2016 Goldwater Scholarship winners: Junior Jesse Mu and sophomore Chris Latour. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Two Boston College students have won 2016 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, considered the nation’s premier undergraduate award in the sciences.

Junior Jesse L. Mu, of Omaha, Nebraska, a member of the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program who majors in computer science and minors in math, and sophomore Chris Latour of Lubbock, Texas, who majors in biochemistry and music, are the 15th and 16th Boston College students to earn a Goldwater Scholarship, awarded to the nation's most promising undergraduates in math, natural sciences and engineering.

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. Goldwater Scholars typically go on to earn Rhodes Scholarships, Marshall Awards and other prestigious fellowships.

Mu, who plans to seek a Ph.D. in computer or cognitive science, says he is particularly interested in conducting research in artificial intelligence in an academic or industrial setting.   

He credits his Gabelli Presidential Scholars mentor Egan Professor of Information Systems James Gips with giving him advice on how to become an undergraduate researcher, and connecting him with Assistant Professor of Psychology Joshua Hartshorne, then of MIT, who brought Mu into his lab as a summer intern before he accepted a full-time teaching position at BC in January.

Working closely with Hartshorne, who directs BC’s Language Learning Lab, Mu has researched how children acquire language, a process that is closely linked to how machines acquire language. His exploration of the emerging field of natural language processing, which is highly computational, has enabled Mu to utilize his diverse interests in psychology, artificial intelligence, and computational research.    

“I am incredibly honored to have won this award and to be considered among this group of scholars,” said Mu. “Winning a Goldwater validates the career path I have chosen. I have always debated between software engineering and research. I have committed to the research path because I want to work on the more interesting and challenging problems. This award confirms that I am doing the right thing personally and professionally and reminds me that I am the product of all the mentors and people who have helped me along the way and who were instrumental in my academic development.”   

Hartshorne said that he was not surprised when Mu was awarded the Goldwater given his talent and the esteem in which he is held by his BC professors.

“Jesse has that rare combination of drive to seek out difficult challenges, the wherewithal to find the resources he needs to succeed, and the ability to make use of those resources once he has them,” said Hartshorne. “This combination is key for any successful researcher and any highly successful person regardless of their field.”

"Jesse is a gifted young computer scientist with an exceptional academic record and a broad range of academic interests," said Associate Professor of Computer Science Robert Muller. "He has a very bright future in computational neuroscience."

In addition to receiving the Goldwater Scholarship, added Muller, Jesse is one of the Computer Science Department's top teaching assistants and has served as head teaching assistant for Computer Science I. He was admitted to the highly competitive summer internship program at Stanford University's Center for the Study of Language and Information, is co-president of Boston College's Computer Science Society, and for the past two years he has led three-person teams competing in the Association for Computing Machinery international programming contest.

Mu says he plans to pursue a graduate degree in computer science upon graduating from BC in the hope of one day becoming a research scientist in a tech company working on consumer artificial intelligence products that will have a tangible effect on people’s lives.

Latour, a pre-med student who plans to enter a MD/PhD program after graduation to meld his research interests with his goal of becoming a practicing physician, said his academic course load and summer internship research work at Texas Tech University prepared him well for consideration by the Goldwater committee.

He credits Assistant Professors of the Practice Danielle Taghian in Biology and Daniel Fox in Chemistry for inspiring him to excel in his science work, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Abhishek Chatterjee for advancing his research acumen in the area of X-ray crystallography, a tool used to examine the structures of proteins through crystal analysis.   

"I am truly honored and delighted to represent Boston College in receiving this esteemed award,” said Latour.  “Above all else, I would like to thank Professor Chatterjee, Professor Taghian, Professor Fox, Dr. Bryan Sutton of Texas Tech University and my family for their continued mentorship and support, both in my daily life and throughout the application process."

Chatterjee describes Latour as one of the best students he has known, and a researcher with a stellar academic trajectory.
“I have been deeply impressed with Christopher’s passion for scientific research and his ability to effortlessly grasp challenging concepts as well as technical skills,” said Chatterjee. “In my group he is developing a structure-guided approach for engineering naturally occurring proteins to develop artificial variants with novel properties, which can be useful as powerful therapeutics as well as research tools. He aspires to solve complex biomedical problems facing mankind today through scientific research, and I have no doubt that he would be highly successful in his pursuit.”

Taghian, who described Latour as a “pace-setter” in her freshman Molecules and Cells Biology course, says that Latour’s challenging and interesting questions not only stimulated discussion among his peers but pushed his classmates to a higher level of thinking.

“Chris not only approached his coursework with zest and confidence, but he actively sought research opportunities that would allow him a platform to investigate the molecular mechanisms he had learned in his coursework,” said Taghian.

“In all aspects of his personality, analytical mind and academic excellence, Chris has the makings of a passionate scientist who has limitless boundaries given the guidance he will receive in the Chatterjee lab and support from the Goldwater Scholarship.”  

Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley praised Mu and Latour for achieving the coveted distinction of Goldwater Scholars, which reflects well on the University’s continued investment in the sciences.    

“Jesse Mu and Chris Latour are the latest Boston College undergraduates to receive recognition as Goldwater Scholars,” said Quigley. “Our undergraduates in the sciences and mathematics are increasingly competitive for this and other major national awards, and I applaud our students and their faculty for the growing strength of our programs. Our continued investment in STEM fields is yielding significant dividends for individual students and the larger Boston College community of scholars.”

During the past 10 years, Boston College undergraduates have won a total of 311 prestigious academic fellowships, including three Marshall Scholarships, five Truman Scholarships, 10 Goldwater Scholarships and 182 Fulbright grants.  

The Goldwater Scholarship Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to honor the late U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater  and to help encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. Goldwater Scholars during the past decade have been awarded a total of 86 Rhodes Scholarships, 125 Marshall Awards, 134 Churchill Scholarships and numerous other distinguished fellowships.  

Jack Dunn, News & Public Affairs