The nominees from the School of Engineering are:

— Isaac Steven Fees, a junior from Manhattan, Kan., majoring in chemical engineering.

— Scott Archer Mitchell, a junior from Salina, Kan., majoring in chemical engineering while simultaneously completing a master’s degree in bioengineering.

— Deena Rennerfeldt, a junior from Helena, Mont., and Vernal, Utah majoring in chemical engineering

The Goldwater Foundation trustees will announce winners in late March. The scholarships cover eligible expenses for undergraduate tuition, fees, books and room and board, up to $7,500 annually. The trustees intend to award up to 300 Goldwater scholarships. The number of scholarships to be awarded per state will depend on the number and qualifications of the nominees from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and, considered as a single entity, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

A total of 47 KU students have received Goldwater scholarships since they first were awarded in 1989. Congress established the program in 1986 in tribute to the retired U.S. senator from Arizona and to ensure a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers.

Goldwater scholars have impressive academic qualifications that have garnered the attention of prestigious postgraduate fellowship programs, including 73 Rhodes scholarships, 102 Marshall scholarships and numerous other distinguished fellowships.

Only sophomore- and junior-level students with outstanding academic records, significant research experience and high potential for careers in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering were eligible for nomination. Nominees submitted applications that included essays related to the nominee’s career and faculty recommendations.

The University Honors Program coordinates the Goldwater application process at KU.

Brief descriptions of each nominee’s career plans and academic endeavors follow.

Isaac Steven Fees

, a chemical engineering major, is involved in research that will contribute to better alternative energies. He is investigating the fundamental events of photosynthesis, characterizing and modeling the optical properties of pigment-protein complexes. He plans a career researching and teaching computational and theoretical chemistry. Fees is working with researchers at Kansas State University, KU and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His photosynthesis research was funded with a Kansas EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) grant and through the Research Experience for Undergraduates program in summer 2010. EPSCoR is supported by the National Science Foundation. Fees has presented his work at a regional meeting of the American Chemical Society, a sustainability symposium in Manhattan and an EPSCoR conference in Lawrence. At KU, Fees has a Summerfield Scholarship, offered to selected top graduates of Kansas high schools. He has studied abroad at the South China Normal University in Guangzhou, China, where he worked as a research assistant on a study of Chinese culture and creativity. Fees is a teaching assistant for an honors class in genetics and a lab instructor for a general chemistry class. He is the son of Gary and Bronwyn Fees and a graduate of Manhattan High School.

Scott Archer Mitchell

is a chemical engineering major who is simultaneously completing a master’s degree in bioengineering. Mitchell’s career goals are focused on collaborating with researchers to produce new clinical tools for diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease, years before symptoms appear. Even with the onset of symptoms, current medical practice lacks a timely and definitive diagnostic tool to confirm multiple sclerosis. To prepare for a biomedical career, Mitchell plans to earn a medical degree and a doctoral degree specializing in biomedical engineering. Since his freshman year, Mitchell has been working alongside researchers at KU and at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry and bioengineering to create new therapies or diagnostic tools, specifically for cardiovascular diseases and autoimmune diseases. Mitchell’s undergraduate research is specifically investigating the use of nanoparticles for potential therapeutics and engineering molecules for diagnostic tools. Cory Berkland, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, is Mitchell’s research adviser. Mitchell hopes that his diagnostic research at KU can be used to create a startup biotech company that can revolutionize how multiple sclerosis is treated and ultimately lead to vast improvement in the quality of life of patients. Mitchell is a National Merit Scholar, a Summerfield Scholar and a Dane Hansen Leaders of Tomorrow Scholar (the program is for outstanding high school graduates in 26 northwest Kansas counties and sponsored by the Dane G. Hansen Foundation of Logan). In addition, Mitchell is one of 55 Madison “Al” and Lila Self Engineering Leadership Fellows. The SELF program is sponsored by the School of Engineering for a select group of students with a track record of motivation, leadership and action. He also received an Institute for Advancing Medical Innovation Fellowship for his research on multiple sclerosis diagnostics from the KU Medical Center. The institute focuses on practice-based training and networking of the next generation of innovators who will advance medical innovations ranging from new drugs, medical devices and drug-medical device combinations. Mitchell is a member of the University Honors Program. He is the son of Mark and Kathi Mitchell and a graduate of Salina High School South.

Deena Rennerfeldt

, majoring in chemical engineering, is a first-generation college student who put her education goals on hold after high school to earn enough money to pursue a college degree. Rennerfeldt is preparing for a biomedical career researching drug delivery systems or tissue engineering and teaching. She is researching tissue regeneration that could have long-range benefit for athletes or others experiencing cartilage damage to joints. Her study focuses on knee joints. Working with Michael Detamore, associate professor, and Stevin Gehrke, professor, both in chemical and petroleum engineering, Rennerfeldt is investigating hydrogels that could help rebuild damaged tissue at the time of injury, eliminating a need for surgery years later. This spring, she will present her research project in local and national arenas: the KU-Haskell Indian Nations University Undergraduate Research Symposium in Lawrence and the Society for Biomaterials conference in Orlando, Fla. As a sophomore, Rennerfeldt was selected for KU’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity, an enhancement program funded by the National Institutes of Health to support a diverse group of students interested in pursuing graduate study and a research career in a field related to biomedical research. She worked in KU’s Bioengineering Research Center on a project to improve commercial dentin adhesives used in dentistry. She presented a poster on “Dentin Adhesive Optimization” for two undergraduate research symposiums at KU. Last fall, she was one of 25 students from KU receiving a travel scholarship to attend the annual Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science Conference in Anaheim, Calif. She is a member of the University Honors Program. Rennerfeldt was valedictorian of her class at Uintah High School in Vernal, Utah. She began working at age 16 at a fast food restaurant, quickly moving to shift management and has continued to work to support herself and to save for college. After her freshman year at Dixie College in St. George, Utah, Rennerfeldt had to wait a few years to save enough to pursue a bachelor’s degree. She plans to complete a doctorate in bioengineering. Rennerfeldt also has a passion for music and is second clarinetist in KU Symphonic Band. She is the granddaughter of Marlene and Dallas Rennerfeldt of Helena, Mont.


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