SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Two Wofford College student-athletes – juniors Alissa Williams of Kentwood, Mich., and Justin Whitaker of Alpharetta, Ga. – have been honored by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. Williams was named a Goldwater Scholar while Whitaker received an honorable mention.

Both students run cross country, indoor track and outdoor track for Wofford.

Williams, the daughter of Bart and Wendy Williams of Kentwood, is majoring in biology and computer science, with a minor in mathematics and an emphasis in computational science. She is a member of Beta Beta Beta, the biology honor society. 

Whitaker, the son of Ray and Lauren Whitaker of Alpharetta, is majoring in physics and mathematics, with a minor in computer science and an emphasis in computational science

The Barry Goldwater Foundation recently announced the awarding of 283 scholarships for the 2014-15 academic year to undergraduate sophomores and juniors from the United States. 

“I think the fact that we were both recognized by the Goldwater Foundation shows a lot about Wofford,” Williams says. “To have not one, but two students recognized by Goldwater in the same year puts us in the same tier as large research institutions and big-name liberal arts colleges, who regularly have multiple students recognized. It shows that a Wofford education has prepared us just as well for the internships and graduate schools that will ultimately make us successful in our chosen fields.” 

She notes that the two worked “entirely with a collaborative spirit” in applying for the scholarships, which “truly exemplifies what Wofford is all about,” adding that she heard horror stories about students from the same institution undermining and sabotaging each other’s applications rather than working together. “Justin and I were completely supportive of one another throughout the application process, and we both wanted the other to succeed. We both wanted to do our best, but we wanted the other to have his or her best chance of winning as well.”

Williams also is a 2014 Papadopoulos Scholar, earning her a research internship this summer at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge in the United Kingdom. “I’ll be working with Dr. Paul Flicek, who helps maintain the ENSEMBL database for genetics-related research,” she says. “He has sent me some papers about my likely summer project – looking at the evolutionary conservation of transcription factors near CTCF, which is the only known mammalian insulator. Biology is an international field, and it’s truly a great opportunity to pursue my research interests in England.”

She adds that receiving the Goldwater Scholarship “is a culmination of the work and effort of many people, without whom this would never have been possible. I’m grateful for all of the people who have helped get to this point – my summer research mentors, my professors, my parents, my teammates and my friends. The Goldwater Scholarship puts me another step closer to my goals, and I hope that I will be able to give back one day by contributing to scientific research.”

She plans to earn a Ph.D. in bioinformatics or computational biology and to conduct research in a related field.

Whitaker plans to pursue a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences.

Williams is a member of Wofford’s school-record-setting 4x800 meter relay and distance medley relays teams in outdoor track. Whitaker runs the 800 meters and mile in indoor and outdoor track and is a member of the school-record-setting indoor distances medley team.

The Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,166 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. Of the scholars, 172 are men and 111 are women, and virtually all intend to obtain a Ph.D. as their degree objective. Twenty-two scholars are mathematics majors, 191 are science and related majors, 63 are majoring in engineering, and seven are computer science majors. Many of the scholars have dual majors in a variety of mathematics, science, engineering and computer disciplines.

The one and two year scholarships will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

Goldwater Scholars have very impressive academic qualifications that have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs. Recent Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 80 Rhodes Scholarships, 117 Marshall Awards, 112 Churchill Scholarships, and numerous other distinguished fellowships such as the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships.

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law 99-661 on Nov. 14, 1986. The scholarship program honoring Sen. Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

Since its first award in 1989, the foundation has bestowed 7,163 scholarships worth approximately $46 million. The trustees plan to award about 300 scholarships for the 2015–2016 academic year.