UCCS sophomore Kaitlin McAllister was recently awarded the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship, a preeminent undergraduate award in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics. The scholarship is designed to encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers.
McAllister is the first UCCS student to win the award in over a decade.
“I was really surprised,” said McAllister, who is earning a B.S. in physics. “I thought it was a long shot. It was very exciting to win.”
The application included an essay explaining her research and a detailed outline of her future academic plans. McAllister, who hopes to go on to graduate school, says the scholarship will be very helpful toward reaching that goal.
“This scholarship is an external validation that I do have research experience, plus there’s a large community of scholarship winners to connect with,” McAllister said. “It’s great to be able to talk to people who have gone on this journey before and are in graduate school now, people who are just a little bit further along than I am, and learn from them.”
McAllister’s current research involves the investigation of magnetic spin waves. She designed and built a near-field scanning microwave microscope, one of only a few in the country, which can be used to observe magnetic spin waves. In the future, she hopes to improve the device and continue her line of research.
“This research could be used for computing and data processing, because the spin waves can be used to store and transmit data,” she explained. “So, what we’re doing could hopefully lead to advancements in those areas.”
After graduating, McAllister plans to go to graduate school and eventually get a PhD in physics or biophysics. Her dream is to work at NASA.
“Kaitlin McAllister has a number of qualities that will serve her well as a research scientist,” said Susan Taylor, Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education & Academic Planning and campus representative for the Goldwater Scholarship. “In addition to strong motivation, analytical abilities and attention to detail, she has creativity and intellectual curiosity about the projects she is involved with.”
McAllister fell in love with physics after participating in Science Olympiad. She grew up in the Springs and would visit UCCS for various science festivals. In high school, she started volunteering in the university’s physics lab.
“That was a really good experience,” she said. “I enjoyed it, even though I didn’t really understand anything! It was good to see that it was something I could do in the future.”
McAllister said the main reason she chose UCCS was for the opportunities in physics for undergrads to do research, as well as the small size of the department and its reputation for valuing both research and teaching.
“From the very beginning of our joint work, she demonstrated a great initiative and motivation to do scientific experiments in my lab,” said Dmytro Bozhko, McAllister’s mentor. “When I see this kind of interest and dedication in our students, it keeps me believing in the bright future of our society.”
“It’s been a huge blessing to be able to do physics research, even when I was a freshman,” McAllister said. “I’ve had great mentors who let me make a lot of mistakes, learn from them and teach me how to understand what I’m doing and not just follow some steps. It’s definitely preparing me well.”
McAllister will be participating in the Undergraduate Research Academy this summer, continuing her current project as well as studying magnetic rogue waves.
She would like to thank her faculty mentor, Dmytro Bozhko, and her department chair, Robert Camley, for their support, as well as her parents, who homeschooled her and allowed her to explore her interests.