Melanie McNally '06, left, and Elizabeth O'Day '06 are the latest BC undergraduates to receive Goldwater Scholarships.(Photo by Kris Brewer)
Two Receive Goldwaters
For fourth straight year, BC students earn prestigious scholarships
By Mark Sullivan
A biology major whose father's paralysis inspired her to seek a research career in neuroscience is one of two Boston College students to win a Goldwater Scholarship, considered the premier undergraduate fellowship in the sciences.
Melanie McNally '06, of Manchester, NH, who with Prof. Daniel Kirschner (Biology) is researching the pathology of a rare neurodegenerative condition called Sandhoff's Disease, says her father's disability after a crippling accident led to her interest in finding treatments for disorders of the nervous system.
BC's other Goldwater winner, biochemistry major Elizabeth O'Day '06, of Braintree, Mass., is an aspiring cancer researcher who is studying inhibitor compounds with Prof. Evan Kantrowitz (Chemistry), and who was in Germany last week giving a presentation on her research.
It's the fourth straight year BC students have won the Goldwater, awarded to the nation's most promising undergraduates in math and science. BC's 10 winners over the past eight years have included three students who have gone on to win, respectively, a Marshall, a Gates-Cambridge and a Rhodes.
When McNally was a freshman in high school, her father, Joseph, was in a car accident that left him a quadriplegic dependent on a respirator, she said.
"The journey my father, my family, and I have taken since then has shaped me in my perspective, ambitions, and priorities," she said. "In learning about my father's condition, I developed an insatiable desire to know more about the nervous system and, in particular, how it dysfunctions."
McNally said she plans to spend a post-graduate year in a hospital research lab, and then enroll in a doctoral program in neuroscience. "I hope eventually to direct my own lab, making strides towards unraveling nerve regeneration while continuing to interact with and learn from the people affected by paralysis," she said.
O'Day, who plans to pursue a doctorate in biochemistry, said she hopes her current research into cell enzymes will contribute to development of a "new class of inhibitors, which may prove to be a new class of anti-cancer drugs.
"I am grateful to be able to help develop research that is not only exciting but has real world application," she said. "Since as early as I can remember, I have known I wanted to pursue research, and cancer has always had a special interest to me.
"Like many people I have seen first hand the devastation when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. It has always frustrated me that although we know so much about it, its cure still remains elusive. By working on this project I have been giving an opportunity to help combat this disease."
The scholarship foundation established by Congress to honor Sen. Barry Goldwater intends to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who plan careers in these fields.
The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.
The 320 Goldwater Scholars for 2005-06 were chosen from more than 1,000 nominees. Nationally, recent Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 58 Rhodes Scholarships, 72 Marshall Awards (six of the 40 awarded in the United States in 2005), and numerous other distinguished fellowships.
"Winning a Goldwater marks a student as one of the best and brightest science students in the US, and they typically go on to the top graduate programs," said Prof. Dennis Sardella (Chemistry), director of the Presidential Scholars Program at BC and campus Goldwater coordinator.
Sardella said the successful Goldwater candidate must demonstrate not only intellectual ability but significant involvement in research.
"The ability to do this convincingly requires the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research, and the kind of scientific maturity that comes from interacting with high quality faculty and research associates, both graduate and postdoctoral, not to mention top-of-the-line equipment and laboratories," he said.