Three Colorado State Women Earn Prestigious National Research Scholarships for Undergraduate Work in Biochemistry

Three Colorado State University women students, all biochemistry majors, have been awarded prestigious Goldwater Scholarships for their work in university laboratories.

The award-winners include Laura Tomky, a junior who plans to pursue clinical oncology; Amy Lynn Norton, a sophomore who plans to specialize in virology; and Melissa Gonzales, a junior who is interested in conducting research on the genetic bases of cancer.

"It’s a great distinction to have three students from our department win the awards," said Robert Woody, acting chairman of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology. "Laura, Amy and Melissa are among the most outstanding students in a program known for excellence."

University students from all 50 states are eligible for Goldwater Scholarships, which pay up to $7,500 for tuition, fees, books, room and board for students in natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Colorado State was one of only 26 universities nationally to have three students earn scholarships and was the only university in Colorado to have multiple winners. The Colorado School of Mines was the only other Colorado institution to host a scholarship winner this year.

Jennifer Nyborg, biochemistry professor and faculty adviser to Gonzales, noted the significance of all three women as winners in a field traditionally dominated by men.

"It’s important to encourage bright young women to pursue careers in research, and awards like this certainly do a great deal to help," Nyborg said. "I’m glad that we as a department and university are able to help these young women pursue their dreams and to succeed as researchers."

Overall, the Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation selected 282 scholarship winners from a field of 1,164 applicants. One hundred and sixty of the scholarships went to men, while 122 scholarships were awarded to women. The scholarships, named for former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, are awarded on the basis of academic merit.

"These three young women represent the kind of learning experience we are striving to provide our students who are interested in research careers," said John Raich, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. "One of the reasons the three were able to win this prestigious scholarship is the hands-on work they do in our biochemistry labs as part of their undergraduate education. We’re very pleased and proud of their accomplishments."

The department of biochemistry had three previous Goldwater Scholarship winners: Robin Jump in 1992-93; Cynthia Snyder in 1994-95; and Bethany Krett in 1995-96. Krett is still in the biochemistry program at Colorado State.

With three student scholarship winners, Colorado State joins such institutions as Harvard, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The only other universities in the Rocky Mountain region to host three scholarship winners this year are Brigham Young and Montana State. Biographies on Colorado State University Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship recipients **** Melissa Gonzales is a Colorado State junior who plans to pursue a doctorate degree in biochemistry and ultimately conduct research on the genetic bases of cancer. Her undergraduate work at the university has provided her with hands-on experience in a research laboratory and has given her the opportunity to conduct her own research as a student assistant with adviser Jennifer Nyborg, a biochemistry professor.

"I’m the oldest of three children from a Hispanic family," Gonzales said. "My mother was forced to give up her dreams of a college education and vowed that her own children would not be forced to make such sacrifices. My father is a public school administrator and a very strong advocate of education.

"My parents consistently stressed education as a major priority in our family and taught us through hard work, all our dreams could be realized. The key to my success during college has been that strong support and encouragement."

Gonzales considers cancer one of the biggest problems facing humanity. She plans to pursue research to determine the individual genetic mechanisms involved in different types of cancer.

"Only when the specific biochemical pathways of each cancer are well understood will there be a more likely chance that effective means of treating cancer can be developed," she said.

Gonzales is a Merit Work Study student in Nyborg’s laboratory and holds an assistantship in Students as Leaders in Science. She also is active in the University Honors Program and Community Lector at John XXIII Church. **** Amy Lynn Norton is a Colorado State sophomore who will seek a doctorate in biochemistry with an emphasis in virology. She learned the value of education at an early age, watching her grandmother work and save enough money to send three sons to college while still helping on their small northern Missouri farm.

"She saved every penny of the money she earned as teacher in a one-room school house and as the counselor at Macon High School," Norton said. "It was important to her that her sons choose their professions instead of being forced into farming because of a lack of education. That respect for education still runs strong in my family today."

Norton, who maintains a 4.0 grade-point average, learned laboratory procedures such as recombinant DNA techniques in the biochemistry department at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences. Her education continued with research in the organic chemistry laboratory of Marc Greenberg, chemistry professor at Colorado State. Over the course of two long-term projects, Norton learned to use polymerase chain reaction and subcloning processes. A particular area of interest is biochemical control of disease transmission by mosquitoes. She plans to pursue research and teach biochemistry as a faculty member at a university.

Norton is active at Colorado State in the university Honors Program, Campus Club, Girl Scouts and Biochemistry Club. **** Colorado native Laura Tomky knows the value of scientific research — when she was a sophomore at Colorado State in 1995, she was diagnosed with a rare and highly malignant form of cancer. Fortunately, following surgery, radiation treatment and hard work, there now is no sign of recurrence of the cancer.

"The experience enhanced my appreciation for life and helped me realize what was important," she said. "It also strongly motivated me to pursue a career in biomedical research. Previously, I was unsure which area of biomedical research to pursue, but now I’m confident I’d like to conduct clinical cancer research."

Tomky maintained a 4.0 grade-point average at Rocky Ford High School and has carried that average throughout her university career. She worked as a researcher in the biochemistry laboratory of Paul Laybourn, assistant professor at Colorado State, and in 1996 received a National Science Foundation grant to study developmental regulation of myofibrillar proteins in lobsters in the laboratory of biologist Donald Mykles.

She learned the value of hard work on the family farm in the Arkansas Valley of Colorado, where she worked in the fields and helped operate a farm market that offered a variety of vegetables.

"Although my family never had much money and it was a struggle to obtain a profitable harvest each year, I wouldn’t trade the experiences I gained on the farm for anything," she said.

Tomky belongs to Premedica, the College Republicans, the Undergraduate Biochemistry Club and Golden Key National Honor Society. In addition, she is active in the University Honors Program and in the National Science Foundation Research program.